One more entry is being added to the ballot for the April town election — for town clerk — and for the first time in 42 years, the name Theodora K. Eaton won’t be on it. On Tuesday, Tedi Eaton announced plans to step down from the post she has held since 1982.
“I’ve loved my job, I really have,” said Eaton, noting it’s a big job — and with changes in the voting laws to include mail-in voting and expanded early voting options it has only become bigger. She had planned to retire in 2021, but decided to see the election through. “In 2021 I worked 11 hours a day for 7 weeks,” she said. “In a town the size of Needham it’s getting busier and busier.”
The town clerk deals with almost every facet of town life. In addition to overseeing town elections, there are the “vitals.” “We do about 5,000 certified copies of deaths and births and marriages every year,” she said. “We do the annual census. We do dog licenses. We have business certificates, we have raffle permits, we have storage of flammables. It’s like a secretary of state’s office at the local level.”
Eaton said she had no experience for the job when she was elected in 1982. “I worked as the part-time committee secretary for the Select Board and the personnel board. And the former town clerk asked me if I would run,” said Eaton. “I said, ‘What about everyone in your office?’ She said, ‘No, nobody wants to run.’ I said, ‘OK’.”
As far as she knows, no one in Eaton’s office plans to run. Her three-year term doesn’t expire until April 2025, so this will be an election to serve out the remainder of it.
Although there are no requirements for the position, Eaton said there are some qualities a potential candidate should have. “You have to be organized,” she said. “You have to be willing to work. You have to be dedicated. You certainly have to be unbiased. You can’t take sides when you’re running elections. I know I’m a stickler on that, but I think election laws are very important.”
And Eaton thinks the town clerk should be elected, not appointed. “Why should an elected board appoint somebody that runs the elections for the town?” she asked.
Despite the work, Eaton finds the job rewarding. She speaks highly of the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association, where she said she has been supported and has made wonderful friends. As for a career highlight, “If you get through an election and you haven’t made a huge mistake, we all can feel pretty proud of ourselves,” she said.
Eaton said she is grateful for everyone she has worked with over the course of four decades. “I have to say that through all the years that I’ve worked the residents have been wonderful, the staff has been wonderful. I can’t say enough for the election workers. The custodians. Everybody has helped and given their all to me. And I appreciate it.”
Eaton has offered to stay on in a part-time capacity to help her successor through this presidential election year, with two spring and two fall elections. Beyond that? “I think I’ll run for Town Meeting. I like to play bridge, I belong to a garden club, I belong to the Exchange Club, I’m a notary,” said Eaton. “I’m not a sitter.”