Needham Bids Farewell to Tedi Eaton

April 19, 2024
• Tedi Eaton and dozens of community members celebrated her retirement at Powers Hall Thursday afternoon.

For Finance Committee member Jim Healy, there are several “great names” that epitomize Needham: Cutler, Garrity, Garlick, Robey, to name a few. After her decades of public service to the town, outgoing Town Clerk Tedi Eaton should be added to that list, Healy said.

“Needham loves you,” he said. “And the next time we hear from you after tonight, it will be, ‘Mr. Moderator! Tedi Eaton from Precinct C!’”

Outgoing Town Clerk Tedi Eaton smiles during her retirement ceremony at Town Hall April 18, 2024. (Cameron Morsberger)

Eaton spent 42 years as Needham’s town clerk, and last week marked her final town election. But apart from elections, Eaton handled the records of life, death and everything in between.

In describing all that Eaton accomplished, Select Board Chair Kevin Keane explained the mechanisms of small town government: The Select Board is the executive branch, Town Meeting is the legislative branch, and then there’s “the town clerk, who does everything else.”

Eaton’s involvement with Needham began before her first election — in the late 1970s, she started work as a part-time committee secretary for the Personnel Board and Board of Selectmen. When the then-town clerk asked if she would be interested in running for the position, Eaton hesitated.

“My first reaction was, ‘What about the members in your office?’ I didn’t want to take anything away from them,” Eaton said. “She indicated that no one was interested. I should have taken the hint.”

Eaton earned the most votes out of any candidate on the ballot for several early elections — that is, until Moderator Michael Fee came along in 1998. Since then, Eaton served as Fee’s “right hand,” he said, and without Tedi, “there’s a good chance this building will collapse.”

In her capacity, Eaton has sworn in countless elected officials, most recently Keane and Josh Levy of the Select Board, but when Eaton herself would need to be sworn in before Town Meeting, that was Fee’s job. The only issue? Fee would “have no idea what to say.”

Town Moderator Michael Fee holds up his right hand, mimicking how Tedi Eaton would swear in newcomers, during her retirement ceremony April 18, 2024. (Cameron Morsberger)

“Tedi would utter the oath to me, which I would repeat back to her, and which she would utter again,” Fee said, “and that was how we officially swore her in.”

Apart from her affinity for sports cars, Eaton is remarkable due to her work ethic, infectious diligence, her “flawless” records, compassion and overall commitment to excellence, Fee said. He’s considering keeping Eaton on as a teller for Town Meeting, if she’s interested.

“It is admirable to say that presidents, governors have come and gone, but you have been our town clerk,” Fee said, “and you have been our rock.”

And in recent years, Eaton did return as the top vote-getter in town.

Tom Keating with the Needham VFW presented Eaton with a certificate of appreciation, and state Rep. Denise Garlick granted her a resolution. Garlick applauded Eaton for the integrity of Needham’s elections and her ability to welcome all residents to the polls, including Garlick’s daughter Beth.

Tom Keating, a member of the Needham VFW, presents outgoing Town Clerk Tedi Eaton with a citation during her retirement ceremony April 18, 2024. (Cameron Morsberger)

“To Tedi, I hope you really take a moment and take a breath and look around this room,” Garlick said. “The number of people who are here, and the people whose spirits are with us here today I’m thinking of as well. A tremendous testimony to you.”

State Sen. Becca Rausch, a Needham resident, also shared words of gratitude via a pre-recorded video, calling Eaton’s departure “the end of an era.”

After years of service with the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association, Eaton will remain an active Town Meeting member, and she was recently appointed to the Needham Branding and Town Seal Committee, alongside her successor Louise Miller. Their transition of power was marked by Eaton gifting an election-themed scarf to Miller at the end of the ceremony.

Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick tracked her time with Eaton by the numbers: about 70 Town Meetings, 34 years working together and 11 years spent parking beside each other.

“That ding on your car is not from my door,” Fitzpatrick joked.

Newly elected Town Clerk Louise Miller holds up a “vote” scarf gifted to her by outgoing Town Clerk Tedi Eaton at Eaton’s retirement ceremony April 18, 2024. (Cameron Morsberger)

Eaton’s legacy will remain, Fitzpatrick told her, but Town Hall will be “a very different place without you here.” Fitzpatrick awarded Eaton a certificate of recognition from U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss, as well as her own Needham street sign bearing her name: Tedi Eaton’s Way.

This spring, Eaton and her staff processed more than 5,500 ballots, she said, but that work continues after the election season is over. In her remarks, Eaton thanked all those who have helped keep Needham running.

“I just have to thank you all from the bottom of my heart,” Eaton said. “You are the best. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

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