Before he retired to Aquinnah, then called Gay Head, Walter Delaney spent nearly 40 years repairing and calibrating printing presses. Presses are large, often unwieldy machines, requiring close tolerances for high quality results.
His professional skills would stand him in good stead during 35 years as town moderator. On Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before he would gavel an annual town meeting to order for the last time, Mr. Delaney spoke to The Times about his career in the Island’s tiniest town.
Now 80, he said he was nonplussed when asked to become moderator in 1975. “Nell Howell, a local real estate broker, called me at home and asked if I would serve. I said, ‘Me?’” he recalled.
“At my first meeting as town moderator on November 25, 1975, we considered a budget of $174,844. This year, voters will consider a budget of nearly $3 million,” he said.
“My favorite time was moderating the effort for tribal recognition by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head. The first meeting was Dec. 9, 1976, and nine years later voters approved it, 92-13, on November 19, 1985. I called for a roll call vote so it would be binding. Voters came up to the podium one by one to vote. It was certainly time to pass recognition, I believe,” he said.
Since moving to the Island full-time in 1988, Mr. Delaney has been immersed in town service. He remains Aquinnah’s fire chief, appointed in 1994. He has served as selectman (1990-1999), two terms as auditor and was recognized by his moderator peers with a stint on the board of the Massachusetts Moderators Association and on the board of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers that monitors conduct of state licensed attorneys.
Mr. Delaney has presided over the sublime and the ridiculous. “When state law allowed televising of annual town meetings years ago, Aquinnah was the first in the country to be televised. ABC, NBC and CBS were all set up in our little town hall,” he said.
Mr. Delaney’s ability to work with close tolerances also came in handy after the final town meeting gavel had fallen one year. “I watched a large skunk wander through the open doors and take up residence under a seat. I just asked people to walk quietly to the front and exit by the side doors. They did, and the next morning the skunk had left the building,” he said.
Mr. Delaney’s advice for the future is simple and direct. “Residents need to get more involved, to fill all these committees that need volunteers, especially the finance committee, one of the most important in town,” he said.
Moderating is a good learning tool to understand town voters and taxpayers. It’s been very interesting and educational. We have the same problems as down-Island towns, such as affordable housing,” he said
“Overall, we’ve had our ups and downs, and the town has grown slowly, but for the better,” he said.