Aase Jones retires after 32 years at Tisbury town hall

Ms. Jones, a valuable resource to the public, town officials, and municipal employees, attended her last selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night.

Tisbury selectmen surprised Aase Jones, the longtime town administrator's assistant, with a brief speech and flowers Tuesday night. Photo by Cathryn McCann

When Aase Jones took a job at Tisbury town hall, she never really pictured herself a career bureaucrat. Now 32 years later, the assistant to the town administrator will work her last day tomorrow, retiring after having assisted dozens of selectmen, a long roster of town administrators and municipal employees, and hundreds of taxpayers.

On Tuesday night, Ms. Jones attended her last selectmen’s meeting, seated as usual to the left of the selectmen and to the right of town administrator Jay Grande. Although she told everyone she would prefer no fanfare, the selectmen were not about to let her go unrecognized.

“She’s always had the town’s back, always,” selectman chairman Tristan Israel said. “That’s extraordinary. I know we all will wish she was still here helping us, and we’re all going to miss her. I love her dearly, and so I wanted to acknowledge her service to the town.”

Selectman Melinda Loberg presented Ms. Jones with a bouquet of flowers as the audience applauded and gave her a standing ovation.

“We’re going to miss you,” Selectman Larry Gomez said.

“Thank you,” Ms. Jones responded. “You have no idea how hard it will be for me to walk out that door.

“You’re very kind, and I’m honored and very lucky to be among friends,” she added. “I’ve had fun working with a lot of nice people, on both sides.”

Town historian

“I’ve loved having this job,” Ms. Jones told The Times in an interview at her home Monday night. Nonetheless, she added, “I’m ready for retirement, although I didn’t think I’d feel that way. I’m going to reinvent myself, up to a certain point. I’m going to try to do different things, and give priority to some different things.”

Ms. Jones has lost count of how many selectmen’s meetings she has attended and taken minutes. She agreed the number is probably in the hundreds, and that doesn’t take into account other meetings with town departments, boards, and committees.

“I call them my kids,” Ms. Jones said affectionately of the selectmen. “They have to do their homework. I get them prepared, with the town administrator’s help. We need to keep the selectmen informed, but not overwhelm them with too many details.”

Given her many years of experience and knowledge about Tisbury’s operations, Ms. Jones has served as a resource for information not only for selectmen but also for her fellow employees.

It was a role she had to grow into, Ms. Jones was quick to point out.

“When I started, I was a whippersnapper,” she said with a laugh. “I thought a warrant was something you used when you arrested people.”

Around the world to MV

Ms. Jones, whose maiden name was Jakobsen, was born in 1937 in Bergen, Norway. She came to the U.S. at age 18 on a scholarship to attend Nasson College in Maine, where she studied French and English. She transferred to the University of Connecticut her sophomore year, where she met her future husband, Harry Jones. They decided to get married and eloped to Elkton, Md., where she could be legally married at age 20. Over the next several years the couple had two daughters, Suzanne, and Siri.

Ms. Jones became a U.S. citizen in the early 1960s. In 1967, she obtained a college degree, and she and her family moved to Arizona for Mr. Jones’s job with Combustion Engineering, followed by an assignment in Iran. He subsequently worked for General Electric, which took them to Indonesia, Korea, and Egypt.

Ms. Jones said she fell in love with Martha’s Vineyard on a one-day trip she made in the summer of 1977 while staying with her mother-in-law in Connecticut before joining her husband at his job in Korea. The Joneses bought a lot off Leonard Circle in Vineyard Haven later that year and built a house there a year later. They made Martha’s Vineyard their permanent home in 1981.

Learning the ropes

Ms. Jones took a job as the administrative assistant to Marguerite Bergstrom, Tisbury’s executive secretary (now called town administrator), in 1984.

“I learned from everybody, all of my bosses, and all of my boards,” she said.

Details and deadlines are the hallmarks of her job, which also evolved through the years to include handling all of the town’s insurance claims, and the paperwork and process involved with beer and wine licenses. She has also been called upon by the selectmen to serve as interim town administrator while a search was underway for a new hire.

When asked what she likes about her job, Ms. Jones said, “Every day is different. It’s never boring. And most of the people I meet are the nicest you could ever imagine, the regular citizens that come in to pay their taxes and register their dogs.”

Ms. Jones’s philosophy is that you get what you give.

“I feel we’re there to help people, not make it hard for them to get a permit or something,” she said. “We’re there to explain.”

Her favorite duty has been compiling and producing the annual town report. “I’m proud of that; it’s history,” Ms. Jones said. Tisbury’s town report has received 18 awards through the years, in statewide contests held by the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Like any job, hers has its challenges. When asked whether it was difficult to work with a changing roster of selectmen with different personalities and experience levels, Ms. Jones said, “Ninety-nine percent of them have been fabulous. They work hard, they don’t get a lot of money for it, and they truly care about what they’re doing.”

Ms. Jones said she used to think she’d like to be a selectman someday.

“I think I would know a lot and could be useful, but I don’t want to give up so much of my personal time now,” she said.

Converting from typewriters to computers presented one of her biggest challenges and changes. “I came in one day in the early nineties, and there was a computer on my desk – I had to figure out how to use it,” she said.

Another challenge has been the growth in regulations, Ms. Jones added. “It’s more complicated to process a request people want.”

In addition to her work duties, Ms. Jones also volunteered her time to the town picnic committee for many years and to the Spring Building Preservation Committee.

Plenty of plans

Ms. Jones has reluctantly agreed to a low-key retirement send-off, “just tea and cookies,” from Tisbury town officials and employees tomorrow afternoon. She said although she will miss her work routine somewhat, she looks forward to having more time with family and to write letters, read books, grow vegetables, and complete some home projects that she and her husband Harry, who died in 2012, had planned. Ms. Jones also enjoys rowing in Vineyard Haven Harbor every Saturday morning as a member of Sail Martha’s Vineyard’s rowing club.

Her daughter Suzanne, who has worked for many years as Tisbury’s town accountant, and her husband Tom Kennedy, a painter and carpenter, live a stone’s throw away from her. Her daughter Siri, who lives in Phoenix, will join her at a yoga retreat in Costa Rica next month. Her grandson, Siri’s son Christopher Selchow, age 28, lives in Minnesota.

Travel is a big item on her to-do list, although she doesn’t like being away from her beloved Yorkshire terrier, Spookie, for too long. In May, she’s off to Bergen, Norway, for a Grieg music festival and her 60th high school reunion. Future trips may include France, Machu Picchu, and a hike from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the top.

Ms. Jones recalled that on a trip to Norway a few years ago for a previous school reunion, she and her classmates made a video in which they described how they ended up where they are now.

“I said I didn’t become a teacher as I had intended; I’m a bureaucrat, something I never thought I would be,” Ms. Jones said. “I work in town government and manage to make things happen in government at a small level in a tiny town, and I love what I’m doing.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to a Grieg music festival as a Greek music festival.