NORTH ANDOVER — When Moderator Mark DiSalvo announced that the June 18 special Town Meeting was the last one at which Joyce Bradshaw would be serving as town clerk, several hundred North Andover voters spontaneously stood and gave a vigorous, sustained round of applause.
"I wish to call your attention to someone who is behind the scenes," DiSalvo said before introducing Bradshaw, who is retiring after serving as North Andover's town clerk for 25 years.
Her daughter Kerry Hanssen, son-in-law Bryan Hanssen and three granddaughters, Sydney, 11, and twins Katelyn and Amylia, 5½, joined "Nana" on the stage in the North Andover High School auditorium.
Her son Bill watched this demonstration of respect and affection by video from Utah, where he is studying toward a master of business administration degree.
As the meeting drew to a close, after approving zoning changes that will enable Amazon to build a distribution center at 1600 Osgood St. and rejecting a proposal to authorize the selectmen to lease the town-owned Stevens Estate, DiSalvo asked that Bradshaw be appointed acting moderator.
Bradshaw held the post just long enough to declare that the special Town Meeting was dissolved.
"This is the best town!" she said after the meeting concluded.
Bradshaw is known for her positive attitude. The women who work with her in the town clerk's office, for example, are "phenomenal," she says.
As for North Andover's police officers, firefighters, teachers, public works personnel and other employees, they are outstanding and the town is lucky to have them, she insists.
Since its incorporation as a town, April 7, 1855, North Andover has had 10 town clerks, including Bradshaw. That factors out to an average tenure of about 16½ years.
"I think it's the best job in the world," she said. A town or city clerk is responsible for running every election in a community. The clerk issues birth and death certificates and marriage licenses.
When someone starts a new company, he or she obtains a business certificate from the clerk's office. The clerk registers voters and maintains the official list of those who are entitled to cast ballots in the community.
Candidates for local offices must obtain their nomination papers from the clerk's office – and it's the duty of the clerk and her staff to certify that the signatures are valid. Candidates for selectman, School Committee, moderator and Housing Authority must file campaign finance reports with the clerk.
The list goes on. Massachusetts has 464 statutes that deal with the duties of town and city clerks, according to Bradshaw. The job requires people skills, which Bradshaw has in abundance, according to those who have worked with her over the years.
"There will never be another Joyce Bradshaw," said Donald Stewart, a lifelong North Andover resident who served as a selectman for 21 years.
Before she was hired as town clerk in 1994, Bradshaw worked for the Community Savings Bank, eventually being promoted to manager of the North Andover branch. That was where she honed her social skills, she said.
"Our customers were like family," she recalled. "It was a bank that took care of people." The Community Savings Bank has since become part of the Andover Bank, she noted. The former Andover Bank is n ow TD Bank.
When the town clerk's position became vacant, then-Selectman Kenneth Crouch and his wife, Carrie, urged Bradshaw to apply. They urged her to keep the office "warm and fuzzy," she said.
Under Bradshaw's leadership, the atmosphere in the town clerk's office has remained friendly – "warm and fuzzy," if you will. The office, however, has evolved with the times.
The first election she supervised, in 1994, was hand-counted, she said. With 14,000 voters casting ballots, the results were not totaled until nearly dawn.
Bradshaw told the selectmen this had to change. The town purchased voting machines in 1995 and now North Andover election results are usually complete within a half-hour of the polls closing.
The town's records, kept for so many years on paper, are now preserved on laser fiche, she pointed out. By visiting the town's website, townofnorthandover.org, one can read records from as far back as the Revolutionary War, she said.
Bradshaw's roots in the town she loves are deep. Her father, William Gorton, an immigrant from England, bought land on Boxford Street in 1947 and built a four-room house "with his bare hands," she said. Her mother, Anne Gorton, described the Boxford Street of those days as "the wilderness."
After graduating from North Andover High School, Bradshaw attended Northeastern University, where she earned a degree in English.
Her husband, Richard Bradshaw, died 17 years ago. He used to help with the elections.
Bradshaw's last day on the job will be July 19. Laurie Burzlaff, executive assistant to acting Town Manager Lyne Savage and director of administrative services, will serve as interim town clerk.
The new town manager, Melissa Murphy-Rodrigues, will appoint a permanent town clerk, according to Bradshaw.