By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury/Southborough – Vanessa Hale thought she was just receiving a plate of holiday cookies from her close friend who asked if she could drop by before the holidays. Instead, her friend, Kate Fitzpatrick, was actually dropping by to present her with the national 2020 League of Women in Government Leadership Trailblazer Award.
Hale, 51, a resident of Shrewsbury, is the assistant town administrator in Southborough. It’s a position she has held for 20 years. Fitzpatrick is the Needham town manager and is also a board member of the League of Women in Government, which is part of the International City/County Management Association, of which the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) is affiliated.
The national award is presented every year by the League of Women in Government and the National Research Center to celebrate women in government who support and encourage other women to get involved with their local government and succeed. Hale was chosen from 10 finalists from around the country.
“It was an absolute shock,” Hale remarked. “I never knew that I was nominated.”
“I’m not a city manager and I’m not a town manager and the other finalists were leading huge communities across the country,” she said. “I was stunned…Why would they pick me, an assistant from a small town in Massachusetts?”
A legacy of municipal service
In concert with her work in Southborough, Hale serves as vice-chair of the MMA’s Municipal Association for Human Resource directors (MMHR).
“A lot of what I have done there [MMHR] is related to this award. A lot of the programs that I’ve developed over the last 10 years or so have been about coaching and mentoring people into working in local government and the majority of those people are women,” Hale said.
She grew up in Melrose, Mass. and studied art therapy in college but after an internship working on a family friend’s Senate campaign, she discovered a passion that led to her career in municipal government.
That career began with administrative positions at the state office of the League of Women Voters (LWV) and the MMA.
“That’s when I figured out that I would really like to work in local government,” she said.
After several years with the LWV and MMA she went to work in the selectmen’s office in Sherborn, Mass., which she said was a great training ground. It equipped her with knowledge of all facets of municipal government and from there she went to work in Northborough and then in Southborough in 2000.
Praise from Southborough Town Administrator
During the Southborough Board of Selectmen’s Jan. 19 meeting, Town Administrator Mark Purple congratulated Hale on winning the award.
“She has done a great job,” he said. “I think it’s really neat to have Vanessa recognized for her work.”
Purple believes this is the first time someone from Massachusetts has won this award.
“It’s a great achievement,” he said. “Thank you for what you do.”
Hale reflects on her next steps
When asked if this award will open doors for her, Hale replied, “I think it does and I’ve been doing some soul searching since this has happened…I think that the award has made me rethink what the next step is in my career.”
“Having this recognition is so wonderful and nothing that I ever expected to fall into my lap,” she commented. “And I think it is really, really wonderful that myself or anyone else as an assistant have been recognized.”
Hale said that this award has shown her that this may be the time to focus on her other passion which is to research and possibly write a book to preserve the memory of Mary Livermore, a little-known supporter of the suffragette movement who was from her hometown.
Hale is currently president of the Friends of the Shrewsbury Public Library. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from Albertus Magnus College. She also has two master’s degrees, one in library and information science from the University of Rhode Island and one in public administration from Clark University.