Retiring Town Election Officials Honored By Residents

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, May 11, 2004

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Col. Paul Lessard laughts with his wife, Dorothy, while he gets roasted by Hampton Police Chief Bill Wrenn during a reception to honor his work as moderator and the checklist work of Charlotte Preston at the Galley Hatch conference center. [Staff Photo by Sarah Zenewicz]

HAMPTON - They will be missed.

That was the message from Hampton officials and residents who came out of the woodwork on Thursday night to honor former Town Moderator Paul Lessard and former Supervisor of the Checklist Charlotte Preston.

More than 100 people piled into the Galley Hatch Convention Center at the Inn of Hampton to honor Preston and Lessard for their years of dedication and service to the town.

Selectmen gave them a plaque, and Hampton's state representatives gave them a declaration of appreciation.

But for Lessard and Preston, the real honor was in being roasted and honored by the their friends.

Preston got involved in town politics in 1970 because her husband, Bob, spent 10 terms as a state senator. She decided to run for supervisor of the checklist after Caroline Higgins died in 1979.

During her years in office, the number of registered voters in town increased from 4,700 to 10,500.

Lessard became involved in town politics after having a conversation one Election Day with Preston, who said she desperately needed help.

The rest - as they say - is history. Lessard then became Town Moderator John Walker's assistant. When Walker chose not to run in 1999, Lessard stepped up and ran for the open position and won.

Hampton Police Chief Bill Wrenn, who served as master of ceremonies at Thursday evening's event, fondly recalled his early encounters with Lessard and Preston.

"The first time I met Col. Lessard wasn't in Hampton," said Wrenn. "It was in 1984 at the base where he served as chief of staff."

Wrenn, along with several other police officers, stayed at Lessard's base when they went to the FBI National Academy. After a night of "celebrating," Wrenn went down to the cafeteria at the base to have a bite to eat, he said.

"I hadn't shaved or showered, and my hair was all over the place," said Wrenn. "I had a T-shirt on, and it was ripped."

When Wrenn sat down at one of the tables at the cafeteria, a Marine Corps colonel in full uniform came up to him.

"He said, 'Are you Bill Wren?' and I looked at him and said, 'Yeah, who are you?' He told me his name was Paul Lessard and that he was from Hampton and so was his brother Vic Lessard. I was like 'Oh, no' because Vic was a selectman at the time," said Wrenn. "All I could picture was Col. Lessard going back to his barracks and calling Vic and saying what the hell kind of representative are you sending down here."

Since that day, said Wrenn, Lessard has been a friend. He also praised Lessard for all the work he has done to ensure that the new police station becomes a reality.

Wrenn also recalled how Preston tricked him into becoming a member of the Hampton Rotary Club.

"I'm a member of the Rotary, and it's all because of Charlotte," Wrenn said. "Charlotte called me up and asked me what I was doing for lunch. I told her nothing, and she said she would pick me up at noon."

Wrenn said Preston did indeed pick him up and then took him to a Rotary club meeting.

"We had lunch at the Rotary meeting, and two weeks later I got a call and they said my membership to the Rotary has been approved," said Wren. "She had great skills when it came to promoting her causes."

Hampton State Rep. Sheila Francoeur acknowledged Lessard for serving not just his town but also his country.

Charlotte Preston laughs with her husband, Sen. Bob Preston, during a reception to honor her work as supervisor of the checklist and the work of Col. Paul Lessard. [Staff Photo by Sarah Zenewicz]

Lessard fought in combat in Okinawa, the Philippines and Vietnam.

He won the respect of his colleagues through his heroic actions on and off the battlefield, which also earned him two Legion of Merit awards, a Navy Commendation Medal, several combat medals and a Vietnam Service Medal with two stars.

Rep. Francoeur fondly recalled when Preston called her up toward the beginning of her campaign for state representative.

"She called me up and said, 'I have to tell you how to do it. I know what to do; I helped Bob out all these years'" said Francoeur. "I said, 'OK, Charlotte, what do I have to do?'"

Francoeur listened to Preston because she also had helped with numerous presidential campaigns in the Seacoast area, including those of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

"She told me to get combs that say 'Francoeur for Representative.'"

Francoeur said she called all the companies that sold campaign combs and found out that somebody in Hampton bought them all.

"I'm sure half the gentlemen in this room still have 'Preston for Senator' combs in their pocket," she said.

Julie Dubois honored Preston for all the work she's done that a lot of people don't know about.

"I bet that 90 percent of this room has purchased a ticket from Charlotte," said Dubois. "She was the queen of tickets. Everyone went to Charlotte because she was the one who could help them, and she could sell tickets."

Dubois said that after her sister Helda, who needed a heart and lung transplant, died in 1989, Preston lobbied state officials to come up with an organ donor program.

"Now, when residents get their driver's license, they ask you if you want to become an organ donator," said Dubois. "That's because of Charlotte."

Both Lessard and Preston said they were humbled by the fact that the town wanted to honor them.

"I met some great people," Lessard said. "Our family wasn't born here, but we grew up here. Our family has always been the volunteer people. We owe Hampton a lot."

"Most of the people who know me know that I would have been more comfortable putting on an event for someone else," said Preston. "I enjoyed serving with Paul Lessard, and I know we will be available in the future. I tried to make voting easier, and I think we did that."