RETIRING Director of Elder Affairs Mary Prenney (center) was feted by by the Select Board, Sen. Bruce Tarr and family members in recognition of over two decades of service to the town. From left: daughter Kathleen Hanley, Select Board members Liane Gonzalez, Vincenzo Stuto and Chairwoman Kate Manupelli, daughter Elizabeth Veno, Mary Prenney with grandchildren Cayden and Anna Hanley, husband Brad Prenney, T.A. Michael Gilleberto, Sen. Bruce Tarr, and Select Board members Steve O’Leary and Rich Wallner. (Courtesy Photo)
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING – After more than two decades of service as a fierce advocate for the needs of the town’s elders, Director of Elder Services Mary Prenney was recognized by local officials as she is set to retire next week.
The Select Board honored Prenney during their final meeting of the year, with many of her family members present and others watching via Zoom.
Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto summarized Mary’s extensive service to the town which began 21 years ago when she served for five years as the Assistant Director of Elder Services under Director Edith O’Leary, for whom the Senior Center is now named. Following O’Leary’s retirement 17 years ago, Prenney was promoted to the Director of Elder Services.
“Her tenure with the Council on Aging is lengthy and until recently she was an elected member of our Housing Authority and an active member of our Community Impact Team (CIT) as well as its subgroups and many programs,” Gilleberto said.
“She has also been a very vocal and active member of our department head corps and is always willing to remind us to ‘be mindful of the perspective of our seniors’ in the town’s decision-making process,” Gilleberto said, which he said was a perspective that he “always valued.”
“She was also part of having our human services work more closely together over the past view years, including the Veterans’ Agent, Youth Services Director. COVID disrupted this a little but in some ways made the work that much more important as onto Zoom and phone calls we all went. She has also been a regular facilitator of the annual Thanksgiving Dinner for seniors with Senator Tarr and Representative Jones as well as countless other things she has done above and beyond the director’s role,” Gilleberto said.
“I’m happy for Mary that she is able to retire and sad for us and our community and our senior community. We will struggle to find someone to continue that work,” the T.A. added. Gilleberto also acknowledged Mary’s husband Brad for the assistance he has provided over the years “outside of the regular work hours.”
Select Board member Stephen O’Leary agreed that the hours Prenney put into her job were not typical because those phone calls that come at all hours of the day or night, whether 10 p.m. or 2 a.m., are from people with real needs and no where else to turn, and the unsung hero in the partnership was her husband Brad, the handyman who helped out in any way that he could.
The O’Learys and the Prenneys had been neighbors for over three decades until Mary and Brad’s recent move from town. O’Leary made everyone laugh as he recalled that Mary had “the pleasure, or the experience, of working with my mother. I love my mother, but my mother is an experience and Mary survived it extremely well to the point where she took over the job!”
“She has done her job in a compassionate way. She has immersed herself in it and she has been a strong advocate, and as a result she has earned the respect of the community as a whole,” O’Leary said, recalling that Prenney also served as a past president of Mystic Valley Elder Services which enabled her to bring her skills and advocacy for the benefit of elders in 10 other communities in addition to North Reading.
“All of us try to do our best and try to make our community better than we found it, and I can honestly say Mary, you have done that and we’re going to miss you, but I know you’re not out of our lives. Sue and I, we love you, and as we look next door, the lights are going on but they are not as bright,” O’Leary said.
Noting that he had met Prenney because of their daughters, Select Board member Rich Wallner said it was by volunteering alongside her over 10 years ago that he became “aware of senior issues.” At CIT meetings, he commented that “Mary would speak up and vocally express what seniors are really thinking.” He agreed that her retirement is a “huge loss” for the town and thanked her for “the opportunity to be able to serve with you.”
Prenney served on the Housing Authority for 16 years until recently stepping down last month. Select Board member Liane Gonzalez is currently serving on the Housing Authority as well and she commended Mary for her tremendous knowledge about the issues affecting the residents, and how decisions made by the Housing Authority would impact the residents’ lives.
She would say, “Let’s not forget how that is going to make them feel. Let’s remember them; always, always, that was where her mind was at, and I hope we always have Mary in our head,” Gonzalez said. “It has been more than a pleasure to know you. The residents are going to miss you; they all have such a bond with you.”
Select Board Chair Kate Manupelli said that she will always remember Mary’s “tenacity and compassion. There was a force to be reckoned with bringing these age-friendly initiatives to our attention. Even during budgets you focused in on age-friendly initiatives and bringing it to the forefront, always reminding us of elderly issues.”
Echoing Gonzalez’s comments, Manupelli said that for “some of the people you serve you are their only connection to town… you’re their friend and that says a lot.” She also commended Prenney’s caring and friendly staff.
She presented a plaque presented to Prenney from the Select Board on behalf of the town includes an engraving of the Third Meeting House on the common, the 1829 building that houses the Edith O’Leary Senior Center where Prenney spent her career as the town’s Director of Elder Services.
The inscription reads: “Presented to Mary Prenney in recognition of her 21 years of dedicated service to the town of North Reading Elder Services Department including 17 years as Director. Given by the Select Board on behalf of a grateful community.”
Sen. Bruce Tarr brought recognition from the State House and spoke on behalf of himself and state Rep. Brad Jones, who had a conflict on the night of the Select Board meeting, in commending Prenney for being “a consummate member of the team.”
Recalling the tenure of Edie O’Leary as well, Tarr said that “North Reading has a great history of caring for its seniors” and when Prenney came on board she always reminded the politicians “that seniors are part of the community.” As a champion for senior citizens, Tarr praised Prenney for not only being aware of their immediate 24/7 needs but for also having the vision of “the 30,000-foot view of where we should go for our support services.”
While Mary is not one to accept the status quo, Tarr said that she was “always cheerful and diplomatic and when you are championing an issue there is only forward progress.”