From the Beacon, Summer 2021

John Robertson

As you may have heard, the MMA’s much-admired Legislative Director, John Robertson, will be retiring on August 1st, just a few days from now. All of us on the MMA staff have known this day was coming for many months, but that doesn’t make his departure any easier. This is my chance to share our appreciation for his remarkable and distinguished service to every community in Massachusetts.

John’s service to the MMA began 31 years ago, in 1990. And during every moment of the past three decades, he has been nothing short of superb. John is rightly recognized as an unrivaled policy expert and passionate advocate and defender of local government. He’s a true policy wonk (that term didn’t exist when he started!). He loves arcane policy details, and as an extension of his passion, including local aid formulas and reimbursement frameworks, he has the innate ability to transform data and abstract concepts into a complete understanding of the real-world impact and meaning of legislation and regulations. A true “small d” democrat, John believes in government as a force for good, as the glue that holds our society together. He’s an idealist and a pragmatist — a perfect combination that enables him to be both a thinker and a doer for cities and towns.

For the past 10 years, John has been the MMA’s Legislative Director, leading our efforts to persuade governors, lawmakers, cabinet secretaries and countless others to recognize the invaluable role of cities and towns in building a high quality of life and strong future for our residents and communities. He’s partnered with advocacy groups and stakeholders, forged coalitions when possible, and maintained positive and respectful relationships when that wasn’t possible. John is deeply respected because of his knowledge, professionalism, even-keeled personality, trustworthiness, and his selflessness. For John, it’s the MMA’s mission that has driven him and rewarded him, not personal recognition — which is kind of ironic, since he’s recognized and appreciated by virtually everyone who knows him.

Along the way, John has also been a great friend to everyone on the MMA staff and to everyone on the Board, on our committees, and in our communities — always supportive, always caring, always there for us. He is a respectful and wise confidant, a wonderful listener, and a constant supportive presence.

And very, very diplomatic. Over the years I’ve popped into John’s office countless times, asking for his opinion on new ideas and suggestions. When my ideas were impractical or strange or the opposite of what we should do, John wouldn’t react, he’d slowly repeat back what I had just said — buying time — and then respectfully ask a series of questions that gently unveiled the inherent problem(s) or redirected the conversation to more viable considerations. I’d always leave feeling good, and better informed. Over 30 years, I can only imagine how many times John’s calm, thoughtful and diplomatic nature has worked wonders with state officials, lawmakers, and even some of our own members!

These qualities — extraordinary talent for public policy, vibrant passion for local government, and deep friendship and care for our colleagues and members — have made John a walking institution here at MMA, greatly admired and respected.

John is a rare combination — a passionate advocate for local government, a trusted and loyal colleague, a person of the highest integrity and honor, and a loyal and wise advisor and friend to all.

I am sure you share our happiness for John as he plans for more time with his family (including grandchildren!), and finds more room for relaxation, trail running, livestreaming international soccer tournaments at 2 a.m., exploring new adventures, and even having a few lazy days. Yet, I’m sure you also share our sense of loss. We will miss his everyday presence, as John and the MMA each open a new chapter and move forward on slightly different paths.

He’s been working doubly hard during this year to ensure a seamless transition as we prepare to welcome our new Legislative Director (you can learn more about Dave Koffman in the People section of this issue). Of course, that’s what John would prioritize — making certain that everything is in place to continue the MMA’s success in building a strong future for local government.

This is a time to celebrate John for all he has given us. While he may be retiring from the staff on August 1st, John will always be part of the MMA family, and he’ll always be our friend.

Please join us in congratulating John Robertson and offering our abiding thanks and appreciation!

Written by Geoff Beckwith, MMA Executive Director & CEO