MMA Executive Director and CEO Geoff Beckwith will retire on Sept. 8.

Geoff Beckwith welcomes a visitor into his office of the past two years and points out that, despite his collection of plaques, photos and memorabilia, nothing is hung up.

“I didn’t want to put any holes in the walls,” he says. “I saved that for the next person.”

After 31 years in a job that he loved, a job to which he showed unflinching dedication, Beckwith knew the day would come when he’d close the door for the last time. Still, he’s attempted to slow the pace and savor the last months and weeks leading up to his retirement on Sept. 8, the day before his 65th birthday. Many can’t wait to cross the threshold of retirement and leave all the stress and worries behind, but Beckwith talks about how perfect the job was for him, and acknowledges that he’ll continue to worry about things like local aid and unfunded mandates in the years ahead.

“It’s been the trifecta for me,” he says, referring to the key ingredients for happiness in work. “I have for decades here been able to grow in this position, and to learn, and become a better manager and leader of the staff, to help the MMA grow. I’ve evolved a lot, and that kind of growth is really important, to have someone feel wonderful about the job that they’re doing.

“I feel as though the last 31 years have been a gift, and that I have been a disproportionate beneficiary of the great work that the MMA does.”

Growth of the MMA

Beckwith first became aware of the MMA as a legislative aide in the early 1980s, when he stopped by the organization’s office on Tremont Street in Boston to “Xerox” a document and discovered that the association was “far more technologically advanced than the State House.” The MMA, founded in 1979, was in its formative years, but it was quickly becoming a force in policy discussions regarding the fiscal health of cities and towns and government reform.

“The MMA was educating legislators about the issues and the realities on the ground … in a way that was extremely powerful,” he says. “It was, I think, punching above its weight at the time.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from Boston College and working as an assistant to the Board of Selectmen in his hometown of Reading, he went on to serve three terms in the House of Representatives, where he championed a significant piece of legislation to reduce the use of toxins in workplaces. In 1990, he’d decided not to run for reelection, and instead managed a successful uphill campaign to defeat a ballot question that would have cut taxes while creating a $1 billion hole in the state budget. He was director of a work environment department at UMass Lowell when a friend and former MMA executive director, Jim Segel, tipped him off that the MMA was in search of a new leader.

Beckwith was appointed during the MMA Annual Meeting in January 1992 at age 34, and quickly came to understand the scale of the organization.

“I was whisked around the Annual Meeting, and I said, ‘Holy moly, this organization is a lot bigger than I thought.’ There are hundreds and hundreds of local officials there, multiple organizations underneath the MMA umbrella. People don’t realize how complex our organization is.

“And so it was exhilarating and a little scary to be perfectly honest. But I figured, OK, just one step at a time.”

MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith joins scores of local officials from across the state in calling for the passage of the Housing Choices Act during an event at the Grand Staircase of the State House in February 2019.

Communities were still reeling from the aftereffects of a major recession, and still adjusting to the fiscal constraints of Proposition 2½, which took effect 10 years earlier. Technology widely used today was either nonexistent or in its infancy — “Our power at the time was blast faxes,” he quips — so the MMA staff was routinely assembled in the conference room to process countless mailings to members.

As the workings of local government became more complex and sophisticated, so, too, did the MMA. The organization held more meetings with more member groups and broadened its educational programs, eventually leading to the launch of a wide-ranging webinars program in 2020. Its legislative portfolio grew to accommodate a broader range of emerging and vexing issues. Its communications vehicles expanded to include a robust, up-to-the-minute website, and its monthly newsletter, the flagship Beacon, has roughly doubled in size. The MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show is twice as big as it was when Beckwith was introduced. And in 2011, the MMA launched a highly successful partnership with Suffolk University to offer professional development opportunities to local government practitioners.

During Beckwith’s tenure, the combined staff for the MMA and MIIA, the MMA’s nonprofit insurance service, has tripled to be able to meet the evolving needs of members.

Beckwith gets particularly excited when he talks about the growth of MIIA, which is recognized as “one of the elite municipal insurance pools in the country, not just in size, but in content and effectiveness and in value delivered to communities.” The $800 million operation “saves communities millions and millions of dollars a year,” while providing essential risk management services and training.

When Beckwith came aboard, the MIIA staff was located on a separate floor and had little interaction with the MMA team. Over time, the two organizations have become fully integrated and focused on a shared mission.

“I’m proudest of hiring a team of extraordinary people,” Beckwith says, “and then helping to coach them and support them and give them resources along the way so they can deliver for our members — and boy have they delivered.”

All about the members

MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith, right, speaks with the late Boston Mayor Tom Menino during an MMA Annual Meeting in the late 1990s.

Over the years, Beckwith has rubbed shoulders with some of the legends of Massachusetts politics — folks like Tom Menino, Ted Kennedy and Mike Dukakis — and has formed relationships, and quite a number of genuine friendships, with countless state and local officials in every corner of the Commonwealth. He says getting to know the MMA membership has been one of the biggest joys of his job.

“I love the fact that local employees, local officials — appointed, elected — are all leaning in to build the best communities that they can build,” he says. “And the MMA’s work is to be right there alongside them.”

He refers to local government as “a movement,” and beams when talking about how local leaders have evolved and become more professionalized — and about how they maintained quality operations and stood up new services when a pandemic brought the world to a halt in the spring of 2020.

This is part of what fuels his optimism, despite daunting headwinds like incivility, climate change, aging municipal infrastructure, racial and social justice issues, and economic vulnerabilities while under the constraints of Proposition 2½.

“Local government is doing more, and is much more agile and innovative than anyone gives our communities credit for,” he says. “Just take a look at what happened during the pandemic.

“We are in a time of incivility, but we still have all these people saying, ‘Yes, I know it’s hard, I know that I’m going to be insulted out there in the public square, but this is important, and I want to help my community move forward.’

“So how can we not be optimistic when we see the capacity of local government being higher, and local officials being so committed to helping their communities, and stepping forward still?”

The next chapter

MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith shares a laugh with his wife, Dru, as they listen to tributes during his retirement party in Quincy on Aug. 31.

An avid hiker and gym rat known to arrive at the office with a gym bag over his shoulder, Beckwith is in very good health and has no lack of energy.

“I’m going to be an active retiree,” he says.

Having earned a master’s of business administration degree from MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 2018, he says the study of organizational development has given his career a new source of energy over the past 10 years or so.

“So when I take a look at how I might be able to make a difference, it’s continuing that, helping advise other nonprofit organizations, other mission-driven organizations, about how to develop a culture and systems that embrace the best qualities of why people want to work somewhere.

“I am so proud of our staff. And I’m also proud that a lot of people are on this staff because they care about the mission, but they also see that this is a great place to work. … And so going forward, I’d like to help other organizations make that a part of their DNA as well.”

He’ll also continue mentoring executive MBA student teams at MIT, as he’s been doing for the past four years. He sees a role for himself in helping people unlock their full potential. He also looks forward to having more time for hiking, traveling and visiting family. But he will be following the progress of local government from afar.

“There’s no way that I can forget about all the things that I’ve been doing,” he says, “and I’ll still care just as much. So it’ll be an adjustment, I’m sure, that I’ll have to figure out.”

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