Nancy Eddy (right) speaks with a resident at a reception following the inauguration of the Amherst Town Council on Dec. 2. Eddy served as emcee of the event.

Nancy Eddy, a former Amherst selectman and the first president of the MMA, will be honored during the opening session of the MMA’s 40th Annual Meeting & Trade Show this month.

Eddy moved to Amherst in 1960, shortly after she was married, and soon was serving as a Town Meeting member, a Planning Board member, and on the local League of Women Voters. She served as a selectman for nine years (1971-80), at a time when there were relatively few women selectmen in Massachusetts.

She has also served on a special committee on town goals and a citizens activity committee. Most recently, at age 80, she served as the emcee at the swearing in of Amherst’s first Town Council.

Eddy had a professional career in higher education, ultimately retiring as vice president of administration and finance at Holyoke Community College.

The Beacon recently interviewed Eddy. The following transcript has been condensed.

Talk about the process that led to the formation of the MMA and the consolidation of the member groups. Was it difficult to get everyone on the same page?
I would not say it was an easy process. There was a committee formed in about 1976 that studied the problem, which was that cities and towns were not getting enough attention from the Legislature or from the governor, and that if we worked together we would be in better shape.

There was a Massachusetts Selectmen’s Association, a Massachusetts Mayors’ Association, a Massachusetts Municipal Management Association, organizations for town clerks and school committees – none of them had much staff – and there was the Massachusetts League of Cities and Towns. There were these conflicting voices, especially between cities and towns.

The person I’d probably give more credit to than anyone else is [the late] Kennedy Shaw, who was the staff director for the League of Cities and Towns. He thought that we should try to bring everyone together as one.

We worked out bylaws and proposals on how the organizations could come together. It went before the MSA in 1977 and was turned down, so the committee continued to work and it finally came back in 1979 and was approved.

The major concern at the time was from smaller towns who felt that they would be overwhelmed by the cities. So it was contentious. The committee did a lot of traveling around the Commonwealth visiting the selectmen and the mayors.

It was a time when everyone was worried about [the property tax-limiting] Proposition 13 in California, whether or not there would be something similar happening here. There was a lot of concern about school funding and it not being fair to the various sizes of cities and towns, a lot of concern about state mandates that were not funded.

It was not an easy sell, but it was the right thing to do, and I’m delighted that everything is in place and working well.

In your view, how has the MMA evolved since its formation? In the early days, was it difficult for the association to get the attention of state leaders?
I do think that the MMA has been very effective at making sure the voices of municipalities are heard. I suspect that it is still a challenge to consider the voices of some of the smaller communities.

There is a picture of Gov. Michael Dukakis at the first meeting of the MMA, giving me a signed executive order that required the Legislature to at least consider the impacts of any law on municipal finance. That had been an effort that we were really concerned about, the issue of mandated costs, and of course one of the funny things is that we’re still worried about mandated costs.

How have the issues faced by local government changed since the MMA was founded?
You look at issues and think, “Oh gee, 40 years ago we must have been worried about something very different,” but in point of fact the issues are very similar. Other issues, of course, have come about – obviously technology and problems with internet access, mostly with small cities and rural areas. My sense is infrastructure issues are larger now than they used to be.

But it’s still the question of too much reliance on the property tax, and funding formulas both for infrastructure and roads and highways and public transportation, and mandated costs. Other things that come to mind are health insurance and pension costs.

How has the job of a selectman changed, and the knowledge base that’s required?
What I probably did not know enough about by any means was municipal finance – how budgets are done, how the state and federal governments impact municipal governments. So I think financial planning and training is really important for people who want to get into municipal government.

Prior to being a selectman, I had been very active in the League of Women Voters, as a league president and working on state league committees. The league does a great job educating its members and its leaders on both analysis of public issues and then presentation of public issues, to try to get the public to understand them and then also to make sure that some action can get taken. I think that it’s really important for the MMA to provide that kind of training for people who are thinking about going into government.

Another critical piece at the time was trying to help local officials to make sure that they knew not only how to contact their state and federal legislators, but also how to affect their vote and how to give them more information. Local officials don’t like to think of themselves as lobbyists, but you know, that’s really what they are.

What was it like for you, as a woman, to be the leader of a statewide organization 40 years ago?
When I looked back at one newspaper clipping, I was apparently the first woman ever to head a major state municipal organization, so, yes, it was unusual. And women faced problems then that are the same kind of problems they still face, about maybe not being taken seriously and being talked over. I could find that frustrating, but what I did – and what I think most women still do – is make sure I had really done my homework before going into a meeting. Know what the facts are, know what your position is, and know the position of other people on boards or committees, so you can speak knowledgeably and represent your gender as well as your city or town.

So yeah, a few challenges, but in general very positive, a lot of really good people to work with. Kennedy Shaw [the first executive director of the MMA] was a wonderful leader, very supportive and helpful to every person coming along.

What first inspired you to run for selectman?
John Olver, our retired congressman who was at the time our state representative, came to my house one day and said, “I think you should run for selectman,” and I kind of laughed. And he said, “No, come on, Nancy, you’d be perfect. You’ve been a town meeting member, you’ve been president of the local League of Women Voters, you know a lot of people, you’re very knowledgeable, and you’ll work hard. And you have very progressive ideas about what can be done, so you should run.” And it took a little while, but he convinced me to do that.

I suspect that a lot of people have similar kinds of experiences, having other people say to them, “You know, you really should run.” And that plants a seed. And I think it’s important that we do that, that we find bright, committed people who will spend the time and energy to serve in municipal government.

Written by