Barbara O’Keefe packs up 22 years of mayoral reign as she approaches most things: with a matter-of-fact and practical attitude.
“I’ve got two boxes here and that’s all I need, I don’t need much,” O’Keefe said, wrapping up her last official act as mayor Thursday at town hall. “The stuff I put in a pile here I’m trying to decide whether to keep or throw out.”
As it was New Year’s Eve, things were quiet at the village offices. Morris Furcron, retiring zoning inspector, popped his head in to say goodbye. “I never did have an office, so I don’t have anything to clean up,” Furcron said.
“He’s like me, you don’t need a nameplate, everyone knew where to find me,” O’Keefe joked.
She does have a nameplate, but her routine was something you could set the clock by. Wednesdays were the day you could always find her at town hall. Other days you could hunt her at Village Market, from which she also retired Saturday.
She’s taking her retirements in stride. “It was my decision not to run,” she said. “Bittersweet? Nope. Not at all. If I had any doubts in my mind I’d have run again and I’d beat him again.”
That last referred to having run and won against Hans Schneider in 2011. She chose not to run this time around, but Schneider did and won.
Instead, she ran for the charter review commission.
“I’m just looking forward to doing some other things,” said the 76-year-old O’Keefe. “When it quits being fun it’s time to quit. People are not as easy to work with as they used to be. Some people have a personal agenda.”
O’Keefe has always prided herself on being available to media and her community.
Sorting through some packed items, she hit the jackpot: Barbara O’Keefe Mayor of Wellington hair combs, keys to the city, and the mayoral seal. “I’ll leave some of this stuff for Hans,” she said.
The grade separation project that yielded Wellington’s new railway underpass was O’Keefe’s proudest moment. “The grade separation says it all,” she said. “I didn’t think it would be nearly that beautiful.” Council voted to rename a portion of the roadway O’Keefe Way on Main Street.
In a day of memories, she fondly related a story about traveling to Washington, D.C., to testify before the service transportation board about why the grade separation was needed.
“There were five of us and none of us were very small, so it was kind of tight when we all got into a taxi, but we all got in there,” she recalled. In one day the team traveled back and forth to the nation’s capitol. “That was a good trip,” she said.
Village manager Steve Pyles stopped by to offer O’Keefe help moving out. They discussed last-minute business about giving keys to the incoming mayor. She pinned up a 2016 calendar for the new mayor.
“I’m about ready to hang it up here,” O’Keefe said after an hour. “Overall, Wellington has been a good place with good people and they’ve been good to work with… It’s not like I’m moving away. I always felt I should give back and I think I’ve done that so, no regrets.”
Catherine Gabe can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @ReporterGabe on Twitter.
Mayor Barbara O’Keefe was all business while cleaning out her office after 22 years as mayor.
Photos by Catherine Gabe | Wellington Enterprise
“That’s my shovel!” outbound mayor Barbara O’Keefe exclaims on her last day in office, finding the tool that broke ground on the $18 million grade separation project, which she considers her crowning achievement.