Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 46
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
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An “Exemplary Municipal Leader” Retires

Ellen Gilbert

Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand has announced her retirement effective November 30. Ms. Marchand has been mayor for 13 of the 22 years she has served on Township Committee. “In many ways I am sorry to be leaving, but there’s always something that’s going to be unfinished,” she said in a recent interview. “It sounds clichéd but it is absolutely true that I have a genuine desire to explore other opportunities in my life, to take the invaluable lessons I have learned from my years in public office, and apply them to other endeavors.” 

In a statement issued on November 11, Ms. Marchand noted that retirement from Township Committee “in no way means absence from serving the Township.” She said that she intends to continue to be active at the local and state level in open space, sustainability, education, and planning initiatives. She is particularly interested in continuing to work with the New Jersey Sustainable State Institute. 

Although her official retirement date is several weeks away, civic leaders have already begun to comment on Ms. Marchand’s career. “Phyllis has been everywhere, at every event, in every neighborhood,” said Congressman Rush Holt (D-12) on hearing the news of her retirement. “She has continually worked to build an even better community. It has always been a pleasure to work with her,” Executive Director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities William Dressel observed that “Phyllis has been an exemplary municipal leader — an articulate, enormously energetic and smart liaison, bringing information from the towns to the state and vice versa.”

Ms. Marchand described “feeling conflicted” about having to spend so much time away from family activities because of her “24/7 commitment” to the job of carrying out municipal responsibilities. Her husband, who is retired, “has been going to concerts by himself for years. It is time for me to resume sharing these activities with him.” Their eight grandchildren, all under the age of seven, reside on both coasts of the country. “I would like to be able to go to Seattle to visit three of my grandchildren at times that are meaningful for them — such as for dance recitals, sports games or birthday parties  — without worrying that I will be missing an important meeting or function,” she commented.

Participation in the recent groundbreaking for the new University Medical Center at Princeton’s replacement hospital provided an epiphany for Ms. Marchand, she said. “I had thought that my retirement from public office would make sense when the hospital’s plans got resolved,” she observed. “I knew that I would feel a real sense of achievement from my participation in the deliberations about the hospital’s future. The groundbreaking was a culmination of the five-year process in which the hospital worked closely with the community and its leaders to figure out how to best serve our residents. I thought, what a great way to end a career — on such a positive note of securing the hospital’s ability to provide excellent health care to our residents, as well as securing a rezoning of the hospital’s current Witherspoon Street site in a way that would be very beneficial to the community.”

“It has been truly an honor working with someone so dedicated to her job and her constituents,” said Princeton HealthCare System President and CEO Barry Rabner, adding that Ms. Marchand “played an invaluable role in helping the hospital administrators and trustees evaluate how the hospital could continue to provide the best health care services to the region in the 21 century. She was thoughtful and thorough in her analysis and committed numerous hours participating in meetings, reading materials, touring our current facility, even the boiler room.”

Princeton University Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee described the University’s respectful regard for Ms. Marchand. “She has worked with the University on many issues over the years and has always been fair, thoughtful, well-informed, and forward-looking in her dealings, whether she agrees or disagrees with the University on a specific project or concept,” he said. “Her goal has always been to serve the best long-term interests of the community, and she has done this exceedingly well. I hope she will continue to be an active participant in the life of the community, even as she also gets to enjoy more time with her husband, children, and grandchildren.”

The November 11 press release cited “the construction of hundreds of affordable housing units for the community, the preservation of thousands of acres of land as open space, the implementation of a deer management program, as well as her service as president of the New Jersey League of Municipalities and the New Jersey Association for Elected Women Officials” as high points of Ms. Marchand’s tenure as mayor.

Ms. Marchand, who was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma three years ago, reported that the disease is being successfully treated. “I have been managing my treatments and my job as mayor very well,” she said. “After leaving office, I will be spending a portion of my time educating/supporting others about living with cancer.” She said that she was pleased to be among a handful of patients who have been asked to mentor medical students about the day-to-day impact of cancer on the lives of patients and their families in a special education program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

As she spoke recently, Ms. Marchand noted that the Township “has a full plate,” with issues like the coming property reevaluation and the question of Borough-Township consolidation on the horizon. “We have a wonderful community, and we can work together if everyone has all the information about these issues,” she observed. “It’s important to ask: what are the facts? what are the advantages? what are the long-term implications? That’s how I have looked at things.” She said that she regrets not seeing market rate housing units for seniors in the community become available during her mayoralty, and she expressed concern about the creation of “wards” in a consolidated municipality. “Everyone will have their own agendas, and it will lead to fragmentation,” she warned.

The Mayor’s last Township Committee Meeting will be Monday, November 24, which is, she happily noted, “awards night,” when Township employees are recognized for their distinguished service.

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