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08/02/2023 11:50 AM

Fillmore McPherson: A Fond Farewell

Fillmore McPherson may be a southern boy going by his roots, but he and his wife Joan have been beloved Madison residents for close to 50 years. Sadly, that will end this month as Fillmore is retiring from his town duties, and he and Joan will be moving to California, but his service and dedication to the town will be long remembered.

Fillmore has had several stints in his service to the town, including previous and current membership on the Board of Finance and, of course, his three terms as first selectmen.

Fillmore and Joan ended up in Madison when his career took him to the Schick razor company, where he spent much of his working life in management. Upon his retirement from the company in the late 1990s, he began his journey of public service.

“I bounced around the country, typically in manufacturing, and then I ended up at Schick in Milford; that’s why we moved up here in ‘79, and we’ve been in Madison now for 44 years. Then I retired from Schick at the end of 1997 and started getting involved in town service,” says Fillmore. “I got a call from a friend who said they were looking for folks to be on the high school building committee. That was the first one. That lasted a couple of years, and that took a while and got voted down by referendum in the spring of 2000. As part of that, we had to make presentations before the various boards, so after that, I got a call from someone who was on the Board of Finance (BOF) who said, ‘How would you like to run for Board of Finance?’ and I said ‘Gosh, that sounds like a great idea,’ so I ran in ‘01 and served two terms— eight years—and I was chairman for half that time.”

His terms on the BOF led Fillmore to consider higher office, and in 2009 he ran for first selectman. That led to his election and initial term to the town’s top leadership position, something Fillmore says he was honored to do.

“After my terms on the Board of Finance, I decided that maybe it was time to run for first selectman, and so I ran for first selectman in ‘09 and served three terms. After those three terms, I decided to retire from the position; I had had enough. As I said at the time, it was time for me to smell the roses while there was still some flowers on the vine,” Fillmore jokes. “But I stayed active in the town committee, and then four years ago, they were needing people for the Board of Finance, and I said, well, that was more fun, much less stress, so I ran again for the board and won. That service has concluded; I’m officially retired from that board now.”

Fillmore is a Navy veteran who served active and reserve for more than three decades, so he knew that he wanted to be in some form of public service, but running for office hadn’t occurred to him until he was asked. Fillmore says he felt a strong responsibility to serve, in no small part, due to his father’s influence and his upbringing.

“I had never really thought about public office before, but had definitely thought about public service,” Fillmore says. “My father down in Virginia was very active in our local town. He was kind of a prime mover but never in elected office. So, I guess it was sort of in the genes.”

Fillmore says he is proud of several projects and programs he helped to initiate, both as a member of the BOF and as first selectman, including purchasing the old airport to create Salt Meadow Park and the construction of the Senior Center.

“I think people will remember me for the hurricanes and snowstorms, I think, Irene and Sandy. We had a series of very devastating storms, and I think we did a good job of keeping Madison safe. That’s when my Navy training kicked right back in. I was on board an aircraft carrier, and it just kicked right back in. In fact, after those storms, I remember a veteran from the American Legion came up to me and sort of congratulated me on it, and I said that’s not the first time I’ve been to “general quarters,” which means “all hands man your battle stations.” You don’t sit there and squabble in that type of situation. You make a decision, and hopefully, it’s the right one,” says Fillmore. “We also turned around the police department, not me personally, but on my watch. I hired Jack Drumm right after we transformed the police commission, and I think that was important for the town. I also think keeping taxes in line every year and maintaining a healthy fund balance was a good thing. We didn’t kick the can down the road. The triple-A bond rating the town now has is also another issue we worked hard to achieve.”

Fillmore was also a major influence during his service on the Madison Land Trust, as it was known then, and cites that as an important contribution to Madison.

“I was also active in the Land Trust. One of my best friends at the time was active in the Land Trust, and he got me involved. I worked my way up with them. For some reason, they thought I knew what I was doing,” Fillmore says jokingly. “So, they put me in at V[ice] P[resident] of Finance, and I stayed in that for a number of years.”

Fillmore says that leaving Madison behind will be bittersweet for him and Joan, but being close to their children, who all live in the San Diego area, will be welcome in their golden years. According to Fillmore, they will never forget the generosity and community of their adopted hometown.

“There comes a time in your life that I think you do things with mixed feelings. As much as we love Madison and the surrounding area, it’s time to make a move,” Fillmore says. “I’ve already submitted my resignation to the Board of Finance, and we’ll be leaving for San Diego at the end of September. All three of our children are out there and quite close to where we’re going to be, so that is nice. We are very happy about that, but leaving this area will be tough. We will certainly miss it.”

Fillmore says as proud as he is of his accomplishments, he also has a few regrets as a public servant.

“We left a couple of projects on the table that I wish we had been able to do. Certainly, the Academy is one, and the downtown beautification as well. I actually got started on that because it had been struggling for years, so those are probably the two that I remember,” says Fillmore.

There will be a farewell reception for both Fillmore and Joan at the Madison Beach Hotel on Friday, Aug. 11, from 5 to 7 p.m. The reception is sponsored by the Madison Republican Town Committee, but it is not a political fundraiser.

After 44 years in Madison, including two terms as first selectman, Fillmore McPherson will head to California at the end of September. Photo courtesy of Fillmore McPherson