By Kathleen Downey
“I love sitting here,” says Patricia (Pat) Connelly. “It’s such a meditative place.” We are sitting on a concrete bench next to the newly installed clock tower outside the Institution for Savings on State Street. A waterfall housed in the center of the brick edifice, behind a black wrought iron gate with a bronze spire, offers a steady and soothing peal as each morning sunlit droplet patters to the ground.
Connelly has worked at the bank for the past 30 years. She isn’t working on this day, however. In fact, it’s the last day of her two-week vacation. But she could think of no spot more appropriate than here to chat about her great affection for Newburyport: her coworkers, whom she says “are like family”; the bank customers she’s come to know and care about (“I’ve sent out lots of Hallmark cards over the years,” she jokes); notable citizens in Newburyport’s history; the friends and family who warmly fill her life; her two cats, each with a Newburyport tale; the spirit of giving that makes her proud to be a hometown girl; and the contentment that Connelly derives simply through the beauty of the Port.
She grew up in the city’s North End, attending the Currier Grammar School on Forrester Street (now a medical professional building) and then the Belleville Elementary School (now the Bresnahan). “My class was the first to attend the Belleville when it opened,” Connelly shares. “It was such a big deal!” The inflection in Connelly’s voice offers hint of the genuine childhood exuberance that she experienced.
Upon graduation from Newburyport High School, class of 1964, Connelly attended secretarial school in Boston. “A group of us carpooled together each day,” she reminisces. (Connelly still travels into Boston . . . to attend Celtics games. “I love the Boston Celtics!” Connelly the basketball fan exudes.)
Except for a one-year period when she left Newburyport as a young woman and lived in the western part of the state (“the longest year of my life,” Connelly states emphatically, making it clear that she not joking), Connelly has always lived in Newburyport.
However, Connelly recognizes the need for young people to visit and other places and cultures. She advises, “It’s a big world out there; go experience it for a couple of years. Then come back and settle in Newburyport!”
For the last 14 years, Connelly has lived in her childhood home; she moved back into the house after her mother passed away. “I can’t imagine anyone else living here,” she states. “And I am thrilled that my sister and her husband live next door.” Of her only sibling, Connelly states, “I cherish my sister.”
Prior to coming to the Institution, Connelly worked for former mayor Byron Matthews. “Oh that was an exciting time,” Connelly says, referring to the downtown’s historic restoration and transformation. She praises Matthews’s leadership. “Byron was so driven; he accomplished so much for the city.”
Connelly, herself, served a term on the city council during the 1970s.
And she received a civic award from another former mayor and downtown restoration leader, Dick Sullivan. “I miss him,” Connelly says of the late mayor. “I miss his smile, his love of community . . .”
“I loved working at city hall, but I had always wanted to work at the Institution,” Connelly shares. She recalls approaching then-president John “Hack” Pramberg about possible job openings. “He told me, ‘Pat, no one ever leaves here.’”
“Mr. Pramberg called me two weeks later to let me know that a teller position had just become available. He advised me to come in to the bank for an interview. I did; I interviewed with Mr. Mitchell, who hired me.”
“And here he is now,” Connelly announces, turning her head and waving hello to a gentleman who has just pulled his car into the bank parking lot.
The moment seems almost staged—except it is not. Mr. Mitchell, now retired as president and CEO from the Institution (he still serves as a trustee) steps out of his car and approaches Connelly. The slender and stately gentleman exchanges pleasantries with Connelly; each appears equally delighted by their happenstance meeting.
Today, Connelly holds the position as clerk of corporation for the Institution. She also serves on the bank’s charitable foundation.
Connelly speculates that her own personal spirit-of-giving likely began as a child. “I remember sitting at a card table in my family’s living room while my father gave me instructions for putting March of Dimes labels on donations cans. We then went door-to-door to our neighbors and collected donations for the charity.”
Her practice with affixing labels to donation cans served her well when, decades later, Connelly started volunteering for the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society (MRFRS). She served as the organization’s treasurer for six years and remains a volunteer.
However, the years that Connelly spent caring for an MRFRS sterilized and vaccinated feral cat colony left the biggest imprint upon her heart. She fondly recalls bringing the cats their meals and not-so-fondly (but with humor) recalls shoveling out the cats’ shelters after each snowstorm.
Two special cats found their way not only into Connelly’s heart; they also found their way into her home.
She succumbed to the charms of (The) Donald, a special-needs diabetic kitty who had been residing at the MRFRS adoption center.
Nickel, who had been a neighborhood stray, first pussyfooted into the Institution one day where he established himself as Bank Cat. Connelly would bring the cat home with her each weekend. Then one Monday morning, Nickel just didn’t show up for work.
“Customers still ask me, ‘What became of Nickel?’ I tell them, ‘He’s happy and content on my sofa!” says Connelly.
Connelly is content whenever she is lending a helping hand, and not only to those with four paws.
She volunteers each year at the Opportunity Works auction, supports the Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts, has helped to promote signature Port events that including Yankee Homecoming and the Literary Festival, and lends her assistance wherever she feels she can help or bring joy to someone’s life.
Her latest volunteer efforts are with the Hugh Doyle Resource Center. The community assistance agency refers people in need to local nonprofit organizations (such as Pettengill House) that can best provide the type of assistance required by an individual.
Connelly reveals that her civic role models are two local women. “Norma Beit and Marjorie Lynn,” she states. The former is chairperson for Roof Over Head Collaborative, an organization that provides transitional housing to homeless families of Greater Newburyport. The latter is the retired director of the YWCA, credited with developing an affordable housing program. The family residence at the YWCA was renamed in Lynn’s honor.
“I find both these women to be so inspirational,” Connelly says of Beit and Lynn.
Humble and self-effacing, Connelly downplays her capacity to inspire others. She voices that her life is just “not that interesting.” But she’s wrong. She may not have traveled the globe or lived in far-flung cities. However, Connelly’s devotion to the community where she was born is extraordinary, pure, and an inspiration. Pat Connelly is a Newburyport treasure.
Kathleen Downey is the Features Editor for Newburyport Today. If you are a townie or a citizen who would like to be profiled (or to suggest someone to profile), or if you have an idea for a feature story, please email: Kathleen@Newburyport-Today.com.