Nancy Caffyn, 75, Mashpee selectwoman, state representative

By Gloria Negri
Globe Staff / June 6, 2010

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The flag will fly at half-staff in Mashpee today to honor Nancy J. Caffyn and her public service as a member of the Mashpee Board of Selectmen and as a Republican state representative for Mashpee, Bourne, Falmouth, and Sandwich.

Ms. Caffyn died May 26 after a 13-year battle with cancer.

She was 75 and had lived in Mashpee since the 1980s.

A native of Connecticut, she had also been mayor of South Windsor, Conn., in the 1970s.

“No issue was too small or too large for this charismatic public advocate-turned-politician to tackle,’’ the Cape Cod Times said in its tribute. “She dedicated her life to battling entrenched special interests and improving her community, while raising a family of six children.’’

In a telephone interview, Gino Montesi of Mashpee, who had a talk radio show on Cape Cod, said Ms. Caffyn, then a selectwoman, was the only politician who stepped forward and appeared on his show in the late 1990s to support the view that Cape towns were being underfunded per student reimbursement under the state’s education reform formula.

She cofounded a group to fight for more reimbursement called RAGE, for Residents Advocating Government Equity. Through its efforts, Montesi said, the reimbursement was increased.

Montesi recalled that Ms. Caffyn also felt the Cape “was getting a raw deal’’ when it came to the distribution of lottery funds and tried to rectify that.

“She was never about herself,’’ he said.

The Cape Cod Times recounted the occasion in the 1990s when Ms. Caffyn took William Weld, then governor, on a tour to show him toxic plumes at Otis Air Force Base.

She urged faster action on the part of the state to get rid of them and shortly after, the Times said, his office took a more active role in “pressuring the federal government to increase their clean-up efforts.’’

There was no limit to the causes Ms. Caffyn championed, ranging from free health clinics and legal services for battered women to tax credits for seniors and low-income earners.

She was born Nancy Jacobson in Middletown, Conn., and grew up in East Hampton, Conn.

She took business and secretarial courses and later used the skills she honed there to help her husband in his business.

When she was 21, she married Allan Caffyn, a cadet in the United States Air Force jet pilot program.

After his service, the couple settled in South Windsor, Conn., where Ms. Caffyn assisted him in his business, Industronics Inc.

Ms. Caffyn, whose father, Arthur Jacobson, had once served as a state senator in Connecticut, became involved in public service in South Windsor and became its mayor in the late 1970s.

Her son Sean, of Chicago, recalled “going from door to door’’ with his mother when he was 10 or 11 while she campaigned.

When she lost a race, he said, his mother would say: “Just keep on running until you win.’’

That was always her position, he said.

Sean said he wasn’t always sure that his mother was very comfortable being in the limelight, but she was inspired by a higher purpose.

“What drove her was she just wanted to make the world a better place,’’ he said. “Mother would like to be remembered as someone who truly cared about her community, that she got into politics not for her own purposes, but because she saw things that needed to be done.’’

When the Caffyns divorced in the 1980s, Ms. Caffyn moved to their summer home in Mashpee.

She was selectwoman in Mashpee from 1991 to 1998.

In 1998, she was given a Woman of Achievement Award by the Upper Cape Cod Business and Professional Women. That same year she was awarded the EPA Environmental Merit Award.

From 1998 to 2000, Ms. Caffyn was state representative for the Third Barnstable District.

In 2000, her cancer was in remission, but she chose not to run again for the Legislature, according to The Cape Cod Times, and spent more time with her family and concentrating on her health.

She told House colleagues, the Times said, “she would continue to fight as a private citizen for affordable housing, health programs, environmental funding, and equal education aid for Cape Cod.’’

Her colleagues named her Legislator of the Year in 2000.

“Mother didn’t want to be remembered as having had cancer but for the things she accomplished,’’ said her son Bradley, of Mashpee, who often accompanied her on her political journeys and who is an environmental activist.

“My mother had a strong view of participating in the community,’’ he said, “and she wanted her children to do the same.’’

Ms. Caffyn’s children said that growing up in such a political atmosphere enhanced their lives.

Her daughter, Allison of Rydal, Ga., wrote in an online letter to friends of how she will miss her mother every day.

“She was an incredibly beautiful and strong woman who shaped and influenced who I am today,’’ she wrote. “I’m not even sure if there isn’t anything I’ve done in my life that hasn’t somehow stemmed from a desire to please her, rebel against her, or just plain love her.’’

In addition to her sons and daughter, she leaves three other sons, Christopher of New Tripoli, Pa., Brian of Hong Kong, and Timothy of Miami; her former husband, Allan, of Manchester, Conn.; a sister, Marjorie Jerin of Cheshire, Conn.; two brothers, Arthur Jacobson and Vincent Jacobson, both of East Hampton, Conn.; and five grandchildren.

A public ceremony will be held at 12:30 p.m. today at Great Neck Woods Cemetery in Mashpee.