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At 90, Weymouth town clerk decides to leave job of 35 years

Franklin Fryer in a vault at Town Hall, where records go back to Colonial days. Franklin Fryer in a vault at Town Hall, where records go back to Colonial days. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff/FILE 2010)
By Johanna Seltz
Globe Correspondent / January 5, 2012
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WEYMOUTH - Franklin Fryer stepped down as town clerk last week, at age 90 and after 35 years in the job.

Astonishingly, he’s not the oldest man to have served as a town clerk nor has he held the position the longest. (Hingham’s Bill Howard retired in 1971 at age 92 after 37 years in the job, and Southborough’s clerk has been there for 42 years.)

But his colleagues say Fryer, who is known as “Mr. Weymouth’’ both for his longevity and his encyclopedic recall of facts about the town, will be hard to replace.

“He is a consummate gentleman and he will be missed big-time,’’ said Weymouth Veterans Agent Frank Burke, who also is retiring. “He knows everything. When somebody like that walks out the door, all that knowledge goes with him.’’

Fryer is “revered’’ among the city and town clerk community, according to Quincy City Clerk Joseph Shea.

“There are 350 clerks in the Commonwealth and only 54 are men; we joke that we have a little boys’ club,’’ Shea said. “But [Fryer] is definitely a leader; he’s number one. I think he thrives on the personal contact - the people part of it. He’s amazing.’’

Fryer said he decided to retire because - after years of being asked how much longer he planned to work - it finally hit him that at age 90 it probably was time.

“I’ve enjoyed the job, and the time has gone by, [but] I‘d like to do a few things on the outside,’’ he said. “I’m going to raise hell.’’

With a pause for effect, he added: “I’m just kidding. I’m going to just take it easy for a couple of weeks - get my bearings - and then take off in the car and go somewhere, wherever the gas tank takes me.’’

Fryer said he also may write a book about his tenure as town clerk, a job he likens to a country doctor because it covers everything from recording birth and death certificates to supervising elections - Fryer has handled nine presidential elections and countless local ones - to issuing dog licenses.

Most newcomers to town stop at the town clerk’s office for advice, Fryer said, and he says he has spent many hours advising folks on the pros and cons of various neighborhoods.

The town clerk also swears in all appointed and elected officials. Fryer said one of his most memorable swearing-in ceremonies occurred in 2002 when Sandra Carle came to Town Hall to be sworn in as a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals and slipped and fell, breaking her leg in three places. While she was waiting on the floor for the paramedics to arrive, Franklin asked her to raise her right hand and made her appointment official.

“I knew she wasn’t going to come back for a while, so I figured while she was there I’d give her the oath,’’ he said.

The town clerk serves as the archivist of town records, and the vault in the basement of Weymouth Town Hall contains documents going back to Colonial days. The arrangement looks haphazard, but there is a system and Fryer knows where everything is.

The Colonial-era records are in a far corner; the very oldest, dating from the 1640s, is a leather-bound book with sheepskin pages covered with faint writing. An 1889 town report on the opposite wall records the town’s population as 11,250 and the budget as $12,299.31, with about half going to the schools.

Up a twisting metal staircase is a smaller vault room that holds birth, death, and marriage records - including about 1,500 marriages that Fryer has performed as a justice of the peace.

A Weymouth native, he joined the Marines in World War II and was injured in the invasion of Guam. It took him stays in six hospitals before he made it home and he was awarded a Purple Heart. He went to work in the Fore River Shipyard, where his father was a machinist. His mother had been a stitcher at Stetson Shoe before she had children, he said.

Fryer then went to Weymouth Art Leather, where he worked his way up to personnel manager. He got involved in local politics and, after three tries, was elected selectmen. He served 18 years before becoming town clerk in 1976; in 2000 he helped the town switch to a city government.

Several years ago when budgets got tight, he took a pay cut to save another position in the town clerk’s office.

And every day, he was the first one in the office - arriving at 4 a.m. on election days, according to registrar Christine Rose.

“We can’t even wrap our heads around his leaving,’’ she said. “He’s an institution.’’

Milton Town Clerk James G. Mullen Jr., who was elected to his job at age 25 two weeks before Fryer won the Weymouth spot, said he credits Fryer’s success and longevity to his sense of humor.

“And, you know, he has a girlfriend,’’ Mullen added. “That’s an incentive to stay sharp.’’

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.

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