February 26, 2010

All in all, the inaugural bash was a ball

— Westbrook's newly elected Mayor Colleen Hilton generated headlines and stirred community debate after making quick changes to a number of city departments upon taking office. But on Jan. 9 at the Italian Heritage Center in Portland, the focus was celebration rather than politics as more than 300 of her friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, city officials and supporters gathered for Westbrook's Inaugural Ball.

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Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer: Jan. 9, 2010 Mayor Colleen Hilton, third from right, smiles with her sisters and sisters-in-law, who are, from left, Gloria Noyes, Barbara Sawyer, Cindy Noyes, Patty Amico, Margaret Poulin and Shirley Barker.

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Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer: Jan. 9, 2010 Popular party band Motor Booty Affair got the crowd dancing. Mayor Hilton's brother Stephen Noyes is the band's drummer.

The mayor, dressed in a shimmering silver gown, greeted the hundreds of guests as they filed into the ballroom for an evening of cocktails, dinner and dancing. Hosting an inaugural ball has been a Westbrook tradition for a number of years, yet I've been unable to find anyone who knows when it started.

A number of people who were guests at the city's past balls said this year's affair was one of the best attended in recent memory.

''I've been to a couple (of inaugural balls),'' said Susan Eldridge, who is deputy director of Westbrook Housing. ''They're not always this big. Colleen has great support in the town.''

She also has a huge family.

Her four sisters, two brothers, their spouses and children were all there to celebrate her election. So were her parents, Malcolm and Mary Jane Noyes. Her dad chairs the board of Westbrook Housing, and as a result there were a number of people associated with the affordable housing provider at the ball. Her husband, Bill Hilton, her sons William Hilton and John Hilton and her daughter, Emily Hilton, were also in attendance.

Many of Mayor Hilton's nieces and nephews were at the ball, and I must give a quick mention to her nephew and godson, Anthony Amico, (who tells me he gets ''an extra gift every holiday'' from his godmother) and her niece, Colleen Poulin, who is named after her aunt.

The mayor's sister, Patty Amico, did much of the heavy lifting to make the elegant party happen and was grateful for the superb help from Martha O'Connor and Lynn Aceto.

In addition to her new duties for the city, Mayor Hilton serves as the CEO of VNA Home Health, which is part of Mercy Hospital.

O'Connor, who works with Hilton at VNA, said she's long been impressed with the new mayor's leadership style. Whether it's answering the phones or taking out the trash, Hilton pitches in to do whatever needs to be done at VNA, according to O'Connor.

''She can talk to anyone,'' O'Connor said. ''She's able to really hear people and filter it all down.''

During dinner I sat next to O'Connor and we had a great time chatting. Our table was filled with a fun group of people including Lew and Stephanie Emery, Joan and Donny Harmon, Ed and Stacy Symbol and Mike and Ellen LaChapelle.

Ellen LaChapelle told me that her kids used to play soccer with Hilton's children when they were younger. LaChapelle also was among the many guests at the ball who expressed her excitement about the city electing its first woman mayor.

''It's groundbreaking,'' LaChapelle said. ''It makes you proud.''

Supporter Everett Brown was enthusiastic about her election as well.

''I think it's a refreshing change for politics in this town,'' Brown said. ''I'm a strong believer that women should be running this country because men like to fight too much.''

Larry Dahms, who graduated from Westbrook High with Hilton in 1974, said he wasn't surprised by her new role in the community.

''She was an ambitious young lady,'' Dahms recalled of Hilton's high school days.

An interesting little tidbit I learned at the ball from Julie Rowles is that Hilton is the second member of Westbrook's class of '74 to serve as mayor, following in the footsteps of Don Estes.

A number of city officials were at the event, including Greg Smith, chair of the school board, Victor Chau, a newly elected city councilor, Kathryn Hersom, who is the principal of Saccarappa School, Keith Luke, the city's economic development director, and Gloria Noyes, who is Hilton's sister-in-law and was named the state's 2009 Teacher of the Year for her work at the Congin School.

Before dinner, Jim Violette offered a few remarks to the crowd. Violette served on the Westbrook City Council from 1998 to 2005 and became president of the legislative body in 2000.

''I've seen Colleen's work in action,'' Violette said ''She's serious about what she wants to do and there's no better person to lead Westbrook.''

The guests at the ball illustrated how well-connected Hilton is within the Westbrook community, however, I was surprised to learn she has an inside hookup to the local music scene.

You see, her brother Stephen Noyes happens to be the drummer for popular party band Motor Booty Affair. In honor of the occasion, he and his fellow band members donned special powder blue tuxes and their signature wigs and kept the dance floor packed and the crowd on its toes until midnight.

Which goes to show that even if some disagree with her policies, her taste in music is a surefire crowd pleaser.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

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