She had run her own businesses and was working in real estate when Ruth Lyons was offered a job with the town.

Starting her first position in government as Topsham’s assistant tax collector in 1990, Lyons worked her way up to deputy clerk in 1991 and become town clerk in 1992. She took on that challenge, even sniffing out a case of ballot tampering in her first election as clerk. Ten years ago, she began running both the tax collector and town clerk offices.

After more than two decades in the field, Lyons was honored — and surprised — with a special award on Oct. 3 during the Maine Municipal Association convention at the Augusta Civic Center. She was chosen Town Clerk of the Year for 2013 by the Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association, an affiliate of the MMA.

Established in 1991, the award is presented annually to a municipal clerk who is nominated by their peers, recognizing excellence in their contributions to their communities.

A member of the Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association award review committee stood up and read aloud the reason for Lyons’ selection this year, and “I almost cried,” Lyons admits. “And then they bring your family in and people from the town (of Topsham) were there.”

Her family did a good job keeping hush about the surprise beforehand. Her husband, daughter, and son and his wife and children all came to witness the recognition.

“What I admire about Ruth is her honesty and ability to speak up for what is right regardless of public sentiment,” wrote Lisa Goodwin, Bangor city clerk, in her letter of support for Lyons’ nomination. “Ruth possesses the integrity and professionalism that should be embraced by all municipal employees. She has given a tremendous amount of her time to the Maine Town & City Clerks Association as well as the New England Association of Town and City Clerks for the betterment of the profession.”

“It’s an honor,” Lyons said last week. “There are a lot of great clerks just as deserving as I was.”

Lyons said she thinks many don’t understand what it means to be a town clerk.

“I think if a lot of young people coming out of school knew what government service was, and the position of town clerk and tax collector or deputy tax collector, they would be more interested and go for that field and be educated and trained in that field,” Lyons said.

After graduating from high school at age 17, Lyons, who hails from Eastport, attended what is now Casco Bay College in Portland.

At only 19, she worked for Central Maine Power Co. at its computer center in Augusta. After about a year, she got married and worked in the office of admissions at the University of Maine in Orono, setting the office up on a computer system.

She left that position to start a family, then bought and ran a general store, a bakery and food distributor in Washington County with 11 employees.

She and her husband sold everything and moved to Topsham in 1983 and then she worked in real estate until 1990.

Topsham was doing a revaluation at the time, but the revaluation company was using asking prices rather than fair market value, which had dropped 10 percent, Lyons said. This spurred her to call the newspaper and subsequently organize a meeting of hundreds of townspeople with the Board of Selectmen and the revaluation company.

The upshot: Approximately $400,000 was rebated to taxpayers.

She then got a call from the town asking her to work for them in the tax office, the start of her work in public service.

Challenges this year for Lyons include new voting machines and redistricting.

“I love the law part; I like elections, I like town meetings, and I like learning,” Lyons said. “You never stop learning. Never.”

[email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: