Making a graceful exit
Kathy Gollow, Phyllis Allen to retire from their Washington town hall jobs
Life at Bryan Memorial Town Hall in Washington will never quite be the same come the New Year.
Gollow has been there since 1978 as assistant to the first selectman and Allen since 1988 as a part-time secretary.
The two women met at their church and soon became great friends, forming a lasting bond through the decades.
"We've had a lot of laughs," Allen said. "Even if someone comes in angry and grumpy, we turn them around."
Her compatriot agrees with that assessment.
"My mother used to say `you catch more flies with honey than vinegar,' " Gollow said. "And it's true."
It might be hard to find two women more likely to win over hearts. Gollow has a ready smile. Allen has a twinkle in her eyes that hints at good-natured mischief.
A former longtime first selectman, Alan Chapin, now New Milford's personnel director, worked with the two women for many years.
"Somewhere around 1988, when I took over for John Marsh, I realized the selectman's office needed to move forward in providing service to the community," Chapin said. "I brought in Phyllis and Mary Anne Greene (still a member of the office team)."
In the spirit shared amongst those who have worked there, Chapin fired a gentle needle at his longtime assistant.
"It was clear we all worked for Kathy," he said. "We became part of her team."
Allen was working at the Danbury Box Company, owned by her husband, John Allen, himself a longtime Washington institution, when Gollow called her to help out around the first selectman's office.
"That's the way it was done in those days," Allen said. "You knew someone and, when you needed help, you called them."
Two years later, Chapin offered her a full-time job. Allen declined, finally agreeing to work part-time.
Gollow had been in the office since she and her husband, longtime Shepaug Valley School teacher and coach Fran Gollow, moved to town in the late 1970s.
She, too, had been called one day and asked to come in and help out. Her call came from then First Selectman Rod Wyant.
"Town hall has been a great place to work," Gollow said. "Everybody's gotten along. You have to keep a good attitude. You never know who's coming in next with what problem."
A day at Bryan Memorial Town Hall might include a wedding in the main hall, for which Gollow and Allen occasionally served as witnesses.
More than one winter storm brought residents to town hall to spend the night.
"I remember one storm when an older woman didn't want to leave her home," Allen recalled. "The electricity was out."
"Finally the firemen convinced her to leave with them and come to town hall," she related. "When the storm was over, she didn't want to go home she liked it here so much."
While their commitment to their town hall jobs have played a key role in the two women's later lives, their families have brought them incredible joy.
Gollow has three children and six grandchildren.
Her son, Rob, played on a Shepaug Valley High baseball state championship team.
Her daughters, Susan and Leah, were also talented student-athletes.
Allen has five children, 10 grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Her children -- Jack, Lynn, Sue, Mike and Amy -- all contributed to Berkshire League championship teams in swimming and excelled in various other sports.
Her youngest, Amy, received a Division I field hockey scholarship to Wake Forest University.
Both women are held in high regard by their co-workers.
"It's going to be huge shoes to fill when they leave," said Sheila Anson, the town's longtime town clerk. "They've been a dream to work with. We always take our jobs seriously and do what we have to do professionally -- but, boy, do we ever have a lot of fun."
Tax collector Donna Alex has known Gollow and Allen since she was a girl and her mother was the tax collector.
"They're just both the essence of Washington," Alex said, "strong, sturdy New England women with great senses of humor. They're sweet, but not afraid to speak their mind, which is refreshing."
"I really haven't figured it out," Lyon said. "When I first came to the office, that's who I'd go to to tell me what to do."
"It's been a pleasure working with both of them" he added. "Seven years ago I said, `I wouldn't wanted this job if they weren't here.' "