READING - When one thinks of a community member who has done much for its residents over many years, Sally Hoyt immediately comes to mind. Since 1971, Sally pursued her many town interests with charm and grace, combining them with an unmatched passion for the things she believed in. She was referred to as “Reading’s Grand Dame” by a Town Hall member, highly respected for her commitment to many public and political causes. At a State House Hearing, Representative Maryjane Gibson stated “Beneath Sally’s fragile frame, is a woman of steel”.
In her own words: “I may appear to be a fragile lady but when it becomes necessary to get my message across, I am determined to do so in a very lady-like manner to gain attention and support for important issues that matter to me, particularly with the passage of legislation”. While officially retiring in her mid-90’s, Sally remains active in Town affairs including serving for her 48th year as a Reading Constable and with the MA Silver Legislature as Senate President.
Sally’s public service to our town actually began in the 1960’s and in 1990 her husband Brendan encouraged her to be a candidate for the Board of Selectman (now recently renamed the Select Board). When she learned that there were five men running for the office, she wanted to withdraw but it was too late, the information had already gone to press. She won a seat and subsequently remarked: “Little did I know then what an amazing, enriching experience serving the Town would be”. Sally served for 4 terms ending in early 2002.
Sally enjoyed working with fellow Selectmen, meeting with residents, listening to the issues, investigating the problems and reaching favorable conclusions for the benefit of Reading residents. She felt that when everything falls into place, being on the Select Board can be a very rewarding experience.
Among Sally’s favorite accomplishments was successfully filing legislation through a woman Belmont legislator to prevent corporations from eliminating positions for workers nearing retirement age. This would cause them to lose their retirement benefits and it happened at a time workers were unable to transfer their retirement benefits to a new job. After many months of hard work and gaining support, they succeeded in the legislation’s passage. A second accomplishment she cherishes was serving on the Reading Conservation Commission for a period of 18 years whose mission is to protect Reading’s wetlands and open space. A third was being elected President of the Reading Business and Professional Women’s Club, and subsequently elected State President of the Mass. Business and Professional Women’s organization.
As you would expect, there are always issues that time would have allowed for a more thorough investigation of Town needs for future space requirements. For example, Sally points out that the Pearl Street School, in retrospect, may have been better used as a Senior Center, providing ample space for the future. Once Town properties and assets are sold or depleted, they are gone.
Leading such a productive life doesn’t end with advancing years as Sally proves daily today. For example, she has served on the Reading Council on Aging for the past 20 years, providing input and perspective as well as protecting the principal from our Trust Funds for the benefit of our future elder generations. As a Reading Constable, Sally co-authored, with the assistance of the Massachusetts Bay Constables Association’s (MBCA) President, the Constables Manual for training Constables. For more than 40 years, Sally has been training constables statewide while also serving as MBCA’s Secretary/Treasurer.
Additionally, after serving as a legislative contact for the Massachusetts Silver Legislature (SHL), that informs older adults and disabled people of benefits to which they are entitled or pending legislation, Sally became SHL’s Senate President, serving in that capacity for 25 years and continues to be Senate President. Even though the SHL lost funding a few years ago, Sally and SHL members have continued to lobby legislators and work with councils on aging. They now have their own website making communications less costly.
Sally encourages individuals reaching retirement age to look at public service as an interesting way to apply a wealth of accumulated knowledge to benefit their community. You can volunteer at your own pace and enjoy yourself as you move through the phases of your life. “In public service, you can continue to grow, stay sharp and meet new people.” She realizes that serving on Town Boards, while rewarding, can be very time consuming, involving a lot of preparation and research before meetings. When she served on the Select Board, they were lucky to receive their information packets the weekend before the Board meeting. In those days, they didn’t have the help of computers.
Sally generally doesn’t go on social media sites but when she watches or participates in Zoomed meetings, she feels that something is missing in communication. With this pandemic limiting person-to-person contact and people emailing or texting on the phone off-screen, Sally maintains that it’s easy to be distracted and misunderstand what people are trying to say. It’s hard to know who the speakers are in some Zoomed meetings. She sees how face-to-face, in person communication is important and looks forward to a time when meetings are in real rooms again with people speaking and interacting spontaneously in the moment.
When asked about the Reading Charter as it relates to the recent recall vote, Sally feels that the Reading Charter is a document with many components. It was not created in the midst of an emergency but methodically and carefully structured through consensus, as a guide for the Town citizens. Its provisions include a recall process, like charters in other communities where the recall provision has been exercised recently. If the Charter is followed carefully, the final step in the recall process is the vote of the electorate. Voters have the last word, as it should be. “The Reading Charter should not be touched; it’s fine the way it is.”
Sally recognizes that this is a stressful period in our State and our Town, but we need to remember to be respectful, civil and kind towards each other. Her advice to people is this: “I was able to serve in the positions noted above and you can accomplish as much, or, as little as you wish. You will always remember the wonderful people you worked with during your life’s journey, helping individuals who were unable to speak for themselves and needed the voices of others to help them survive. You will remember those gratifying experiences and so will those you helped in their time of need. There is no better feeling than being able to make a positive difference in someone’s life”.
During her years of service to others, Sally was the recipient of many awards, among them: the "Sally M. Hoyt, Mass. Unsung Heroine Award", presented by the Mass. Commission on the Status of Women; the "Distinguished and Dedicated Service Award" at the State House by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs; the "Reading/North Reading Outstanding Citizen Award" in 2003 by the Reading/North Reading Chamber of Commerce; the "Massachusetts Woman of Achievement Award" by the National Federation of Women's Clubs" and in Reading: the "Woman of Achievement Award" by the Reading Rotary Club; the "Sally M. Hoyt - 50 Year Volunteer" by the Town of Reading"; the "Sally M. Hoyt Great Room" at the Pleasant St. Center; the "Sally M. Hoyt, Selectman & Chairman" on the wall of the Reading Police Station at its dedication; and the "Sally M. Hoyt, Selectman" on the wall of the Pleasant Street Center.
Sally has lived in Reading for more than 75 years. Her husband Brendan (now deceased) and children are descendants of the family that lived in Reading’s Parker Tavern. Brendan’s mother, Florence Doucette Hoyt, was born in the Parker Tavern and lived there until the day she married. The Doucette family was the final family to live at the Parker Tavern prior to its being designated an Historic site.
She grew up with 5 siblings in Somerville (4 brothers and 1 sister) and they enjoyed a wonderful close relationship all their lives. They lived in a 12-room home with plenty of land around them. “As we aged, our relationship became even stronger, more like being best friends.”
Sally and late husband Brendan have 2 sons and a daughter: Brendan L. Jr., an attorney, John E. (deceased) who was a golf pro, and Sally-Jean O’Grady, a radiologist involved in treating cancer patients at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. They have 3 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild.
She is a graduate of Burdett College, Boston; the American Institute of Banking; and Williams College, School of Banking, Trusts and Estates Division.
Authors Note: Sally has made many significant contributions and held many responsible positions in local and state public and private agencies. This Spotlight merely touches upon them.