The Mast-Head: The Hard Questions

Time and again, it was Eileen who asked the hard questions

   If I remember correctly, I had told Eileen Roaman that she was crazy when she told me she had been asked to take a position on the East Hampton Town Planning Board and was thinking of saying yes.
    She did not listen to me as far as I could tell. Few of those who confide in me do, though later, after they have had a taste of the process, they will invariably tell me that I had been right.
    Eileen died last week at 54, a victim of cancer. During her packed funeral Thursday at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, I recalled her frequent phone calls to the office on one subject or another, which I always welcomed.
    What Eileen had from early on during her planning board time was both a very jaundiced eye and the willingness to speak her mind. This was during a time that the town had begun to go easy on the larger, better-connected projects. Eileen was having none of it and was all too happy to let us in on what she knew.
    Time and again, watching recorded planning board meetings on the computer from the safety of my second-floor office, it was Eileen who asked the hard questions, who was ready to say “whoa” when something did not seem quite right. She cared about where she lived and thought people in power should as well.
    Around the office, we talk about some of our regular tipsters as 50-percenters, that is, they turn out to be right about half the time. It is easy the closer you get to town government to see a conspiracy behind every favor done for someone, and to find career professionals being told what to do by elected officials. Eileen, as it turned out, was a good bit better than a 50-percenter, connected as she was to a large network of sources.
    Because she seemed to know everyone, and because people confided in her, I always thought Eileen would have been a good reporter. But, truth is, she just wasn’t crazy enough.
    At her funeral, the playwright Jon Robin Baitz, a friend, said that Eileen was either the first of her kind — or the last. Whichever it may be, she was, as they say, a piece of work in the best sense of those words. East Hampton is diminished by her absence.