Fred Overton Looks Back on 30 Years in Government

Fred Overton, who held elected town posts for 30 years, retired at the close of 2017 but has no plans to leave the community and the people he holds dear. Durell Godfrey

Fred Overton is as local as they come and is staying put in his beloved East Hampton, even with his new freedom from a set daily commitment after retiring from public service after 30 years, he said last week. 

 “I worked too hard and too long to have what I have here, and I’m not going to give it up. This is my town, and my community,” said Mr. Overton, a man as dedicated to his community as can be found.

The community, in turn, has supported him: He was victorious in nine elections over his three decades in public service. He was elected an East Hampton Town Trustee in 1988, served as town assessor through the 1990s, as town clerk from 2000 through 2013, and as an East Hampton Town councilman from 2014 until the close of 2017.

On Dec. 21, at his final town board meeting, he was given a proclamation by Peter Van Scoyoc, a fellow councilman who took office this week as the new town supervisor. It expressed the public’s “overwhelming gratitude” and congratulations for Mr. Overton’s “exemplary service to the community.” 

Over the years, Mr. Overton has run for office on both the Republican and the Democratic tickets, as an independent, has been cross-endorsed, and changed his political affiliation to “blank.” He won his 2013 race for town councilman — as an independent running on the Republican ticket — by 150 votes. 

Mr. Overton has had broad, bipartisan support, and has been unopposed on the ballot in several of his bids for office. “I was very fortunate,” he said. “I had good people working with me, and for me.” 

But politics, for Mr. Overton, has not been the point. As a public servant he has considered his role, no matter what office he has held, as being always accessible to his fellow residents of East Hampton, “whether I was at the dump, or having dinner.” 

His wide-ranging connections and friendships, he said — whether through his membership in the Lions Club, where he was president, the American Legion, for which he served as commander, or the Springs Fire Department — “trickled down,” he said, keeping him in contact with those whose interests he has served. 

After several years as a trustee, he was asked to run for assessor when Bobby Dordelman, who held the post, decided to put his hat in the ring for highway superintendent. Mr. Overton won the election, and served as an assessor for a decade. 

In the fall of 1999, when Fred Yardley, who was town clerk, resigned, Mr. Overton was elected to that post, and headed the clerk’s office for 14 years. 

“Thank you to the voters of East Hampton,” said Mr. Overton at the recent town board meeting, after receiving his proclamation. “Thank you for trusting me to do the right job.” He said he appreciated the camaraderie of his colleagues in “accomplishing good things,” pointing out Carole Brennan in particular, who succeeded him as town clerk after serving as his deputy, as “a driving force” behind keeping both the town, and him, going.

On the personal side, he also acknowledged his wife, Lynn. The couple live in Springs, where Mr. Overton was raised. Several family members lived alongside one another on Old Stone Highway, in the heart of the hamlet.

He is a founding member of the Springs Fire Department, where he has served as a commissioner and is still an active member after 52 years. 

After a year of college, Mr. Overton enlisted in the Navy in 1965 after receiving a draft notice, and served stateside through ’69 as an aviation electrician. 

“My father was probably the biggest influence,” Mr. Overton said. A veteran of the Army Air Corps during World War II, in the European theater, his father taught him the value of community, by example, he said. 

“I grew up in the ’50s; that’s when people helped each other,” Mr. Overton said. Neighbors banded together, he said, to accomplish whatever had to be done. “It was so rewarding. I got this feeling — I’m not here just to be an onlooker.”

“I always wanted to be in a position to help people. I always wanted to be available for my community and for my town.” 

As younger East Hamptoners leave to find opportunity elsewhere, “we’re losing some of that,” he said. But, he said, the community still turns out to help those in need, so “it’s still there.”

“I like to think I was part of that,” Mr. Overton said. “Every day I enjoyed going to work,” he said, whether as an assessor, the town clerk, or a councilman. “If somebody had a problem, and if I couldn’t solve it, then I knew where to go.” 

Taking the fifth seat on the most recent town board, the only one not a member of the Democratic Party, gave him no pause. “I knew that I could work with Peter [Van Scoyoc], Sylvia [Overby], and Larry [Cantwell],” he said. With Carole Brennan, who had been his deputy town clerk, taking over as town clerk, he said, “I knew the clerk’s office was in good hands. It was just a natural transition.” 

The grandson of a fisherman, who fished with his father, keeping pound traps in Gardiner’s Bay and scalloping (“just to make a few extra dollars”) in the fall, and being a clammer of such renown that his friends joke that he could catch clams anywhere, Mr. Overton is looking forward to having the time to enjoy his environs.

He’s been digging clams “since I was old enough to hold a clam rake,” he said. “It’s a form of therapy; it’s peaceful.” And then there’s the result of all that clamming: Mr. Overton’s famous Bonac clam chowder, which is served every year at the town trustees’ Largest Clam Contest. 

With all that East Hampton has to offer, along with “a lot of little projects around the house that I’ve been putting off,” Mr. Overton said, “the winter and spring will take care of itself.”

“Don’t be a stranger at Town Hall,” Mr. Van Scoyoc told him at the Dec. 21 meeting. “I know you’ll be in at least once a year for your clamming license.”