Bill Hedlund's four brothers left Braintree long ago, scattering around the country to places like Santa Monica, Washington and the far western Massachusetts city of Pittsfield. Instead of getting away himself, Hedlund has developed thick roots in Braintree, serving its residents and government for 41 years.
"I'm the townie," Hedlund said. "I was tied to the town."
This Friday marks the official end to his decades of work for Braintree's government, though not the end of his local connection. Next Monday he will be back in the Recreation & Community Events office, covering a former co-worker, and Hedlund said he will remain involved with some projects.
"There's none better," town councilor Henry Joyce said of his longtime friend and colleague. "You want to get something done, he's the man."
Hedlund was surprised last Thursday night, Jan. 12, when he found himself presented with an award at the last town-wide event he would help organize. Mayor Joseph Sullivan announced Hedlund's retirement during the and his friend Tom Corcoran offered him kind words.
"He has served with distinction everywhere he goes and the town of Braintree is his beneficiary," Corcoran said. Soon enough, he added, Hedlund will be performing his dream retirement job, working home games at Fenway Park.
In fact, Hedlund said he recently interviewed with the Red Sox and is waiting to hear back from their human resources department. "That's still my desire," he said.
Baseball has been one of Hedlund's lifelong passions, exceeded perhaps only by his love for civic service, a passion fostered by his mother, a former town treasurer, who brought her work home at night and talked about Braintree's government at the dinner table.
Hedlund graduated with a degree in education from UMass Amherst in 1969 and began serving two years of active duty in the Navy, stationed in Virginia and later at the former air base in South Weymouth. In between college and the navy, he taught for three months at Brookline High School. During Hedlund's own high school years, he got a head start on serving the community as a playground instructor and lifeguard.
In 1971, Hedlund became the town's recreation director, and a decade later took over the parks department as well. During his tenure, Hedlund earned a Master's in Public Adminstration at UMass Boston. More than 20 years later, he worked with Mayor Sullivan and the new administration to create another recreation post and moved into the department's current offices at the Watson Building on Quincy Avenue.
"Bill could have written the textbook and taught the classes on public service," Corcoran said.
Hedlund back in May 2011, but instead decided to stay through the rest of the year. He recently succeeded in battling cancer, following nine months of treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital and five surgeries. "I'm happier and healthier as a result," Hedlund said.
After the MLK Jr. ceremony last week, Hedlund fondly recalled his many years of umping baseball games and refereeing basketball, up to the college level. Some of his proudest accomplishments include greatly exanding the list of sports and activities available to Braintree youth and helping the town transition to the current high school facility.
The announcement was bittersweet after all these years, Hedlund said, and he felt "heavy-hearted" knowing this Friday would be his last day.
"I have been blessed," Hedlund told the crowd at , not only to work for a town like Braintree, but, he added wryly, to collect a steady paycheck for 41 years. "It doesn't get any better than that."