Jane Howard, Alan McClennen and her sons David, Douglas    Flanking Jane Howard and Alan McClennen before a Town Hall celebration are her sons, Douglas, left, and David, right.

With regal bearing that belies a steel will, Jane Howard was honored at Town Hall for her years of service before as many as 80 people.

"I'm stepping down from Vision 2020," she told YourArlington, referring to the two-decade Arlington effort that extends government through volunteers. She made clear she would continue to participate in improving the town.

Those gathered -- reflecting more the older Arlington than the new -- crowded into the ornate second-floor hearing room at Town Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 2, to praise the volunteers' volunteer.

Alan McClennen, who in 2003 retired after 29 years as town planning director, called Howard "a consummate organizer .... She got people to sit down and talk .... Hundreds participate -- the way they do is thanks to Vision 2020."

After receiving a proclamation from the selectmen, dedicating the day to her; statements from the state House and Senate, as well as poignant gifts, Howard said she was "overwhelmed." She noted the "generosity of the public, the richness of our history ... [and that] I am so privileged to be a part of that."

Given the challenges the town faced in 1990, she said that "Arlington stepped up to the plate ... and I was lucky enough to be there.... Thank you for trusting me."


Honors arrive on doorstep of new planning effort

The accolades for Howard were delivered two weeks before the town launches the public phase of its new master plan, its guide to the future. A meeting is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17, in Town Hall.

For Howard, a Rhode Island native who has been an Arlington resident since 1964, peering into the future and trying to see the path Arlington should take, has been a guiding light.

Sharpening that talent was her role in creating Vision 2020, a series of committees in which volunteer residents and town leaders join in pursuing town goals.


How Vision 2020 began

That organization grew from a real need. In 1990, after nearly a decade of change that saw school closings partly in response to the tax-cutting Proposition 2 1/2, relations among key leaders had broken down. Selectmen and School Committee members "weren’t talking," McClennen said. He called it "government in failure."

Changing that dynamic involved a secret retreat.

A consultant, Cavis Gobhi, supported by Selectmen Charles Lyons, Steve Gilligan and Kevin Greeley, met with an array of leaders every two weeks for seven months at 5 p.m. Sundays in the basement of the Jefferson Cutter House. They created subcommittees to deal with various aspects of the town. Ultimately, as the process moved into public view, Howard and McClennen were named Vision 2020 co-chairs of its Standing Committee.

Since then, the effort has expanded to nine task groups and related committees, dealing with a range of issues, including finances and the environment. As to the latter, for example, environmental-related units include Sustainable Arlington and the Spy Pond Committee.


Annual survey since 1991

Vision 2020 may be best known to residents for its annual questionnaire, ongoing since 1991. This listening post for Town Hall also has helped set agendas in subsequent years.

The group's main message: Don't sit on the sidelines and complain -- get involved. Hundreds have.

In recognition of that, Selectmen Joseph Curro Jr. read a proclamation from the board declaring Oct. 2 Jane Howard Day.

The honor noted that the mother of four had been for four years an observer at the Parmenter School, before it closed in the early 1980s; a Girl Scout leader, a coordinator of volunteers for guidance at Arlington High; a Sunday School teacher at St. Agnes for 18 years, a Town Meeting member since 1986 and the League of Women since 1975.

The Rev. Brian Flatley, pastor of St. Agnes for 16 years, called Howard a "good friend" and a "trusted adviser" on whom he depended for guidance and feedback. "She was never shy about voicing an honest opinion," he said. If things don't go her way, he said, she "continued graciously to accept" the situation as it is. 

Where Garballey got his start

Before reading a proclamation from the State House, Rep. Sean Garballey said he began his political life as a student representative to Vision 2020. He called them a group of "amazing people who make up the fabric of this community."

Sen. Ken Donnelly read a proclamation from the Senate.

Citing both of their penchants for the arts, McClennen introduced John Budzyna, executive director since 2005 of the Arlington Center for the Arts, which Howard and McClennen helped found.

Budzyna cited Howard's ties to the arts, then and now -- in the Cultural Council in the early 1990s and, more recently, in the Public Art Committee, which hopes to make the Spy Pond mural a reality in the next few months.

"She is always willing to listen," he said.


Gifts and surprises

As Howard steps aside, the new Vision 2020 co-chairs were introduced, and they proffered gifts.

Brucie Moulton handed her an album thick with her Arlington history: photos, letters, poem, mementos, reprints.

With a smile, Mary Harrison presented a "model of your second home" -- a small replica of Town Hall.

Miriam Stein, who helped organize the event, pulled from a bag a throw rug with scenes of Arlington. She said she "hoped it would envelope you with respect and gratitude."

Among those in the audience was Howard's husband, Peter, as well as two surprise visitors, sons Douglas, who came from Vermont, and David, in from California.


Some of her accomplishments

Janice Bakey, a former School Committee member, summed up the forces motivating Howard -- an "inclusive process in decision making" and one who "believes facts should be used in deciding."

She was involved in:

* The School Committee's advisory council on school closings, which made recommendations about Crosby, now housing Dearborn Academy, and the Parmenter, her family's school;

* Two town manager searches;

* The Open Space Committee;

* A business-improvement effort;

* The 250th-anniversay celebration;

* The League's annual candidates' nights, for many years; and as

* Vision 2020 co-chair, Bakey said she "took the bylaw ... and never let it sit still."

This story was published Monday, Oct. 8, 2012.