LEE — Joseph P. Ford, 82, of Garrity Road in Lee, died Aug. 9, 2011, at Hyder Family Hospice House after several years of declining health.
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He was born in Arlington, Mass., on June 19, 1929, the son of Anne (Crowley) Ford and Patrick J. Ford, recent immigrants from County Cork, Ireland. The family came to New Hampshire when Joe was four, and moved frequently from house to house in the Alton and Wolfeboro area as his father changed jobs.
Joe attended Brewster Academy, graduating in 1948. He then worked for several years in the local A & P and First National stores before enrolling at the University of New Hampshire in 1952. While clerking in the grocery stores, he was twice elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives, being at age 21 its youngest member when he was elected.
After graduating cum laude in 1956 from UNH, he studied for two years at Harvard, earning his Master's degree in Public Administration in 1958. With a Congressional Fellowship from the American Political Science Association, he worked for a year in Washington, D.C., as an intern in the offices of Congressman Perkins Bass of New Hampshire and Senator Clifford Case of New Jersey.
In 1960, he joined the faculty of UNH, teaching in the Political Science Department. His area of specialization was American government: local, state, and national. Former students now occupy many governmental positions around New Hampshire. In 1978, Joe's interest in local government led him to run for Selectman in the Town of Lee, where he had made his home since 1956. He continued to be elected to the Select Board for the next 30 years, something of a record.
Joe was deeply involved in his work as selectman. He worried that as Lee grew, it would lose the appeal of its rural past and become merely another commercialized, overdeveloped suburb. He wanted business interests to be contained, house lots to be generously sized, and open space to be preserved so that there would always be trees and fields and wild animals.
He talked with knowledgeable authorities and studied land conservation concepts, and, in a quiet way, lobbied for his ideals while maintaining good working relationships even with those who disagreed with him. As a longtime town employee said recently, "You could always call him up and talk with him."
He was known for his summary of the "state of the town" at annual March town meetings. Speaking clearly and without notes, he set a civil tone for the meeting while reviewing the town budget in detail. He served on the Advisory Budget Committee and the East-West Highway Committee. He was a member of the Heritage Commission and the Oyster River Budget Committee, and for several years he was on the Board of Directors of the New Hampshire Municipal Association.
But his strongest interest was in land conservation and he was instrumental in Lee's preservation of many tracts of open land. He found great satisfaction in having the wooded area across from where he lived come under protection as the Maud Jones Forest, and when he was able to buy the approximately 75 acres around his home, he chose to give the easement on the property to the Town of Lee with the stipulation that it be used for wildlife habitat. Glimpses of "his deer" delighted him, and he faithfully fed feral cats, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, birds of all sizes and colors, and the occasional skunk.
His other main interest was politics. After lamenting the passing of the moderate Republicans he had once admired, he gave increasing support nationwide to strong, liberal Democratic women, following their careers and celebrating their victories. In refutation of the stereotype of the increasingly conservative older person, Joe's support for groups like Planned Parenthood and the Lovering Health Center, as well as water, land, and animal protection causes, increased noticeably as he aged.
All his life he retained his interest in anything Irish and several times journeyed to the towns from which his parents had emigrated, meeting Irish relatives and visiting the houses where ancestors had lived.
He leaves his companion of over 50 years with whom he made his home, Deborah Estaver of Lee; a brother, Daniel Ford and his wife, Sally, of Durham; their daughter, Kate Laird and her husband, Hamish; grandnieces, Helen and Anna Laird; and several cousins in Ireland.
Burial will be in the Lee Hill Cemetery, across from the Town Hall where he served as Selectman for so many years.
A memorial service will take place at a later date. No flowers, please. Donations, if you wish, in his name to animal, water, and open-space protection organizations.
Arrangements are by Kent & Pelczar Funeral Home of Newmarket.
Visit www.kentandpelczarfh.com to sign an online guest book.
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Kent & Pelczar Funeral Home - Newmarket
77 Exeter Street (Route 108)
Newmarket, NH 03857
Published in Fosters from Aug. 11 to Aug. 12, 2011