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Interview: Pat Llodra, Retiring Newtown Official Who Led During Tragedy

Jun 5, 2017
Originally published on June 5, 2017 2:51 pm

The woman who led Newtown, Connecticut, after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School is retiring. First Selectman Pat Llodra served four terms starting in 2009.

Llodra calls herself an accidental politician. She ran for first selectman after she retired from decades in education.

WSHU’s Davis Dunavin spoke with Llodra about leading the town through tragedy and her hopes for Newtown after she leaves.

Below is a transcript of their conversation.

How do you see the role of town leader?

I think there are three body parts good leaders need. A brain – you need to know what you’re doing, to be smart. A heart – you need to care about, treat your decision making through that heart sentiment. But you also need a backbone. And as the interaction of those three body parts that matter. It’s the heart that’s the biggest piece. If you have a choice between the head and the heart, go with the heart. At the end of the line, that’s really all that matters.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, her community needed that care. Llodra says it was hard for a lot of people in Newtown to focus on the normal discourse and dialogue that make a town run.

Even for some of us who live in Newtown, our passions became elevated and we became pretty raw after this horrible thing that happened to us. I think it takes time for us to find our feet again, and be those rational, careful, sensitive, collaborative people that we know we can be. It’s going to take us some time for us to find our center again.

You think the town is still working on…

Yeah, and I think we are well. You know, I often quote a parent of loss who was asked shortly after the event how everyone is doing. That was the question asked of him by a reporter. And he said the pathway in grief is as individual as one’s fingerprints. There is no one way to describe, no one word that can capture the sentiment of all of those persons. In a town, we’re a living organism. Overall, if I had to qualify us with one phrase, I’d say we are doing well.

What was it like having to balance that? You had to work on budgets. You had to deal with the same things every town leader has to deal with.

Yeah…it was overwhelming. The horrible events that happened…have stamped me forever. I am a different person because of that. And so is our town. And almost every decision pathway is affected by that…And that’s alright, as long as we honor who we are. And I think we are very honorable people. I think we’ve been able to navigate those pitfalls and those potholes and hurdles in such a way that we haven’t lost our integrity or our dignity.

I’ve heard you say a few times this doesn’t define Newtown. Do you think people outside Newtown have gotten that message?

I hope so. One of the wonderful stories I think we’re going to be able to tell over the next couple of years is the success of the new Sandy Hook School. There are a number of families that have moved into Sandy Hook specifically so their children could go to that school. That tells me there are others from outside, are saying this is a wonderful community, this is a wonderful new school…The fact that other people are seeing this, I think tells us that the world sees us not as damaged goods but as a place that’s been able to take a horrible event and manage it in a way that doesn’t compromise us as a community.

There are some pieces of the work that had not yet been accomplished that I knew that I needed to get going. I needed to move that issue of the community center, of the permanent memorial, get that Sandy Hook School built and through a full year of experience. We’re in a much better position now, and I think whoever takes my place as first selectman will be very busy, but it will be in a good way in terms of making those projects come to fruition.

And when you do leave, after November, how do you plan to enjoy yourself?

I don’t know – we love Newtown, I can’t imagine we’d ever leave…Maybe see the country a little bit. You know, the world has changed a lot since I took office, and I feel that I’ve never had the time to pay attention to all of those changes. So I want to take time to step away and say, okay, world, where should I be?

Pat Llodra is the first selectman of Newtown, Connecticut. She’ll officially retire when her term expires in November. She says she also plans to write a coming-of-age novel and hopes to publish essays about leadership. 

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