by Sheila Mason Gale
In 1956 Edgar and Hazel Mason moved from West Warwick, Rhode Island to North Society Road in Canterbury so Edgar could start his own dairy farm. They had four children, Carolyn, Marilyn, Edgar III and Sheila. When the move took place Edgar had to milk the cows in West Warwick in the morning, complete the move and then milk the cows at night in Canterbury. The far end of North Society Road was a wonderful location so peaceful and quiet. Old friends and relatives from Rhode Island would often come unannounced to visit the farm on Sunday afternoon and sit and talk for hours. Edgar started with 30 dairy cows and the farm grew to over 100. The farm Edgar and Hazel created is now the Tyler farm.
Marilyn had just graduated from high school and got a job at Phillips Garage in Plainfield. She didn’t have a license so her mother had to drive her back and forth to work. She didn’t know it at the time, but in the future, a customer, Robert Manship, would become Canterbury’s First Selectman and she would work with him as Canterbury’s Town Clerk/Tax Collector.
She worked at Phillips garage for three years and then met her husband Richard Burris at the Baptist church in Danielson. He was from Oklahoma and was stationed at the Nike site in Foster, Rhode Island. They met in March and were married in October, moved to Danielson and eventually had two children, Richard and Susan. Marilyn got a job at the CBT bank. Richard worked second shift at Pratt & Whitney and it was decided the whole family would move back to Canterbury so Richard could help Edgar with the farm work during the day.
Marilyn was a stay-at-home Mom for twelve years, but was looking for a job after she became a widow in 1971. The Canterbury Town Clerk at the time was Marguerite Simpson and her assistant, Eunice Parker left to take the job as secretary to the Superintendent. Marguerite asked, and Marilyn accepted the assistant job and worked 5 hours a week. After just two weeks as the new Assistant Town Clerk, Mrs. Simpson had to have surgery and was out for two weeks and Marilyn was on her own. Marilyn said this would become a pattern—when ever Marguerite was sick or on vacation something unique would always come up that Marilyn had never handled before. Because Marguerite was so organized and kept such good records, Marilyn could find a solution to any problem.
Her second year on the job, the Board of Assessors needed a clerk so she took on that job as well. This was before computers and one of Marilyn’s jobs was to hand-write the Grand List. The next year they needed someone on the Board of Assessors so she ran for the job, was elected and served with Charles Savarese and Fred Dorr. Marilyn said the Town saved a lot of money by electing Charles and Marilyn because Charles was on disability with Social Security and Marilyn received a widow’s pension so both could only receive a small amount of outside income. Marguerite Simpson was a firm believer in education and Marilyn began to take certification classes for Tax Collection and Assessing. She was the first person in the State of Connecticut to be certified as an Assessor and Tax Collector.
Marilyn was invited to Calvary Chapel’s “March to Sunday School in March” when her daughter was two years old and she’s been going ever since for over forty years. She was on the church’s Board of Christian Education, Music Committee, Hospitality Committee, served as treasurer for the Sunday School and Women’s Christian Fellowship and sang in the choir where she was a soloist. Marilyn was also involved in the Canterbury PTA. When she was asked to be a PTA officer she decided it was time to finally get her driver’s license so at 32 she took the courses and got her license.
She worked with Marguerite for 13 years as her Assistant so she felt qualified to handle the job. Mrs. Simpson retired and in 1985 Marilyn ran for the Canterbury Town Clerk/Tax Collector job and won the election. She would be the top vote getter for 7 elections. Unlike Marguerite who knew everyone in town, Marilyn missed growing up in Canterbury and felt she didn’t have the advantage of knowing residents when they were younger. However, she calls Canterbury her adopted home. She dealt with a lot of people in this position and one person she remembers was Joseph Kulaga who would drive his tractor from home, Cemetery Road, down to the old Town Office under the Dr. Helen Baldwin School to pay his taxes. He also sent her a congratulatory card when she won her first election. She worked with current Assistant Town Clerk, Beth Heon for fifteen years and hired Patricia Spruance who was Town Clerk/Tax Collector for eight years and Natalie Cordes, the current Town Clerk/Tax Collector. Marilyn retired in January 2000, but can’t stay away. She still works four hours a week checking land records and sending documents back to land owners. Her coworkers told me one of Marilyn’s greatest qualities was her interest in others. She had a smile for every Canterbury citizen and truly cared about them and what was going on in their lives.
On July 1, 2008 Marilyn will have worked for the Town of Canterbury for 36 years.