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First Amherst town manager Allen Torrey remembered for vision, leadership

  • BULLETIN FILE PHOTO<br/>Allen Torrey is shown at right with the late Stephen Puffer, left, and Stan Ziomek in a photo taken at the town's 250th anniversary celebration.

Over the next 21 years, until his resignation in 1975, Torrey worked at implementing a long-term plan for Amherst’s infrastructure needs, assisted school officials in ensuring there was sufficient space to meet the growing population and supported department heads in their work.

Torrey, who left to become treasurer at Hampshire College until his retirement in 1990, died Thursday at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke at age 89.

“He was a leader in the truest sense of the word,” said James Smith, the retired town engineer who Torrey hired in 1971.

Smith said Torrey didn’t allow a “not-in-my-backyard” sentiment to stop projects that were needed for the betterment of Amherst.

“He had vision enough to look ahead and to go for some capital money appropriated by the town and by the state and the feds,” Smith said.

Stanley Ziomek, the retired superintendent of the Department of Public Works, also cited Torrey’s foresight.

“What I remember is he grew the town and he had a vision of what the town ought to be,” he said.

Ziomek said that Torrey, who hired him as superintendent, worked cooperatively with school officials to get the Fort River School and Wildwood School projects completed and to acquire the Chestnut Street site where the middle school was built.

“I have many memories of Allen and they’re all good,” Ziomek said.

Among other projects during his time were the completion of the Mill River Recreation Area and laying the groundwork for construction of the wastewater treatment plant adjacent to the UMass campus.

Torrey was hired a year after voters approved the new form of government with a town manager.

Some of the ideas Torrey put out never materialized, Smith said, but indicate how much thinking he put into the future. One was to extend University Drive south, diverting commuter traffic to UMass from town center. He also got behind what Smith calls the “boulevard of the revolution,” a plan that would have extended Eastman Lane on the edge of the UMass campus and created a bypass between Hadley and Belchertown.

Torrey is unique in town history in that he later served on the Select Board and was also a Town Meeting member, the only person to be town manager and also hold those two positions.

Some remember Torrey for his compassion.

“He was very concerned about the well-being of people in town,” said Senior Center Director Nancy Pagano, who was hired by Torrey in 1972 to a part-time position as program supervisor for the elderly.

Pagano said Torrey established Amherst’s first Council on Aging in 1967 and wanted to ensure senior citizens in the community had a place that met their needs.

“He was a friend and a great supporter throughout his years,” Pagano said.

“I would say Allen was dedicated to Amherst, a very honest and trustworthy person,” said Merle Howes, a selectman from 1966 to 1976. “His management skills were always directed toward improving Amherst and he was committed to maintain the business and residential section of town.”

Howes said Torrey also stressed the importance of preserving the tree canopy, making sure a new tree was planted any time a tree was taken down, and ensuring roads were resurfaced in a timely manner.

Smith said he and other department heads appreciated the way Torrey managed Amherst.

“He got along well with department heads, he gave them a lot of leeway, and usually supported them in their decision-making,” Smith said.

But Smith added that Torrey brought a Yankee frugality to town. “He didn’t look kindly on fattening up anyone’s budget,” Smith said.

A week ago, Torrey and his wife, Sylvia, were honored with the Stephen J. Puffer Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award from the Amherst Historical Society at its annual founders day event.

Torrey’s son, Allen S. Torrey, said his father believed in the importance of improving the town.

“Dad cared deeply about Amherst, the Pioneer Valley and the people who live there,” Torrey said. “Decade after decade, he gave his all in trying to make things better.”

He said this was reflected when his father retired from town government and former Police Chief Francis Hart called him “the best administrator I’ve seen. He knows fire, police, highways, water, engineering; and he knows where every employee is all the time.”

Besides his professional work, Torrey was active in the Hampshire County chapter of the American Red Cross, was a past trustee of the South Congregational Church and was a member of the founding board of directors for Applewood at Amherst, the retirement community in South Amherst.

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