In Lexington, where Margery Milne Battin was the first woman to serve as town moderator, citizens and political colleagues alike marveled at her knowledge of parliamentary procedure.
“Marge was like a rock star to me,” said Carl F. Valente, Lexington’s town manager. “I had heard about her 20 years before meeting her. I was just wild at how masterful Marge was in running a Town Meeting. I used to watch her on cable television and saw that she was very well organized and knew how to manage Town Meeting, but was just as personable as she could be.”
Mrs. Battin was very fair as she presided as moderator, he said, but she did not allow personal attacks, and those who did not follow the rules were sent out.
“Marge was involved in town government because she wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” Valente said, “and that’s what she was all about.”
The town is renaming the auditorium at Cary Memorial Hall, where town government functions are held, in honor of Mrs. Battin, who served on Lexington’s Board of Selectmen from 1974 to 1986 and was town moderator from 1987 to 2009. She died of colon cancer Aug. 9 at her Concord home. Mrs. Battin was 85.
‘Marge was a great role model for many women, particularly in town government.’
“She was a real expert in parliamentary law and ran the meeting with an iron hand, but also with civility,” said Norman Cohen, who was attorney for the town for 29 years.
Elected to Town Meeting more than 50 years ago, Mrs. Battin also formerly served as president of the Massachusetts Moderators Association and president of the Massachusetts Selectmen’s Association.
“Marge championed the town meeting form of government,” said Jeanne Krieger, who formerly served on Lexington’s Board of Selectman. “She taught us how to govern and then set the standard for service and commitment. She was a remarkable mentor.”
In a recent memoir, Mrs. Battin wrote that her passionate involvement in supporting and improving New England town government “began in 1960 when I was elected to Lexington’s Town Meeting.”
She added that “it is at the local level where needs occur and services are delivered. You can immediately see the results of what government does or doesn’t do. You can see what works and doesn’t work. You can then personally engage colleagues in local problem solving.”
Mrs. Battin had been featured in a Boston Magazine story highlighting the Boston area’s most powerful women.
“Marge had a part-time job as well as a family and selectmen’s responsibilities, but she nevertheless found time to serve on local, state, and national commissions concerned with subjects as diverse as mental health and structure of government,” wrote Barbara Ackermann, a former Cambridge mayor who served on a town government committee with Mrs. Battin. “Because someone had to do the job, she also chaired Women Elected Municipal Officials and led us through the two difficult years when WEMO was turning from a good idea to a reality.”
A trailblazer for women in politics, Mrs. Battin was listed in the 20th edition of “Who’s Who of American Women.”
“Marge was a great role model for many women, particularly in town government,” said Donna Hooper, Lexington’s town clerk.
“My mom was truly an inspiration,” said Mrs. Battin’s son Thomas of Lexington. “She believed strongly in public service, as well as the importance of government in providing services for its citizens, especially those with limited resources.”
He added that his mother’s “commitment to her family, especially my dad, was without reservation. She loved her children and her grandchildren, and was hoping to live long enough to meet her great-grandchildren.”
Mrs. Battin’s daughter, Pamela Battin-Sacks of Portsmouth, N.H., said her mother was “an amazing woman who touched many people’s lives in a variety of ways. She imparted her wisdom, sense of integrity, and passions not only to me, but to her grandchildren.”
Mrs. Battin’s other son, Jeffrey of Castle Rock, Colo., said she “instilled in her grandchildren a real love of travel and the arts.”
Born in Toronto, Mrs. Battin lived in Paris with her family until moving to Racine, Wis.
“Marge was incredibly organized and made friends easily,” said her sister, Nancy McIntosh of McLean, Va. “She could deal with all kinds of emergencies.”
During World War II, while in high school, Mrs. Battin worked summers in a factory her father ran, which manufactured light tanks. He put her on the safety committee and she became a member of the United Auto Workers. Her service with the UAW, she wrote, “inspired me to major in economics at Wellesley College with an emphasis on labor issues.”
She planned to become a union organizer, but instead married Richard H. Battin, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 1947.
After graduating from Wellesley in 1948, Mrs. Battin worked for an investment banking firm in Boston. The Battins moved in 1957 to Lexington, where they raised their children. Mrs. Battin’s volunteer work ranged from den mother to Lexington’s League of Women Voters to Citizens for Lexington Public Schools.
She wrote in her memoir that along with her involvement with town affairs, she was “an enthusiastic gardener and amateur photographer, an eclectic, voracious reader,” and a swimmer, walker, bicyclist, and cross-country skier.
In addition to her husband, daughter, two sons, and sister, Mrs. Battin leaves a brother, Robert Milne of Atlanta; and five grandchildren.
A service will be held Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. in Hancock United Church in Lexington.
With encouragement from Mrs. Battin, Deborah Brown was elected town moderator when Mrs. Battin retired.
“Though petite in stature, Marge was a giant in public service to Lexington,” said Brown, who added that many Lexington institutions bear Mrs. Battin’s imprint, notably the public library and town government.
Brown said that as moderator, Mrs. Battin “was positively breathtaking . . . smart and fair, quick-witted, and always in control. Her passion for public service and her love and respect for our quintessential New England town meeting were inspirational.”
Mrs. Battin, Brown added, “was a patient and generous mentor. I still keep her notes with me on the podium, reminders she wrote to herself in beautiful longhand about parliamentary procedure and relevant bylaws.”
Gloria Negri can be reached at email@example.com.