Hazelwood will be missed

Published 9:10 pm Tuesday, September 30, 2014

For most folks, retirement represents an opportunity to kick back a little, relax, maybe do a little traveling and spend time with the grandchildren. For Thomas Hazelwood, some of those things might happen — he’s got grandkids he’d like to see more often, for instance — but relaxation isn’t on the immediate agenda.

In fact, having retired from a 23-year career as Suffolk’s commissioner of the revenue on Tuesday, Hazelwood expected the sun to rise on Wednesday and find him preparing his boat for a day of oystering in area waters.

He traded a stationary desk for a rolling boat deck, the clicking of computer keyboards for the splash of oyster rakes and the cold glow of virtual account ledgers for the warm rays of the October sun shining upon him.

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When he spoke to friends about the prospect on Friday, Hazelwood’s eyes were alight with excitement. He was finally returning to the life he had suspended when he asked to be considered for the recently vacated post of commissioner in 1991. After that job became an elected position, voters cast their ballots in favor of him seven times.

Those voters and the people on his staff will be what he misses most about the job, Hazelwood said last week. “Having a staff that always provided good customer service has made my life pretty easy,” he quipped at a going-away function. “I just tried to keep a low profile and get the job done.”

But a low profile and a humble spirit had another effect: Hazelwood became one of the most well-respected officials — appointed or elected — in all of Suffolk’s government. Those who deal with him quickly come to recognize Hazelwood as an honest man of quiet integrity. That’s what made him so popular amongst voters, and it’s what made him so well respected as a leader in the city.

And yet it was clear as he neared his last day in office that Hazelwood was eager for his chance to leave that all behind and head out onto the water — going back into the family business, as it were, since Hazelwoods have been working the water for generations.

There’s a certain symmetry to Thomas Hazelwood’s decision to bookend his professional career by going back to pulling oysters from the water. But his retirement from public office is a hard thing for Suffolk. The downtown area will surely miss him.