By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
There aren’t many people who can claim to have touched a community in the way that former Medfield Town Administrator Mike Sullivan did. Sullivan, a beloved figure in town throughout his over 40 years of service, passed away on February 27, just weeks after his retirement.
On Friday, November 1, the community came to the Medfield High School auditorium for the public debut of “Open Door Policy: The Mike Sullivan Story,” a documentary expertly produced by Medfield TV.
The documentary started after a quick introduction from Brett Poirier about how Medfield TV had already considered creating the documentary before Sullivan’s passing. The film opened with an echo of voices discussing Sullivan’s impact, before quickly moving to an interview in which Mike and Anne Thompson discussed how he got his job as the town’s executive secretary. Sullivan later became the Medfield town administrator in 1984, a position he held until his retirement in January of 2019.
The film highlighted the myriad ways in which the former town administrator shaped the town of Medfield we know and love today.
Sullivan, for example, was one of the main forces behind an effort to conserve open space in Medfield. The documentary showed clips from a 2013 meeting, during which the town purchased 30 acres of Red Gate Farm to use as open space and make off-limits to developers. The documentary also included comments about Sullivan’s work to have the land now known as the William E. McCarthy Field transferred to Medfield. “Keep Medfield rural in character,” Sullivan would say.
In addition to wanting to ensure Medfield’s future beauty, Sullivan also supported bringing businesses into the town.
The documentary showed the way Sullivan blended his personal and professional lives. With his open-door policy, he always seemed to have a stream of people in and out of his office. Multiple people in the documentary commented on how they would go to his office to have a question answered, or just to say hello, only to find someone already there. Based on the interviews, it would seem that Sullivan’s office was never empty. His attention to detail and memory were spotless, as exemplified by his relationships with his co-workers; he always made sure to ask how everyone’s family was doing or what their plans were for the weekend.
Sullivan’s lighthearted side shone through beautifully in the documentary’s discussion of his sense of humor. His dedication to puns was about as solid as his dedication to his job, which is saying something. The film dedicated an entire section to memories of such jokes. “His puns were horrible,” recalled Town Historian Richard DeSorgher.
“Terrible and perfectly timed,” recalled another individual.
The documentary ended with Ann Thompson’s own short and sweet summary of Sullivan: “He was a great guy, except for those damn puns.”
To sum up an individual’s life and career in a relatively short film is a monumental task. To do so with an individual like Mike Sullivan, whose influence and presence were so widely felt, is even more difficult. Credit is due to Brett Poirier and his team at Medfield TV, who did justice to one of the town’s finest figures.
The documentary wasn’t just about Mike Sullivan as an astounding 44-year employee of Medfield, though.
It was about how one man dedicated his life to ensuring that Medfield continued to be a great place to live, and how his ethos ultimately ingrained itself into the town he loved. Whether it be the welcoming atmosphere he brought to Town Hall, his propensity to make decisions with the longer term in mind, or his being a great friend, Sullivan has left his lasting legacy on Medfield - one, we can only hope, will continue to be felt well into the future.