2008: Year of Change and Challenge

By Ray Lamont

“Change” was a magic word across the nation in 2008. So was “challenge,” as the U.S. economic plunge produced a ripple effect that has left virtually no one untouched in some way, Those words also captured the legacy of 2008 in Gloucester and across the towns of Cape Ann — and they are themes carried out throughout the year’s top stories as chosen by the staff at the Gloucester Daily Times. The No. 1 news story as voted by the Times and gloucestertimes.com was the one that pushed Gloucester into the national and global media spotlight this summer — and one that still poses a variety of challenges for Gloucester officials and residents alike. The spike in pregnancies within Gloucester High School from a norm of four to a total of 18 during the past school year, the assertion by then-Principal Joseph Sullivan that many of the pregnancies were intentional — first reported in the Times in March — and then a June 19 Time magazine story indicating that at least some of the students had formed a “pact” to get pregnant, not only thrust Gloucester into an unwanted side of the global spotlight for several days. It also put the city front and center in a renewed regional and national debate on teen pregnancy, it triggered the resignations of medical personnel within the school’s clinic, it led to Sullivan’s exit after 10 years

as head of the school, and even touched off a brief and failed effort to recall Mayor Carolyn Kirk. It also led to both a new policy regarding the distribution of contraceptives within the high school, and the affirmation of the school’s controversial day-care center within the school. For the rest of the top 10 stories of the year, see the numbered list lower on this Web page.

Other stories of note
The top 10 stories, of course, were hardly the only items of note that have had an impact in Gloucester and Cape Ann life over the past 12 months. Hollywood found its way back to Cape Ann more than once, with some of the industry’s biggest names paying a visit. This year’s guests included Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, who were here to film, “The Proposal”; Mel Gibson, who was filming his “Edge of Darkness”; and Wade Williams who’s starring in “Hatteras Hotel,” which was filming in Rockport this month. The most dramatic of those ventures, for a variety of reasons, proved to be “The Proposal,” which converted downtown Rockport into a movie version of Sitka, Alaska, for more than a week — and briefly thrust Gloucester and Cape Ann into the global media spotlight when a vehicle carrying Bullock and her husband, TV reality star Jesse James, was hit by a drunk driver the night of April 19 on East Main Street. Similarly, Gloucester’s Mayor Kirk was hardly the only new face

on the scene in terms of Cape Ann leadership. Rockport welcomed a new superintendent of schools in Dr, Susan King, who took the reins this summer. King, who signed a three-year contract formerly served as an administrator in the Triton Regional School District, returned to the North Shore after a stint as superintendent in Montvale, N.J. She succeeded Rosemary DiTullio — who became one of several community leaders besides GHS Principal Sullivan and state Rep. Verga to bow out in 2008. The highest-profile departure came through a change at the top of Northeast Health System, the parent company of Addison Gilbert Hospital and Beverly Hospital. After votes of no-confidence earlier in the year by both the doctors and nursing units, Laverty officially stepped down in November amid another Northeast controversy, the discovery of stolen artworks — including at least one piece by a Rockport painter that once hung in Addison Gilbert Hospital — at the Groveland home of a former Northeast employee. Others who stepped aside this past year did so under far better circumstances. Nancy Schwoyer, a founder of the Wellspring House organization, stepped aside as its executive director after 25 years at the helm; Kay Nordstrom announced last week she was leaving after 20 years as head of the Cape Ann Transportation Operating Co. to take a federal

transit administration post in Washington; and Michael Costello, announced in September his yearend retirement as executive director of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce — a position he has held for the last 30 years. In his brief speech at a lateNovember testimonial dinner, Costello emphasized the need to look forward, not back. Speaking to nearly 300 business and community leaders at Cruiseport Gloucester, Costello encouraged all to continue working for economic growth and Cape Ann’s future. And as the pages of the calendar turn this week, many of the stories from 2008 continue to move forward as well. If 2008 was a year of challenges and change, Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester and Essex residents can continue to look for more of the same in 2009. A plan for the future of Gloucester Harbor is very much a work in progress, as will be the construction and other developments around Gloucester Crossing and its environs. Manchester Essex officials are hoping that the opening of their new school will be coming in September — already making that one of the potential top stories of 2009. And, lest we forget, Gloucester will be holding another city election in November, after Cape Ann’s towns carry out those exercises in the Spring. Stay tuned.
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Ray Lamont can be reached at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com