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Municipal Spotlight Fraine’s 36 Years as Town Administrator Were Phenomenal

Denis Fraine has retired after 36 years as Bellingham’s Town Administrator.

Bulletin Staff Writer
Sometimes the phrase “end of an era’’ is overdone and might even miss the mark when a long-time municipal official retires. In Denis Fraine’s case, those words don’t seem strong enough to capture how effective he was guiding Bellingham through both the good and the bad times during his 36-year career as Town Administrator.
After battling a serious illness for six months and overcoming several complications, Fraine officially retired in October. The 63-year-old native of Roslindale, who’s lived in Bellingham for the last 33 years, has recovered nicely.
“It was good to get back home after being hospitalized,’’ Fraine said. “I really appreciated everyone’s prayers and well-wishes.’’The immediate priority for Fraine now is to focus on his health. But, since the Select Board couldn’t agree on a candidate to succeed him during the interview process, he has agreed to serve in an advisory role until a new Town Administrator is selected. After his successor is hired, Fraine said he wouldn’t rule out serving on a board in an appointed position.’’ 
That decision would be welcomed because his colleagues at the Municipal Center not only value his friendship, but still admire his personable leadership style.
If Bellingham had a Hall of Fame for town officials, Fraine would be a charter member and a unanimous choice.
It’s been said that Town Administrators don’t have a long tenure in that role because they serve Select Boards that change annually. And, the position so often deals with pressure-packed issues that require experience in public policy and knowledge of the state’s General Laws.
Eight years is considered a lengthy run, but Fraine gave Bellingham 36. And, during that time residents got his best. His love for the town was visible on his sleeves, even when they were rolled up.
Fraine’s journey to Bellingham started at Don Bosco High School in Boston where he was a member of the student council. He played a year of varsity baseball, but it was track and field where he excelled. “I was a miler, and at one time I held the school record in that event, finishing in a time of 4:28,’’ he recalled.
After graduating in 1978, Fraine enrolled at UMass-Amherst where he majored in history. In college, he participated in ROTC, and when he graduated in 1983, he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Air Force.
Fraine rose to the rank of captain during his 4½ years of military service, stationed primarily at Whiteman Air Force Base in central Missouri and also at Strategic Air Command Headquarters in Omaha, Neb.
“I was assigned to the quality force section in personnel,’’ he said. “I assisted with reviews of personnel issues. I also was the support officer to the base commander. I learned a lot about administration in the military, because a base is like a city or a municipality. There’s police (security), a fire department and even a department of public works.
“The service helped me enormously in two ways. I got experience in administrative work and the Air Force paid for college. I got my master’s degree in public policy at Central Missouri University.’’
When Fraine’s military duty was nearing completion, he was eager to return home. He just happened to see a classified advertisement in the Boston Globe stating that Bellingham was looking for an executive secretary/administrator.
“I applied and eventually was hired on Dec. 17, 1987,’’ he recalled. “I was interviewed by four Selectmen — Bill Bissonette and the late Betty Lowry, Wilfred Arcand and Larry Cibley.’’
In the early going, Fraine had to get involved in many departments, because staffing was minimal and technology wasn’t in full bloom. “That was a big help, because I had to get into the trenches,’’ he noted. “That’s where I learned the basics and how departments operated.’’
A Town Administrator is responsible for all facets of municipal government and Fraine handled the job magnificently. “I was entrusted to manage the town’s budget and to represent and execute the Board of Selectmen’s directions,’’ he said.
Fraine’s favorite part of the job was “living in Bellingham and being connected to the decisions we were making.’’ 
“It was exciting to see what our decisions created,’’ he emphasized. “New buildings included a high school, a police station, a fire station, a senior center, a municipal center and a library. We improved ball fields and expanded playgrounds. It was great to help those causes.’’
The most challenging part of his position was when budgets had to be finalized. 
“That was difficult at times, because we couldn’t address issues we wanted to fix or upgrade,’’ Fraine offered. “Making tough decisions is always difficult, because services have to be cut, public safety officers aren’t replaced and if we cut teachers, class sizes increase. For the last few years, I think we’ve done a good job with municipal and school staffing needs.’’
Fraine rarely ever worked a 40-hour week. It was more like 24-7. “There’s always emergencies, and I wanted to be involved in the things going on in town,’’ he said. 
Some will rate Fraine as calm and personable in dire times. Others will say he got results. Both views are correct. Getting everyone on the same page may have been his prime asset. “I worked hard to gain consensus with town boards,’’ he said. “It was important to solve issues for all departments.’’
Fraine never lost sight of helping others, even when unusual requests popped up. In his role, he was a man of humanity who acted with sympathy towards residents, acutely aware that people need help. “I took a call from a woman who was upset that she was late getting her trash barrel out,’’ he recalled. “She asked if a truck could return. It was late so I picked up her trash and put it in the town dumpster.’’
Fraine has two messages — one to his colleagues and another to Bellingham’s residents. “I had an incredible professional career,’’ he said. “Thanks to all the men and women I’ve worked with for 36 years. I learned a lot and hopefully I held up my end.’’
 To the people of Bellingham, Fraine said: “I was entrusted with huge responsibilities. I did the best I could serving my community, and I greatly appreciate all the support and encouragement I received.’’
Fraine no doubt will offer some very sound advice when his successor takes the reins. “Get to know the community and the people who serve the town,’’ he said. “And, get familiar with all of the issues in Bellingham.’’
That’s a formula for success, and it comes from a man who handled a difficult job with lots of desire, dedication and devotion
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