LYNN — A long-serving local public official is calling it a career.
John O’Brien, 72, has spent nearly all of his adult life in elected office, first on the Lynn City Council and then as the Southern Essex register of deeds.
“I’ve always lived by the theory that the government is here to help somebody and help them when they have a problem,” O’Brien said. “I’ve lived my whole political career helping people.”
O’Brien, who attended Lynn Classical High School and North Shore Community College, was elected as the Ward 6 city councilor at the age of 19 after running for the office in 1971.
“I’m honored to say that I still hold the record of being the youngest elected city councilor in Lynn’s history,” O’Brien said. “Hopefully somebody younger will come along and break that record.”
After three terms on the council, O’Brien, already a veteran of politics at 25 years old, ran for and was elected to the position that he would hold for the next 46 years: Southern Essex register of deeds.
“When I ran for register of deeds, no one thought I had a shot of winning,” O’Brien said.
He pointed to his office’s early embrace of new technologies like digital archiving and the internet, which allowed it to better serve the public in an efficient way, as major achievements.
“We have accomplished just so much over at the registry,” O’Brien, whose office received a Computerworld Smithsonian Award in 1999, said. “I worked with people who came up with brilliant ideas and revolutionized the whole process.”
O’Brien also pointed to his office’s early flagging of fraud during the late 2000s housing crisis as a standout moment from his career.
When O’Brien ran for his eighth term in 2018, he had already notified the public that he had been diagnosed with Lewy body dementia.
“When I ran five years ago, I told people it was my last term,” O’Brien, who was diagnosed before the start of his campaign, said. “I wasn’t going to seek reelection.”
Recently, O’Brien began to experience difficulty performing his job due to his health issues and ultimately recognized that he could no longer serve in his full capacity.
“It’s a challenge every day,” O’Brien said. “It’s not fair for me to stay on and not be able to do all of the things that I used to be able to do.”
Initially, O’Brien planned to leave his position at the end of this month, cutting short his final term more than a year early.
However, O’Brien decided that he would stick around until December to oversee his office’s transition into a new, downsized facility.
“I want to stick around to participate in that process,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said that despite his disappointment at not being able to see out his term, he knew it would best serve the public for him to step away now.
“I thought I would finish the term,” O’Brien said. “But you have to know when it’s time to go. It’s my time to go.”
O’Brien said he wishes other people in government, especially those in higher office, would also consider retiring when it is time to pass leadership on to the next generation.
“I look at some of the guys in Washington and I say to myself ‘You have to know when to go,’” he said. “This is important stuff.”
Referring to his early start in politics, O’Brien, who also lost a bid for Lynn mayor in 1991, stressed the need for the young people of today to be more active in the political process.
“(Young people) have to run for office,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know why they’re not that involved anymore, there’s so many issues that need to be addressed.”
O’Brien said he is currently splitting time between his current home in Danvers and with his family in Florida, where he plans to move after his retirement.
“Lynn will always be my hometown,” O’Brien said. “But it’s best for me health-wise and everything else (to move).”
According to O’Brien, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin will likely appoint First Assistant Registrar Dorothy Hersey to carry out the remainder of his term.
Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff, of Peabody, has already announced that she will be running for Southern Essex register of deeds in 2024.