oxford, Maine

DA's secretary retires after 36 years in Paris courthouse

by Christopher Crosby Staff WriterSun Journal July 2, 2016

PARIS — The leatherbound "Secretary's Desk Handbook" on Rosemary Reese's desk was a present for her 18th birthday. It is a primer packed with information: a dictionary, an encyclopedia, rules on grammar and etiquette. It even shows how to identify fish species.

But it never prepared a young legal secretary to comfort the victims of abuse, or control her anger when sexual predators walked into the Oxford County courthouse.

For the better part of four decades, Reese was the face of the Assistant District Attorney's Office — a short blonde with a tough-as-nails voice.

Rosemary Reese
Legal secretary Rosemary Reese stands at her desk in the District Attorney's Office at the Oxford County courthouse in Paris where she spent the past 36 years.

Her photographs, which have been taken down, speak volumes about her life. There's a photograph of her and her two daughters crouching in a field of waist-high wheat, backed by a green New Hampshire mountain; a painting of a man in a plaid mackintosh jacket fishing on a wild river lost in the deep foliage of a forest.

Assistant District Attorney Joseph O’Connor stands by her door, holding a small package and a blue envelope with “Rosemary” written in neat, cursive loops on the front. There are flowers on her desk. 

How did time go by so fast? 

It seemed like yesterday she was taking camping trips with her family, making the long drive up from Long Island to Maine’s wilds. That’s what sold her, planting the desire to get out of the suburbs and live somewhere where there were fewer people, where life was a little quieter. 

She came from an era when high schools taught women entering the secretarial field to wear white gloves to interviews. In 1976, she and her husband, Harry, moved to Otisfield, and she found work as a bank clerk. She didn’t really miss her old life.

“I was never a city girl," Reese said. "I liked going to the museums, but I never felt home there.”   

She left her job when she became pregnant with her first daughter and bought a fixer-upper in Harrison, where she still lives. Leaving was tricky — it was the only period in her life where she was out of work — but she reasoned she had an infant to care for. 

In 1980, at the age of 29, she was hired as a legal secretary at the Oxford County District Attorney's office — a job that she held until July 1.

“It’s more than multitasking,” Reese said. 

Four decades of Oxford County history have passed through her fingers — first on typewriters punching inky keys on thin carbon paper, then to the soft stacatto of a computer keyboard. Upcoming court cases are stacked in neat rows behind her rather than being stuffed away in a filing cabinet.

To use the fax machine, back when she started, one had to walk out of the office, along a hall and down a flight of stairs to the Emergency Management Office. Today PDFs, or portable document files, whiz to her email inbox. 

For the first 10 years, there were no victims witness advocates, employees whose job it is to reach out and sometimes console the victims of abuse and assault. That task fell to her. She'd call with their court dates, or just check in on them. Sometimes the phone calls would become long conversations.

Transcribing police interviews was part of the job, and sometimes the words of defendants and victims would be etched on more than just the page. Those were the hardest days, she said, and early on, work followed her home. 

Sex abuse cases made her think of her daughters, and she sometimes found it difficult to maintain control, stay calm and not become enraged about a case. But she wanted perpetrators to know the damage they'd caused — and when she was her angriest, she wanted them to hurt, too. 

She feels differently now.

"What can you do?" she asked. "I used to think everybody was great. I was naive." 

People who have worked with Reese often marvel at her wonderful ability to remember detail. 

"I don't know how she did it," victims witness advocate Cathy Ring said. "You can go to her and she remembers cases from 30 years ago."

Pleas and complaints representing some of the worst moments in the lives of Oxford County residents surround her, but she holds on to other memories: a friendship with a victim of sex abuse that's spanned decades.

"I guess I just listened to her," she said.

Her position, which she left Thursday, is still vacant. 

Assistant District Attorney Richard Beauchesne worked alongside Reese for 18 years. 

"She’s irreplaceable," Beauchesne said. "Tough, but sweet. Despite all the changes, she was the one constant."

There's no master plan for the next stage of her life, she said, and she's probably going to invent it, day by day. There are books to get lost in, a photo album that needs updating. The seedlings? They aren't going to plant themselves.

"It's going to be really nice to decompress," she said. "I'm going into my retirement thinking it's the first week of vacation. And that's going to be fun."