Editorial: Remembering Jane Cabot

Posted 12/22/17

She had her hands full running her family’s White Rock Farm, but Jane Cabot managed to squeeze in a bit more for her beloved Little Compton.

For 30 years or so, Ms. Cabot ran this small town, …

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Editorial: Remembering Jane Cabot

Posted

She had her hands full running her family’s White Rock Farm, but Jane Cabot managed to squeeze in a bit more for her beloved Little Compton.

For 30 years or so, Ms. Cabot ran this small town, mostly from her post as Town Council president.

She helped ‘keep it little,’ just the way everyone likes it, she led the way as the town accomplished important things, she left taxes low (a very big deal), and she was there when the town kept the witches away.

Ms. Cabot died last week at 87 and there is no understating the role she played or the things she did for Little Compton.

Being council president is different here than in most towns where the president can simply pass work off to a town administrator or planner or someone else on the full-time staff.

Not so in Little Compton. Part of that ’keep it little’ notion is sparing town hall from as many full-timers as possible. It’s how most small New England towns used to stay affordable before local government became the biggest, best paying employer. (Little Compton residents might find it amusing that Westport, their neighbor to the east, is bemoaning the fact that it’s unable to attract a public health director for $80,000.)

The way it evolved in Little Compton only works if the council president is willing and able to devote full-time-like hours to the task. During Cabot’s time, almost nothing the council voted to do could actually happen unless the council president (or town clerk) saw it through.

And that can be a thankless task. When things ran smoothly, nobody much noticed or cared about all those hours that Jane Cabot spent in town hall poring over paperwork or over at the public safety station or town dock worksites.

But when things went amiss or when it struck some that “Queen Jane’s” control was a bit much, she was the first (and only) one in line for blame. When the rest of the nation smirked at this tiny town that wanted no part of Jack Nicholson and his Witches of Eastwick, or cast Little Compton as not doing its part for country when it resisted the GWEN emergency tower system (a wise move as it turned out), all were happy to send TV crews off to find Cabot.

Jane Cabot saved one of her best gifts for last — that most famous of Little Compton views, the West Main Road one with the cows, hay bales and Atlantic Ocean — when she protected her farm from development.

During decades that saw sprawl swallow most places, Little Compton remains little, lovely and unique. Jane Cabot helped that happen.

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.