PROSPECT — Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield still remembers the first time he took office as a young man four decades ago.
“I was sworn in around 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 7,” Chatfield said. “You took office immediately in those days. Now it is two weeks.”
Chatfield, 73, began his 40th year as Prospect’s mayor on Nov. 7, 2016. By all accounts, he is the longest serving chief elected official in the state.
Chatfield began his career of public service in 1961 by joining the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed in Germany for three of the four years he was in the service.
Although Chatfield, a fourth generation Prospect resident, was thousands of miles away from his hometown, Prospect was still on his mind.
“During the time I was in the military my mother would send me all the Prospect news that was in the paper. So I kept up with what was going on in the town for the three years I was in Germany,” Chatfield said.
When he left the military in 1965, Chatfield knew he wanted to get involved in politics. He was first elected as constable and, in 1973, he was elected to the Town Council.
During that time, Chatfield also worked at the local hardware store, the local pharmacy, plowed snow, and drove a school bus in town, all of which helped him when he announced his bid for mayor on Jan. 2, 1977.
“I knew most of the people in town. I knew every street in town. Most of the people I still called mister and misses because that’s how I was introduced to them when I was a young man growing up in town,” Chatfield said. “By April I had quite a bit of support.”
That support translated into votes and in November 1977 Chatfield assumed the highest office in town.
Forty years later, Chatfield sits at a desk covered with papers that need his attention, a small plane with an Air Force insignia, American and Connecticut flags, pictures of family, and a small plaque with his name and title etched into it that was given to him by his fellow bus drivers when he first assumed office.
Chatfield is fond of saying that he has grown up with the town. This statement rings true when the Prospect of 1977 is compared to the Prospect of today.
Chatfield said when he took office there were about 40 less streets in town, one stop light, and only one police car.
The town had approximately 4,500 residents in 1977 and currently has 9,600 residents.
“There was a study done in the 1970s that said Prospect was supposed to have 12,000 people by 1980. Well that didn’t happen,” Chatfield said.
Another significant change has been how much traffic passes through the town, especially at night, Chatfield said.
“There was not as much traffic from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. That is constantly steady now because we are a major artery between Waterbury and New Haven,” Chatfield said.
Over the last four decades, the town has increased open space, extended the police department, built a new firehouse, brought in water lines, and turned a hay field into the well-used Hotchkiss Field, Chatfield said.
“Hotchkiss Field was a hay field owned by the Hotchkiss family. I set out to purchase that in 1979, to much opposition. We paid $10,000 an acre for the 40-acre farm, including the Hotchkiss House, which is now in the hands of the historical society,” Chatfield said. “Where would soccer be now if I didn’t have that?”
While much has changed during his years, Chatfield has a routine he sticks to every working day. He buys a newspaper just after 4 a.m., heads to Dunkin’ Donuts by 5 a.m. for a bottle of water since he doesn’t drink coffee, and is at work in Town Hall by 5:15 a.m.
“I get a lot done in the morning when the phones aren’t ringing and you can just do paperwork. This is a big paperwork job,” Chatfield said.
Chatfield said he continues to run for office time after time because he has a lot of energy and loves his job. He likes to think that some of the residents in town have moved here or stayed in town because of what he has done for Prospect.
Chatfield said that when future generations look back over his long career his legacy will be that he was from Prospect and that he served the town well for many years.
“I hope that they do remember. I can tell you the name of all the selectmen since the 1940s. But do people remember them? No,” Chatfield said. “My name is on three or four building plaques around town. So if the buildings are still up they will remember who I am.”