Senior Times: Chatham's New COA Chair: Agency At Critical Crossroad

By: Elizabeth Van Wye

Chatham Council On Aging Chairman David Speciale. ELIZABETH VAN WYE PHOTO

With his wide ranging legal and business experience, David Speciale, the new chairman of the Chatham Council on Aging, has brought an important new perspective to the organization, according to Executive Director Mandi Speakman. Speciale, who has been in his new volunteer assignment for little more than a month, is uniquely positioned to help the council focus on its objectives, including pursuing additional space options and expanding programming, outreach and communication for the COA in the year ahead.

Speciale grew up in Rochester, N.Y., where he was a star athlete and quarterback on the all-city football team. He decided to go to New England for college and chose Curry College, where he continued to play baseball and football. He credits his coach with getting him interested in the legal profession.

“He asked me what my plans were after college, suggested I consider the law and then introduced me to the legal community in Boston,” Speciale said. “I had always wanted to work for a corporation and I came to realize a law degree would be important there too,” he recalled.

After graduating from New England School of Law in 1968, he was hired by Allstate Insurance, one of 10 attorneys being groomed in all facets of the insurance business. For 15 years he and wife Pamela and their children moved all over the country as he held a variety of senior management positions.

In the ‘80s he received an offer to work for AIG in Japan, heading up their legal and marketing operation in Southeast Asia. Speciale spent the next several decades with AIG, living there and in London, California and back to the east coast, moving a total of 16 times before retiring in 2014. The couple had vacationed often in Chatham, where his in-laws had a home, and they decided to settle down here full time.

Getting involved in the community was not a new experience for Speciale. “I’ve always been engaged in civic activities wherever we lived,” he recalled. In Japan he was president of the USO Council and also volunteered coaching a local football club. “You’ve got to give back,” he said.

He credits Betty Magnuson with getting him involved in the COA. “She said I might want to look into it so I got a tour from Mandi,” he recalled, “and I realized the work of the council interested me very much.”

Speciale’s job as chairman of the board of seven members, all appointed by the board of selectmen, involves providing advice and guidance to the town’s COA staff, headed by Speakman. Support and resources for the council are supplemented by an active Friends of the Council on Aging group, which is unique in that it is a private nonprofit organization which exists solely to support a town department.

During a tour of the building last week, Speciale was quick to point out the wide variety of activities, from exercise classes to support groups, to the computer lab and the library and dining facilities. It was also clear, he added, that there are many challenges, or as he called them “opportunities,” ahead for the organization, including the need for improved and expanded space.

To illustrate the space needs, Speciale cites exercise classes as just one example, noting that Chatham’s population is the second oldest in the state.

“As seniors progress, more exercise classes are needed. We have people waiting in line for the classes but the facilities are not conducive to what the town needs,” he said.

The architectural firm engaged by the town to come up with three options, including small, medium and large solutions for the facility, has recently completed the first stage of its work. “It will be a starting point for the conversation,” Speakman said, noting that the options are being reviewed and discussed at a joint meeting of the Friends and the COA Board this week (see separate story).

Pursuing options for the COA facility is just one of the four objectives that the council, in concert with the selectmen and town manager, is pursuing. Speciale is already at work on improving awareness and communication of council programs, outreach and services. He said that he has met with several volunteers who have significant marketing skills and are willing to support and assist in this effort. Of special importance to target, he said, are the “younger seniors” who may see the council as a place for “bingo for frail old people” instead of the vibrant center it is. Speakman called this group the “untapped population” and stressed the importance of reaching out and increasing the awareness of what is available for them.

In addition to his volunteer work, Speciale provides consulting services on identity theft and systems security issues to a list of clients. “I help organizations identify areas of vulnerability,” he said. He is also called in after security is breached to advise on what must be done to resolve the issue. It’s a hot field and Speciale, who has written articles on ID theft, traveled worldwide frequently last year.

With his years of experience, Speciale has always been someone who surrounds himself with “people who know more and are better than me,” he said with a smile. He calls the COA staff and volunteers “a treasure. And Mandi is always two steps ahead,” he said.

Speakman is impressed by Speciale’s passion for the job. “As staff we come from the fields of gerontology and human resources. David has come to us with decades of business experience and entrepreneurial wisdom that we don’t have. What an important piece to bring to the table!”

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