Ken McKusick, Architect Of Orleans Planning Platform, Dies At 89

By: Ed Maroney

Ken McKusick had a front row seat at the outdoor annual town meeting in June (pictured) and at last week’s Nauset Beach special town meeting.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS — Acknowledged as “the father of planning in Orleans,” Dr. Kenneth McKusick, 89, died Nov. 4 at his home on Namequoit Road. 

Dr. McKusick, noted for his work on the planning board and board of water and sewer commissioners, “passed away peacefully in his sleep last night,” Select Board Chair Kevin Galligan said as he opened his board’s meeting last week. “We offer our sincerest thanks and gratitude for the contributions he made to the good of Orleans. We will really miss the opportunity to call on him again for service.”

The living testament to Dr. McKusick’s legacy is the town’s local comprehensive plan, which marked its 20th anniversary last December. “The Orleans local comprehensive plan is, if not the best, one of the best clearly on Cape Cod and maybe in Massachusetts,” said Alan McClennen, a friend and former town planner in Arlington. “Ken was the driver for that. There were specific actions and requirements that the planning board report back to the board of selectmen on what was accomplished each year. It works, and Ken has to get a lot of credit for making that happen.”

Dr. McKusick, who chaired the local comprehensive plan committee, presented the 325-page document to a special town meeting in 1999, where it passed by a nearly unanimous vote. “That happened because Ken was the leader that got people to think about planning and implementing,” said McClennen, a former selectman. “He made a great difference.”

George Meservey, the town’s director of planning and community development, was hired in 1998, the same year Dr. McKusick was appointed to the comprehensive plan committee. Last year, the two wrote an opinion piece that cited accomplishments under the plan: “Orleans amended many zoning regulations such as to permit more apartments as part of steps to rebuild its Village Center; preserved nearly 400 acres of open space; started to tackle wastewater pollution through sewering, non-traditional alternatives and conservation regulations; upgraded most major intersections; built 38 affordable housing units (three more than the goal); and replaced town hall, the police station and the DPW with modern facilities.”

“While obviously quite brilliant, Dr. McKusick approached others with humility and respect,” Meservey wrote in an email. “He was a very good listener, and used his medical training to explore issues carefully before coming to a conclusion or recommendation.”

McClennen noticed that as well, recalling a conversation when Dr. McKusick “was trying to figure out how much effluent (treated wastewater) would be created by the houses in Orleans, looking at water usage. He was one of those guys that just got into excruciating detail trying to establish the absolutely correct answer, yet, when you talked to him, he was down to earth and could get involved in any conversation.”

Dr. McKusick was serving on the board of water commissioners when it decided not to go forward with a wind turbine in the town watershed. “I remember Ken having to come before the board of selectmen and say, ‘I’m sorry, (my) board has decided it’s not appropriate for our watershed,” McClennen recalled. “They were probably right at the time. That turbine is now over in Falmouth, and they can’t figure how to get rid of it. It’s noisy and inefficient.”

“I think people responded to him with respect because he first gave respect,” said select board member Andrea Reed, like Dr. McKusick a former chair of the planning board. “No one was diminished, no one was dismissed, and he kept a sense of humor. He had a pretty dry wit.”

As she considered joining the planning board, Reed said, she watched the interactions among the rotating chairmen. “They brought out the best in each other,” she said. “Chet Crabtree, John Fallender, and Ken really set the bar for respectful listening and consideration of multiple points of view.”

“He ended every conversation with, ‘Keep smiling,’” said his wife, Gussie.

She said Dr. McKusick “knew from the time he was 8 that he wanted to be a doctor. He got a scholarship to Bowdoin, which he loved, then went on to McGill. He liked the concept of being in another country.” After an internship at Lawrence General Hospital and a residency in Albuquerque, he moved back to Andover and conducted a long-term internal medicine practice there.

“He was restlessly curious,” Gussie McKusick said, “so interested in diagnostic techniques. Nuclear medicine was coming on strong. In a field primarily populated by radiologists, he was one of the few internal medicine people who went into it and was very good at it. He got involved at Mass General with lung scans, heart scans. It blossomed to the point where he was president of the American College of Nuclear Physicians.”

Ken and Gussie had summered on Cape Cod separately before meeting and starting what was a second marriage for each, and the region drew them back while they were still working. “We bought a piece of land from the Sparrows, totally wooded, and started from scratch slowly building the house,” she said. “We called it the Never Done Inn.”

Once settled here, “I got involved doing the wastewater,” said the woman the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Brian Dudley called the “godmother of wastewater planning on Cape Cod” for her work in town, including on the health board, and her chairmanship of the Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative. This June, the McKusicks were in the front row at town meeting as voters put the last piece of funding into place for the downtown sewer system and treatment plant.

They were in the front row again at the Oct. 31 special town meeting at Nauset Beach. “We were just thrilled,” Gussie said. “We could hear the ocean roaring. It was a beautiful day. We rolled down our windows and waved at everybody. There was a full moon, a full Blue Moon on Halloween. That had not occurred since 1944. Ken looked it up and found that out.”

A socially-distanced visiting time will be held at Nickerson Funeral Home in Orleans Nov. 15. Memorial contributions may be made to the Orleans Conservation Trust, 203 South Orleans Road, Orleans MA 02653 or at orleansconservationtrust.org/give-to-oct/.