Parks Dept.’s ‘foot soldier’ bows out, says, ‘it’s all about your personal best’; Kerrissey on job 39 years

When Dianne Kerrissey first began her work in the Parks Department for the City of Boston 39 years ago, she fell in love with the job and the city.

Now, nearly four decades later, she began her retirement this week with no regrets about staying in the job and many great memories.
What began as an administrative position led her to become the Director of Programming and ParkArts for the city, a position that has been both interesting and challenging as she has organized thousands of programs over the years throughout the city’s parks and public spaces.

Although it has not always been the easiest of jobs, the fact that she is helping people enjoy the city has fueled her positive spirit and high energy level over the years. Retiring, she said, is the best idea, but she will miss her job. “It’s a double-edged sword,” said the Dorchester resident.

Under her direction, the city provides dozens of programs for children and adults in the parks each year, including the Dorothy Curran Concert Series at City Hall Plaza and countless special events, like the opening of the Frog Pond and the Return of the Swans to the Public Garden.

“If it was fun, it was up to me to organize it,” said Kerrissey, who grew up in Milton and Cohasset and attended Curry College after which she took a job as a summer seasonal playground instructor for the Boston Parks Department.

Within a couple of weeks she began working within City Hall and was assigned to the Dorchester district, making sure that the summer staff showed up on time and planned programs for children. She was in charge of some 200 to 300 summer employees who planned a variety of programs for kids ranging from craft, like making pot holders, to participating in field trips. Later, she became the recreation supervisor and worked on planning programs for tots to young teens and adults.

Then in 1980, she was back in City Hall where she worked as the executive administrative assistant to Dorothy Curran, the director of recreation for the Parks Department who was the first woman assistant commissioner for the Parks Department.

In the late 1990s, Kerrissey was appointed director of programming for all of the recreation programs and in 2003 she became director of ParkARTS.

“I am a foot soldier,” she said. “I work for the mayor, the commissioner of the Parks Department, and I work for the people. I do the best I can wherever I am placed and whatever I was asked to do.”

One of the reasons for her longevity on the job was that her responsibilities were so varied. There was always something new and challenging happening. Kerrissey might spend one day working on organizing the men’s basketball league or she might be suiting up to be Mrs. Santa Claus for the Boston Common Tree Lighting ceremony or she might be donning an 18th-century costume for an event in the South End.

“It has been a long road, but a happy road,” she said.

Over the years, Kerrissey has served in three mayoral administrations and for some 15 parks commissioners. “I have worked with so many wonderful people,” she said. “I couldn’t be where I am today without all of my coworkers and all of the coworkers throughout the city. I’ve never met a bunch of people who truly care like they do.”

The elected officials are a special group of people, too, she said. Tom Menino, Maureen Feeney, and others truly care, she said. “I cannot say enough good things about them.” The time has flown by, she said.

“I’ve also met wonderful corporate sponsors,” Kerrissey said. “There are no city dollars used for the special ParkARTS programs. That is all corporate fundraising. They understand how important it is to bring programs to the neighborhoods.”

But planning so many events is no easy task. “I had many restless nights when I would worry about the weather. Would it be too hot for a track meet? Would the bus show up on time?,” she recounted.
Over the years, she was asked to do other jobs. Sometimes corporations asked her to work for them. “I just smiled and said, ‘I belong here.’ It’s a choice, not a chance, that determines your destiny,” Kerrissey said. But it was the giving back to the city that had a lot to do with keeping her in the job.

“Whether it was the annual kite festival or opening up the public skating – we were providing a service. Some people have the money to send their kids away to attend a program and buy a $5 t-shirt. And then there’s a whole group of people out there who cannot do that,” Kerrissey said. “We have enough crises in this world. People should be able to go out for one or two hours and have fun and not have to reach into their pocket. I try hard to reach out to those people.”

From the senior garden party to kids enjoying crafts, reading programs, and all the neighborhood concerts – all of the programs are free, she said. “It’s good quality entertainment offered in a safe environment.”

Kerrissey’s certainly was not a 9-to-5 job. Often she would have events three or four nights a week where she would work from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on weekends. “But I had fun,” she said. “Now I want to travel a little and play golf.” There is also her flower-garden hobby that she is anxious to start for the season. And she is a fan of the Red Sox.

But it’s time to retire and move on, she allowed. “There are a lot of talented people out there,” she said. “Someone gave me a chance years ago. There are so many kids coming out of college with great degrees and great new ideas.”

Life is good, not only professionally, but personally, she said. “My family has been very supportive. Whenever I needed help they were there,” she said. “Even when I needed someone to dress up in costume, like a Care Bare or Frosty the Snowman for an event.”
Because she liked the neighborhood so much, Kerrissey bought a home in Dorchester 22 years ago. “Dorchester is where my heart belongs,” she said.

So many memories are gathered during a career that spans 35 years. But two of the most moving moments for Kerrissey included the loss of a commissioner and a coveted award.

When Parks Commissioner Justine Liff died of ovarian cancer in 2004, she said, “Every department in the city was touched. … there was ceremony after ceremony in her honor. … She spearheaded the ParkARTS program.”

The second memorable moment was when Kerrissey received the Henry L. Shattuck Award for public service in 1999. “My father died a month later, but he was able to come to the ceremony,” she said.
Words of advice for her successor on the job? “You need to communicate. Nobody owns any program. Every program is all of ours. Whether that’s the assistant who answers the phone or the laborers who go out and cut the grass and put the barrels out.”

And for those stressful times of worrying if something is going to work out, or if an event doesn’t go quite as planned, she said, “No matter what happens in life, keep your head up and keep moving.”
And maybe U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller said it best last week at the Winter Olympics, said Kerrissey: “It’s not all about the medals. Sometimes he has had his best times and left without a medal, but he did his personal best. And that’s what it’s all about: your personal best.”