The seat at the head of the board table should be left empty Monday night. Canaseraga village trustees will hold their February meeting tomorrow, but a lot has changed since the board last got together in January.
I'm pretty sure Melinda J. Swain expected to attend Monday night's meeting. It will come exactly two weeks after the Canaseraga mayor had heart surgery at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo.
Swain was certainly not nonchalant about her third open heart surgery since 1998 ó she was a smart lady and definitely knew the risks ó but she confidently told me in January that she expected to be home three days after the procedure, to keep in contact with the village office by telephone for the next couple of weeks, and then perhaps to show up for Monday's session, although she would not run the meeting.
Mayor Swain never made it home from the hospital. The mother of two died Feb. 11 at age 43, from complications following the surgery.
The mayor sits at the table's head in Canaseraga, but the village doesn't have a mayor at this point. For Monday night at least, that seat should be left empty, in honor and in memory of a lady who wanted nothing less than to restore Canaseraga's mojo; to remake the community in the image she remembered growing up.
Swain was not a newcomer to community service last year when she decided to run for office and pulled off unlikely double victories, one in a Democratic party caucus and another one in the general election, and became mayor. Ambulance runs as an EMT, serving as a fire department captain, and holding the treasurer's position with the department. Don't forget about the Youth League, where she was a volunteer, or the Historical Society, where she was a member. Swain had been making a difference in Canaseraga for a long time.
There are thousands of people just like her for sure. They live in small towns across this region; people who make our small burgs real "communities," not just places to hang our hats after long days at work.
But running for political office takes a different sort of desire. The best candidates, and the best political leaders for that matter, see the future they want for their town, or state, or country, and go about convincing everyone else to follow along.
"I want to make a change. Parts of the village are so run down, on Main Street especially," Swain told me last March, as she campaigned for office. "I am going to work as hard as I can, and try to bring some businesses back into town. When I was younger, there was a lot more here than there is now."
Swain, a Canaseraga Central School graduate, was doing well as mayor, by all accounts. She and the village board kept the water system overhaul project, a multi-million dollar endeavor, moving along and on schedule. She was an active supporter of the Burns Comprehensive Plan Committee, following through on a campaign promise to work for increased cooperation between the town and village.
As I noted in this space last September, Swain showed political deftness in handling tricky issues during her first months in office, like smoothly replacing the DPW supervisor, appointing an ally to a board vacancy and seeing that a new code enforcement measure became law.
Swain had a good handle on her hometown, population 550, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. When she talked about Canaseraga, she spoke with passion.
"The village is home. We pull together. Itís amazing," she stressed to me last year. "When somebody gets sick or needs help, the whole community comes together. I absolutely love it here. Everybody knows everybody. If you need help, your next-door-neighbor is usually right there helping you. I really like this small town. I actually stayed here, I have two kids, they are both in college, and Iím hoping they will move here too after they graduate."
Swain's father, Myrle Rawleigh, commenting last week following the death of his daughter, spoke of potential unrealized and a story that ended long before the final chapter should have been written.
"She had big plans for Canaseraga," Rawleigh said. "But that didn't work out."
Neal Simon is the city editor of the Evening Tribune of Hornell.