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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hopkinton neighbors say Lynch blends in around town, but his Gould Hill estate sticks out

HOPKINTON – You might not think the state’s most powerful politician would take the time to show up for Town Meeting, but John Lynch isn’t your ordinary Governor.

People in town say it’s not unusual to see Lynch show up to the annual session wearing blue jeans a sweatshirt. And you won’t hear any long-winded speeches in front of the other residents in town, they say. Lynch keeps to himself and leaves the town’s business to selectmen. ...

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HOPKINTON – You might not think the state’s most powerful politician would take the time to show up for Town Meeting, but John Lynch isn’t your ordinary Governor.

People in town say it’s not unusual to see Lynch show up to the annual session wearing blue jeans a sweatshirt. And you won’t hear any long-winded speeches in front of the other residents in town, they say. Lynch keeps to himself and leaves the town’s business to selectmen.

“It’s kind of nice to see him at Town Meeting, everybody just lets him be a citizen,” said Hopkinton resident Sharon Rivard. “He’s just like everybody else when he’s there.”

Similar to his approval record, residents of the 5,500-person town smile and speak fondly about their popular leader and neighbor.

Lynch drives himself to the Colonial Village Pharmacy-Supermarket to shop for groceries, and is an active athlete, playing in neighborhood hockey games at Kimball Pond in the winter and cycling Hopkinton’s hilly landscape in warmer months.

“Sometimes you’ll see him out with his wife, walking his dog,” said Susan Hencke, a potter and Gould Hill neighbor of Lynch’s who has lived in Hopkinton for 18 years. “He’s just a regular guy in the community.”

Still, for other Hopkinton residents, Lynch’s iconic house on Gould Hill is the first thing that comes to mind when asked about their neighbor.

Big house, small town

Lynch built his 11,000 square foot home atop Gould Hill, which sits 850 feet above sea level and offers the best views in town, some say one of the best views in the Granite State.

“Nobody here has a more beautiful view of the mountains,” said one resident who declined to give his name at Everyday Cafe in Contoocook on Saturday. “And he enjoys it. That’s all I know.”

The multi-million-dollar home was built with a 20-by-40-foot swimming pool, a tennis court, a cabana, and a detached three car garage, among other luxuries.

People in town took notice of the construction in part because of the owner, and also because of its location on the former Gould Hill apple orchard.

Some neighbors recall the troop of trucks that rumbled through Hopkinton to build on the magnificent, nearly eighty-acre property, with breathtaking views of Mount Washington.

Others bemoaned the loss of a small section of the orchard – which dates back to the 1700s – when the Lynches started construction back in 2006.

“It’s a big house, but there’s a lot of those around this state,” said Erick Leadbeater, who owned and operated the orchard and sold the land to the Lynches through a revocable trust called “Gould Hill ‘B’” when Leadbeater planned to retire. “Some people criticized him for that.

“I think it was more the other party, the typical political sniping. But it’s a well thought-out place and can be very entertaining.”

Lynch built on a part of the Gould Hill Orchards that produced Macintosh apples, Leadbeater said, which were losing favor at the time.

“We were looking at the prospect of cutting everything down and looking at different varieties,” Leadbeater said.

When Leadbeater sold Lynch the land, the governor had him keep operating the orchard that remained on his property -- a block of apple trees the Leadbeaters came to call “The Lynch.”

“We tried to be mindful of the fact we weren’t having pick-your-own through his front yard,” Leadbeater said. “The relationship I had with them was they could have all the apples they wanted, and I would take the rest I wanted.”

Governor in town

Leadbeater recalled a memorable conversation he had with Lynch over a pizza, as they negotiated the land sale for his home years ago.

“He said, ‘I want to change the subject. Some people have been saying I should run for governor. What do you two think?’” Leadbeater recalled. “I guess I wasn’t aware at the time he was as serious as he was.”

Dave Foster, a cook at Everyday Cafe, said he photographed Lynch’s landscaping for New England Home Magazine.

“He came out in a t-shirt and shorts,” Foster said. “Very laid back, very friendly. I see him around town a lot. My dad is actually friends with him.”

The Lynches share their home’s splendor with the community.

“They have used it in a lot of good ways,” Leadbeater said. “I remember a few years ago we went to a fundraising thing for the Hopkinton Women’s Club to raise money for scholarships for kids. They offered their place as a venue to do that. I think it drew a lot of people simply because they wanted to see his house.”

“There were a number of things he supported over the years, that’s just the kind of people they are,” he added.

However, Lynch also likes his privacy and said photographing his home for this story was off-limits.

Call him coach

To many folks in town, Lynch is known simply “coach,” after he was an active supporter and instructor for the Hopkinton Youth Sports Association prior to taking the job in Concord’s corner office.

He first got involved with youth soccer, hockey, softball and baseball through his children, Jacqueline, Julia and Hayden.

“He had a real passion for coaching the kids,” said Dave French, who coached youth soccer and baseball with Lynch for several years from 1998-2006. “John was very effective at it. He gave very positive feedback to all the players and took the time to acknowledge each and every one’s efforts during the games.”

Dave Chase, a varsity baseball and basketball coach and a physical education teacher at Hopkinton High School, worked closely with Lynch through the town’s youth sports program, which feeds the high school its talent.

“I met him one day walking out to our practice,” Chase recalled. “He was like, ‘If you ever need anything, let me know, maybe I can help.’”

When Chase mentioned that the baseball program could use some batting cages – which ran in the $3,000-$5,000 range at the time – it only took a few days for Lynch to deliver several of them for the program, funded from his own pocket.

“It was just something needed in the community and really helped to develop the youth baseball in our town,” Chase said. “We’ve gone on to win a couple of state championships since then, some of it was because of some of the resources he was able to give.”

Even when Lynch took office in 2005 he continued to prioritize his youth sports involvement as much as he could, French said.

“When he was governor, he would show up to away games,” French said. “The kids really responded well.”

Part of the community

Now, with Lynch’s unprecedented fourth term as governor coming to an end, however, the talk in most Hopkinton hang-outs revolves around where their well-known neighbor will go from here.

Some suggest the private sector, after Lynch, a former President and CEO of Knoll, Inc., a national furniture manufacturer, sent the company on a U-turn from losing $50 million a year to making a profit of nearly $240 million before he was governor.

Chase, who ran into Lynch on voting day in Hopkinton this year, hopes he might join him on the sidelines as a junior varsity baseball coach, he said, after Lynch continued to follow Hopkinton’s championship team closely from his office in Concord.

“He said, ‘I just want to come back and work with you guys, do the baseball stuff,’” Chase said. “You can tell how much he loves the game and it was just fun to talk to him about that.”

Others expect he will remain active in the community.

“I don’t think that will change,” said Hopkinton resident Dan Rivard, who was leaving Contoocook’s Farmer’s Market at Gould Hill Farm Saturday. “I think that’s why he’s such a popular governor. He’s part of the community. He shares his time.”

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).