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City mourns passing of a Malden icon, Karen Anderson, at 68

Karen Anderson
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Former City Clerk and Board of Registrar of Voters chair served 33 years, longest in municipal history

  The news was announced Tuesday night in the very seat of municipal government, where she ran proceedings with precision, ethics and civic pride for over three decades. It took the air out of the room and the tears flowed freely thereafter. Karen Anderson, 68, died on Tuesday, March 14, at her home in Malden, after a brief illness. Recognized as a true icon in Malden city government, both during her tenure and to this day, she served as City Clerk and chair of the Board of Registrar of Voters for 33 years – from 1984 until her retirement in 2017 – the longest serving keeper of those posts in municipal history.

  Malden City Council President Barbara Murphy, her voice breaking, made the announcement immediately after a pair of presentations by city department heads in the middle of the regular Tuesday City Council meeting. A recess was called by the Ward 5 Councillor immediately after the news was made public.

  One of the most veteran City Councillors in this term, Councillor Murphy said that she and Anderson had been friends for about 50 years, dating back to the days the pair would pass out campaign flyers, both catching the political bug early in life. “She was a friend, a colleague, a mentor, an inspiration, a sounding board, a wonderful caring person and a true blue and gold Maldonian,” Murphy said. “Karen and I met when we were teenagers delivering political flyers. Our paths separated for decades, but when I became a City Councillor, Karen was there to guide me through the freshman years.”

  “Malden has truly lost a legend when it comes to public service,” said Mayor Gary Christenson. “I worked with Karen as a member of the School Committee, City Council and as Mayor and the one thing that was consistent throughout was that when you needed an idea or an understanding of a complex issue, Karen was the one we called.”

  “Even after she retired, we were still going to her because she always knew what to do, when to do it and how to do it all with grace,” Mayor Christenson added. “She will be missed!”

  Anderson was born on Dec. 28, 1954, in Danbury, Conn., third of four children of the late Robert and Barbara (Kelley) Anderson. Upon her father’s death, her mother returned the family to her native Malden. She attended Browne Junior High and Malden High School and graduated from UMass Boston, magna cum laude, with a B.A. in economics.

  Anderson worked for several years as a legislative aide to former state Rep. John C. McNeil (D-Malden) and was appointed City Clerk of Malden by the City Council in 1984, taking over for the well-known Joe Croken, who had also served many years in the post. She was City Clerk and chair of the Board of Registrar of Voters until her retirement in 2017, serving alongside five Malden mayors and several dozen city councillors. She helped and mentored three of her successors in the City Clerk’s Office.

  After her retirement, Anderson continued to serve her community professionally, working on a variety of city issues, including the municipal charter, traffic codes and ordinances, serving as municipal hearing officer and managing Freedom of Information Act requests.

  City Council President Murphy noted how Anderson continued to offer her depth of knowledge and expertise in city government, even after her retirement. “This is who she was, a person who gave of herself to help others and make sure the city she loved prospered,” Councillor Murphy said. “Her presence and guidance will be missed beyond words, but her legacy will live on in the heart of our city.”

  Anderson was an avid quilter and in recent years a birdwatcher, particularly in California’s Central Valley, where her husband, Jim Chiavelli, worked for the University of California. From their home in Merced, Calif., they explored the West Coast, with particular fondness for mid-century modern furniture, used bookstores, interesting gin and fresh seafood.

  In addition to her husband, Jim Chiavelli, to whom she had been married since 1990, she is survived by her daughters, Emily Anderson Chiavelli and Margaret Celestia Chiavelli; two sisters, Judith Randall of Lynnfield and Lillian Burbank of Maine; a nephew, Jay Sears, and three nieces, Rachael Anderson, Victoria Gordon and Alexis Burbank; her in-laws, James F. and Mary Chiavelli of Nashua, N.H.; and many cousins, great-nieces and great-nephews, along with her longtime “second family,” the Malloys/McInerneys. She was also the sister of the late Robert Anderson.

  A memorial service will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 24, at Weir MacCuish Family Funeral Home (144 Salem St., Malden), with visiting hours from 3 to 6 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests to please consider a donation to the Malden Public Library (26 Salem St., Malden MA 02148) in Karen’s name to support the library archives.

Former City Clerk Karen-2
Former City Clerk Karen Anderson was there when Mayor Gary Christenson signed his first paper on his first day on the job in the top post in 2012. (Courtesy/City of Malden)
Karen Anderson
Karen Anderson passed away on March 14 at 68. She was the retired, 33-year Malden City Clerk from 1984-2017. (Courtesy Photo)

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