Cover Story » Vol. 4

Worcester’s Power Couples

Volume 4 Cover

Volume 4 Cover

Worcester’s power couples are those who are well-respected in their professions and those who also give back to their community. Vitality chose to focus on four couples — there are certainly more out there – training our eye on the world of academia, law and business. In this issue you will read about Burton and Harriette Chandler, Robb and Madeline Ahlquist, Francis Ford and his wife, Shirley Doyle, and John and Kay Bassett.

Buddy and Harlee Chandler:
Making History and Making a Difference

By Cristal Perriello

He grew up in Worcester. She grew up in Delaware. He went to Harvard. She went to Wellesley. He is recognized as one of the best lawyers in the country. She is the first woman from Worcester ever to be elected to the Massachusetts State Senate.

Together they are one of Worcester’s most powerful couples. Burton and Harriette Chandler — better known as Buddy and Harlee — are two people who are making a difference in the Worcester community and around the country.

This power couple met in college. Buddy, a senior at Harvard, and Harlee, a freshmen at Wellesley, first crossed paths when Buddy and his friends showed up on the first day of classes at Wellesley “to help the freshmen find their way.”

“After one false start or two, the rest was history,” says Burton, who has been called Buddy since the day he was born.

Burton Chandler

The nickname Harlee, on the other hand, has a story. Mrs. Chandler’s full name is Harriette Natalie. She attended camp one summer and the owner’s name was Harriette Natalie too, except she went by Harlee. She adopted the name and it has been “our” Harlee’s ever since.

Buddy, who practices in the areas of business law, corporate law, and litigation, is a partner at Seder & Chandler. He had lots of dream growing up, “But I always knew I wanted to be an attorney.”

While at Harvard Law School, Buddy took an internship with Seder & Seder. After he graduated, they hired him full-time and he has been hooked ever since. “I really enjoy the work and the types of cases I take on.”

Mr. Chandler, who has been on the list of “The Best Lawyers in America” for the past 20 years, has taken on some very controversial cases. One of his most memorable was successfully representing three local African-American men who were victims of police brutality. This was the first brutality case brought against the Worcester Police Department and may have been the first such case brought in the Commonwealth. The verdict was in Mr. Chandler’s favor, but the satisfaction he received came after the case. “The men were unemployed at the time,” he recalls. “After the case they went to college, and now they have very successful careers. One is vice president of an airline company.”

Another case very important to him involved discrimination against women in the military, says Mr. Chandler. “I represented a young woman who was rejected from the U.S. Air Force because of her looks.”

Harriette Chandler

At the time, the Air Force had different qualifications for men and women. For example, women needed to send in pictures of themselves with their application — in pre-described poses. There were also several other requirements that didn’t apply to their male counterparts. Mr. Chandler faced off against the U.S. government in federal district court and won. The qualifications are now the same for women and men. The case received national attention. Bill Moyers, the well-known television journalist, came to Worcester and did a piece on the trial.

Since his civil rights days, Mr. Chandler also has had success in commercial cases. “I represented a local bank that loaned money to a large corporate group,” he explains. “When it was time to pay, the very large and affluent company claimed to have no assets. I fought and won the case right here in Worcester Superior Court.” The company he sued was part of a very affluent and successful corporate group owned by the same shareholders.

Despite his busy law practice, Mr. Chandler makes the time to serve on various legal committees and is also active in numerous civic organizations.

As for Mrs. Chandler, when she graduated from college she became a teacher at North High School in Worcester, but soon after decided to enter the business world. She received her M.B.A from Simmons Graduate School of Management and her Ph.D. from Clark University.

“Mid-career I decided I wanted to give back, so I ran for [Worcester] School Committee,” she says.
Soon after that she was elected to the House of Representatives, serving her district from 1995-2001. In 2000, she was elected to the State Senate, making history in Worcester: she was the first woman from the city to be elected to the Senate. She was sworn into office in 2001 and has been re-elected every term since.

Senator Chandler, who serves on a number of committees, is assistant vice-chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, one of the most sought-after committees on which politicians can serve. Ways and Means Committees decide matters relating to the finances of the Commonwealth.

As one of the most influential women in Massachusetts, she is an inspiration to women everywhere.

Her advice is this: “You have to have a goal and be prepared to work hard, and if you are willing to do that, anything is possible.”

Mrs. Chandler has worked hard to improve the city of Worcester on many fronts. Some of her many accomplishments include securing $25 million for Worcester’s City Square Project. She obtained millions of dollars for the new memorial fire station which honors the six Worcester firefighters who died in the 1999 warehouse fire. She also has worked tirelessly to have the state’s land court meet in Worcester for the first time in its 100-year history.

On a state level, she is currently standing behind a bill that will give equal pay to women in state jobs. She was at the forefront of the Bay State’s new historic health-care access law and supported the increase in the state’s minimum wage. Senator Chandler also helped pass “Melanie’s Law,” which imposes harsher penalties on repeat drunk drivers.

With all this on her plate, what keeps Mrs. Chandler going? “I love the fact that I can make a difference in people’s lives and solve problems for them.”

Even Harlee had her humble beginnings — she used to give swimming lessons to earn extra money in college.

With such busy lives and schedules, the couple still makes time to spend together. “We make a conscious effort,” says Buddy. “We go Maine every chance we get.”

The couple has a home in Ogunquit, Maine, where they go for some much-needed rest and relaxation whenever possible. One thing they are never too busy for is their three children and four grandchildren.

“My grandchildren are five, four, three, and two,” says Harlee. “They are just wonderful.”

The one thing they both like most about Worcester — the people.

“Worcester is a place where things get done. Worcester has such an ability to come together,” continued Harlee. “People know each other. Worcester is like a big small town. When we come together, wonderful things happen.”

Fran Ford and Shirley Doyle

Attorneys Fran Ford and Shirley Doyle:
The Dynamic Duo Do Lunch

By Cherie Ronayne

Attorneys Fran Ford and Shirley Doyle can safely be described as a dynamic duo of the Worcester legal community. A very attractive couple, they are also charming, humble and huge fans of one another, all of which became readily apparent as they outlined each other’s accomplishments during a recent lunch meeting at Viva Bene, a rendez-vous scheduled to ferret out their secret super powers.

Together for 25 years, they met playing softball on the Worcester County Bar Association softball team. It’s been “game on” ever since.

Are they competitive? “Friendly competitive,” says Shirley, “but not over work. We do not take cases on the opposite sides of one another.”

In fact, their practices are very different. Shirley has her own practice and does mostly divorce and family law work, while Fran works for a large Worcester firm and concentrates on litigation, dispute resolution and personal injury law. Who is in charge at home, then? With good humor, Fran laughingly says that it depends on the day. Or most usually, he says, it’s their daughter.

They are good friends who happen to love each other, and that is the secret to their longevity as a couple. Because of their shared occupation, they also have a lot in common, admitting to talking shop all of the time. But they don’t fight; rather, they “have negotiations,” as Shirley puts it. They also point to their ability to easily mix their business and social lives, a feat many couples find difficult. They know the same people and personalities, so neither of them is left in the corner at work or political functions, forced to make awkward small talk with other spouses.

With more than 65 years of combined legal experience and a list of accomplishments as long as the current presidential primary, it’s easy to see why they’re considered a power couple. Prior to joining Fletcher, Tilton & Whipple, Fran was elected Clerk of Courts and Magistrate for Worcester County. For a time, he also served as a Deputy Court Clerk in the Worcester Superior Court, having his own practice in between the two posts. He‘s been involved in many community fundraising efforts, held numerous public service positions, and won handfuls of awards.

Shirley is similarly accomplished and similarly involved in the community. Of her many positions, acting as the first female President of the Worcester County Bar Association is the most impressive.

Both are involved in local politics, too, with Fran’s involvement extending to the national scene. He worked for Gary Hart’s campaign during his run for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.

When asked what they plan to put their mark on next, they both confirmed that their latest and most important project is working on college selection with their 17-year old daughter, a junior at Worcester Academy. They have been spending precious time touring various colleges with her, both knowing that they only have her at home for one more year. They both make a priority of carving out family time during their busy days, always driving their daughter to and from school and sharing mealtimes. Shirley acknowledges how fortunate she is to have a profession that allowed her to spend the important, early years with their daughter.

While neither of the two dashed off to change into Lycra leotards and capes during lunch, it was quite evident that the dynamic duo are a well-respected and well-known couple in Worcester — more than a few people stopped by the table to say hello. And that, they both confirmed, is the beauty of Worcester — it really is just a big town and a friendly one, with no downside to knowing everyone.

John and Kay Bassett

John and Kay Bassett:
The ‘Education Adventure’ Continues

By Cristal Perriello

Eight years ago, the desire for a “new adventure” took this couple out of their separate careers in Cleveland and thrust them to the forefront of Clark University, which boasts the second oldest graduate school in the country.

Meet Kay, originally from Detroit, who worked at the NASA John Glenn Research Center managing computing services.
Meet John, who grew up in Washington D.C. and was Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.

Together, John and Kay Bassett are one of Worcester most powerful couples, and their job is to make Clark University shine — and that’s just what they have been doing for the past eight years. John, president of the university, and Kay, special assistant to the president, are committed to the staff, faculty and students – and the Worcester community.

“Being around young people, watching them grow, but also watching new knowledge develop, that’s what keep me going,” explains John.

The leader of a large institution, Mr. Bassett is finding ways to strengthen graduate education at the university, increase the pool of prospective undergraduate students, improve Clark’s visibility, and continue to work with the city of Worcester.

What exactly does special assistant to the president do on a daily basis? “There is no typical day. I’m active in the community and spend a good deal of time either organizing activities or attending meetings,” explains Kay, who lives with her husband in a lovely house on the Clark campus. “We entertain in the house a couple of times a week on average during the school year – dinners and receptions for students, alumni and friends mostly.”

Kay, a liaison to the community, helps with alumni relations, projects on campus, especially in the IT area, and is an advisor to numerous student groups.

But it’s not just the Clark community to which this pair is so dedicated.

“My current passion (besides my family) is helping make Worcester a safe and attractive place to live and work,” explains Kay. “Working with organizations like the Red Cross, YWCA, Women’s Initiative and the Worcester Cultural Organizations, as well as with students here at Clark, is how I express that passion. There are wonderful institutions here in Worcester; more people need to know about them.”

As a young girl, Kay dreamed of joining the U.S. Foreign Service and John wanted to be a professional baseball player.

“As a non-academician, I continue to be impressed by the diverse, creative, and incredibly knowledgeable people on a college campus – the faculty, staff and students. There is very much a sense of shared community,” says Kay.

Clark University

Clark University

Kay never joined the foreign service, but the couple has traveled all over the world to meet with alumni, visiting countries including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Israel, England, France and Germany.

How is it working with your spouse day in and day out? “Our schedules lead us different places, so we don’t have many opportunities to get in each other’s way,” explains Mrs. Bassett.

It only seems fitting that this couple, who helps shape young minds, met at college.

“We met our senior year at Ohio Wesleyan University,” says John.

“Although we were aware of each other, we didn’t really get to know each other until our senior year, when we both took a diplomatic history class. We started dating and the rest is history,” finishes Kay.

When they are not on campus, the couple enjoys spending time with their two children. Their son is a professional classical musician in Cleveland and their daughter just completed law school and will be practicing in Detroit.

“We also have an escape place near the ocean, which we use whenever there are a couple of free days,” smiles Kay.

Since tying the knot, the couple has lived in Washington, D.C., Rochester, New York, Detroit, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio, and North Carolina.

With their family so far away, why did they choose Clark and the Worcester area? “It is an excellent small university with an impressive commitment to its community and an international dimension,” says John. “The city of Worcester is the combination of a diverse and changing population with grounded stability and family orientation.”

“Worcester has many gems, but I think the people are what make a place special,” expresses Kay. “There are so many really impressive and caring people here.”

She says the decision to come to Clark was a joint one. “We have been here eight years — no longer new, but still an adventure in many ways.”

Robb and Madeline Ahlquist

Robb and Madeline Ahlquist:
Food for the Soul

By Matt Shaw

Sitting in a plush leather booth just inside the entrance of VIA Italian Table, Robb and Madeline Ahlquist are relaxed and smiling, their hands folded neatly around glasses of Ferrari Carano chardonnay. They seem comfortable here among the bustle of an early dinner rush, confident that their patrons are being well cared for by an expert staff. The Ahlquists have worked hard to earn this comfort. And now that they’ve earned it, they’re eager to share it with others.

Their journey has not been an easy one. Before the grand opening of their first restaurant, The Sole Proprietor, in 1979, Robb and Madeline lived the humble life in New York. There Madeline worked as a history teacher while Robb, a Grafton native, went about the tedious business of securing small business loans and traveling back to his home state every two weeks to scout potential restaurant locations. But while money might have been short, the Ahlquists were long on motivation. “We had a passion to be in business for ourselves,” Robb said. “We’re in the restaurant business because it’s what we love to do.”

That passion is evident at the Sole, which underwent extensive renovations in the early nineties. “We wanted to make our employees proud of where they worked,” Madeline said. “When we sat down to eat, we’d think, ‘The food is great, but I wish this place looked better.’” Cue Peter Nimitz, a designer with such credits to his name as the Capital Grille, Legal Seafood, the Westin Copley Place, and Lundy’s of Brooklyn. Nimitz has designed all three of the Ahlquists’ restaurants.

The Sole Proprietor

“[Nimitz] turned the Sole into a place where people would walk in and say, ‘I’m not in Worcester anymore,’” Robb said. “At the Chop House, we want people to feel like they’re walking into a great New York or Chicago steak house, to really be transported there.” That same philosophy has carried over beautifully at VIA, where the murals on the walls, tile mosaics on the floors, open patio seating, and supple leather seats invoke images of an intimate café on the main drag of any Italian city.

Twenty years ago, Scott Rossiter, a lifetime friend of Robb’s, invited Ahlquist on a bike ride for a charity called Alternatives Unlimited, which offers residential and vocational services to adults with mental and physical disabilities. Robb recalls raising about $50 for the charity that day, but he and Madeline would contribute much more over the years.

Robb sat as Chairman of the Board for Alternatives, and as such, he put into motion an $8 million plan to renovate the Whitin Mill in Whitinsville for use as the Alternatives Unlimited headquarters; $4.2 million of this money was raised strictly through fundraising, which Robb and Madeline helped organize.

When the Ahlquists opened VIA, it was as a charity event for Alternatives. Guests paid $1,000 per plate for the event that raised more than $100,000.

“It’s always easy to raise money for kids with disabilities,” Madeline said. “Adults are different. These are the people bagging your groceries or stocking shelves at your supermarket, and people forget about them.”

For updates, news and events listings for any of the Ahlquists’ restaurants, please visit the Worcester Restaurant Group website at Information about Alternatives Unlimited is available at their website,

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