Patty Roggeveen has had a rollercoaster year. It all started last July. After leading the Dreamland Theater’s multi-million dollar capital campaign and then overseeing its construction, Roggeveen resigned as the theater’s executive director. It was a peculiar scene there on the back deck of the newly opened theater, watching Roggeveen bid farewell to a small gathering of guests and board members. After five years of orchestrating Nantucket’s version of the Big Dig, a job that often subjected her to harsh media criticism and public scrutiny, this was Roggeveen’s final curtain call. The Dreamland’s doors had only just opened and she was already walking out of them.
“Losing is what you need to learn, not winning,” Roggeveen tells me today. “If you can lose and keep going that’s the trick. It’s a little over a month since Roggeveen lost her reelection bid to Nantucket’s Board of Selectmen, on which she served as chairman. This would have been her seventh year on the board. She lost by fifty votes to a candidate half her age and with not a fraction of her experience in town planning. Coming some nine months after her un- expected departure from the Dreamland, one would think that the defeat was doubly painful. And yet when talking to her, there is no bitterness in her voice, but rather relief, optimism and maybe slight concern.
“I feel a sense of adventure all of a sudden that I have the time again to look at the kinds of things I’d like to do and to have the freedom to select particular projects I want to work on,” she says. “The six years [on the Board of Selectmen] gives me some credibility in starting on something new.” As for her concerns, Roggeveen worries about the current board achieving the cohesiveness that’s necessary to get things done. She’s sat in on some meetings and says that she hasn’t seen that “gelling” just yet, or the leadership to unite the five selectmen.
Although Rogeveen is back to being a mere civilian, she still has the air of a politician and community organizer. If for nothing else, it’s in her blood. Back when growing up on Long Island, her uncle was an assemblyman and mayor in New York State, and participating in his reelection campaigns every two years became a family tradition. Even more so, Roggeveen has good reason to stay involved on the island, three of them actually. Her son James and daughter Irena attend Nantucket High School, and her youngest Christiana is entering the eighth grade. Not surprisingly, the three Roggeveen children are exceptional students. “They’ve never come home with a B,” says the proud mother. “Typically they have all A+s, maybe one A in the mix.”
Returning to civilian life also offers Roggeveen relief from the media attention she’s attracted over recent years. She was often the topic of scathing editorials that she says “got old quick” and gunked up the works for the Board of Selectmen. “We have five selectmen, but the press can play a sixth role because they can have the capacity to actually make commentaries that are visible, that are public, and in many cases they have more power than the rest of us, because I have to be accountable and they don’t,” she says. “There is a lot of power in the press and we hope that the press has responsibility, but I’m not sure it always exercises it.” She continues, “I think it starts to motivate, control and slightly make a difference in what the selectmen are doing and how they take their steps. Do they ask themselves: Is this something that Marianne Stanton will agree with? And is that right? I don’t think so. We all have an opportunity to run for the board. If she’d like that kind of say on things, [she should] get on the ballot. It’s irresponsible to do it any other way.”
Roggeveen wasn’t a month out of the Dreamland when the Maria Mitchell Association snatched her up as its director of development and campaign counsel. The Maria Mitchell has grand designs to build a new aquarium and science center slated for 2015, and who could be better to lead the charge than the woman who helped get the Dreamland up and running? “The difference with the Maria Mitchell is that it’s been around so long,” she says. “So when you have this history that goes back through generations of islanders that remember being part of it—going to summer camps, visiting the facilities— it’s really fun to be part of that legacy.” Writing the next chapter of this legacy will be no small feat. The Nantucket Aquarium and Science Center planned for 33 Washington Street will host 30,000 visitors year-round with an aquarium, a planetarium, habitat exhibits and a science library.
And that’s what Roggeveen is all about: creating a better Nantucket. It’s one of the reasons she left the Dreamland when she did: The job was done. “I not only needed to go forward,” she says, “but I also needed to change it up.” Reflecting on this, she compares herself to a performer she watched on the Ed Sullivan Show as a young girl. The performer would spin plates on poles, running from one pole to another to keep them spinning, as he added more and more plates to the performance. “There are times I wake up in the morning and that’s the first thing I think of, the plates spinning,” she says. “You spin the plate, but your goal is to keep adding plates and not let them fall off.” There are no signs of Patty Roggeveen falling off anytime soon. Rather the question is what plate will she start spinning next?