Newton, Features, Metro

Newton’s Commissioner of Health and Human Services to Retire After 37 Years

Linda Walsh, Newton’s Commissioner of Health and Human Services, is set to retire in June following a 37-year career serving the city. 

“She’s a huge presence, and I think the knowledge and wisdom and compassion that she’s had over the years have touched so many lives, and we’ll really miss that,” said Shin-Yi Lao, director of Public Health Services. 

Walsh, CSON ’82, began her career in Newton as a registered public health nurse in the summer of 1986. 

“I had all these opportunities here—I started as a public health nurse, and we actually had school nurses here in Newton at the time,” Walsh said. “So I took a promotion to be the supervisor of the school nurses and the public health nurses, and we merged at some point with the Human Services Department.” 

Walsh’s department merged with the Health and Human Services Department, and she took on several different jobs as the branch grew and its responsibilities increased.

“It’s been terrific, and I think I’ve stayed as long as I have in Newton because it’s always something different, always something going on,” Walsh said. “Every time I thought of maybe leaving and taking another job, some new opportunity would come my way.

One of her biggest accomplishments during her career was the addition of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in various public facilities across the city. At the time, AEDs were uncommon pieces of safety equipment, explained Walsh. 

“Newton was one of the first … to put all of the AED aids in public buildings, in our schools, City Hall, parks and rec buildings, the library, and it was a huge undertaking.” Walsh said, “It was the right thing to do because it saved lives and it’s been proven to save lives over the years, after we became a heart-safe community.” 

The integration of AEDs in the Newton community was a multi-department program, involving the fire department, police department, and the school department, according to Walsh. She explained that this ability to have large collaborative projects is part of what makes Newton so special. 

“But, you know, here, when you have an idea like that for the city, they’re like—great idea, find funding, and go for it,” Walsh said, “And sometimes it’s a multi-year implementation, but we get there with a sort of mantra, especially when you work for municipal departments, that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You have a goal, you want to get there … and we get there.”

Ruth Hoshino, director of School Health Services under Walsh, explained that the department has benefited greatly from Walsh’s expertise and skillful approach to problem-solving. 

“How fortunate I have been to have had a supervisor and colleague who has a deep understanding of nursing and public health, is a skilled critical thinker, is masterful at working with all kinds of people and so much fun to be with,” Hoshino said.

Under Walsh, Newton’s nursing team expanded to over 30 school-stationed nurses in order to meet the needs of students and families, according to Hoshino. 

Hoshino said one of the projects she most admires from Walsh’s career was her work in suicide prevention, as it was especially impactful during a time of difficulty in the Newton community.

“During a particularly difficult period, when Newton lost several students to suicide, Mrs. Walsh helped develop a coalition called Newton Cares, to create a space for healing, education and prevention,” Hoshino said. 

Walsh explained Newton Cares was one of her proudest achievements of her career, and that she truly believes in the impact the program has had in the community. 

“But I have to believe that we’ve done a lot of work in prevention on suicide prevention on opioid addiction and prevention,” Walsh said. “I have to believe that a lot of the public health messaging that we put out over the years has had an impact in people’s lives.”

Her work in suicide prevention and awareness plays a large role in Walsh’s love for public health, she explained.

“Some of the work that we did suicide prevention is what drives a lot of the people who work in public health because you feel like you can make a difference, which is why we love the work so much, or why I love the work so much,” Walsh said. 

Walsh explained that her experience as a nurse has greatly helped her in the realm of public health, as the knowledge required is similar, albeit more community-centered. 

“So public health is sort of like—it’s not one person-centered, it’s community-centered,” Walsh said. “So trying to push out good information so that people can make good choices, is really nursing.”

More than simply putting out information for the community, Walsh explained she has needed to be critical as well as collaborative in her decisions as commissioner of Health and Human Services. 

“And I think as a commissioner, you need really good critical thinking skills, and you need good people skills,” Walsh said. “You need to be able to listen to people from other disciplines like our public safety partners, police, fire, our ambulance service, you need to be able to listen to residents.”

Lao explained that Walsh’s retirement will be tough on the department, both as friends and co-workers, but she is ultimately happy for her.

“She’s moving on to the next chapter of her life and I think she has a lot of exciting things planned for that, but it’s a huge loss for us,” Lao said. “People really miss having her and her leadership, and we’ll miss working with her.” 

Walsh said she has a list of fun plans following her retirement, and she is excited for the opportunity to enjoy her retirement following her long, commendable career in Newton.

“I’m really excited to retire and still have all this energy to do fun things,” Walsh said. “So I couldn’t be more pleased and proud to have worked for the city for as long as I have and to be able to jettison out while I’m still young and able to do good things.”

Walsh said she is mainly just grateful to have had the opportunity to serve and know her community through her work. 

“I’m grateful, and I’m just sort of wired that way, but I’m grateful because life can be really difficult,” Walsh said. “We need community, so I’m so grateful for all of the opportunities I had and for all the people that I’ve met.”

April 28, 2024