2022 Public Servant of the Year: Carolyn Peabody

Few people have worked as diligently to improve their community as Carolyn Peabody. And for someone who also tends to work quietly behind the scenes, she has made a huge splash as a local leader striving to improve equity and justice for all in Southold Town.

Think about any local social justice initiative, and it might be hard to find one in which she’s not involved. Ms. Peabody is co-chair of the North Fork Unity Action Committee, serves as a Suffolk County Human Rights commissioner and sits on the Southold Anti-Bias Task Force. In addition, she chairs the steering committee of the Southold Justice Review & Reform Task Force. 

Shari Miller, dean of the School of Social Welfare at Stony Brook University — where Ms. Peabody, now a senior professor, has taught since 1989 — lauded her work with the latter, saying that she “led a process grounded in the abiding belief that when people come together in true community, and wade through the most difficult of waters, the potential for change is real, and progress is always possible.” 

Ms. Peabody’s longtime commitment to challenging prejudice, inequality and exclusion — and encouraging others to do the same — and her wide-ranging work for the betterment of all segments of her community, even beyond the town level, are among the reasons she is our choice for The Suffolk Times Public Servant of the Year for 2022.

In a nomination letter, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell has worked alongside Ms. Peabody and said she “works tirelessly to identify and eradicate racism” in Southold Town, adding that “her mission isn’t just words, it’s deeds.”

Mr. Russell noted that Ms. Peabody, already a longtime member of the Anti-Bias Task Force, had asked the Town Board to establish a committee to tackle a justice review a full year before it was mandated by the state in 2020. Since then, Ms. Peabody has since spearheaded that group’s efforts, working on the committee with town residents from all backgrounds and focusing her skills on “creating a sense of cohesion, trust and common purpose.” 

“The result was the creation of a document that was a comprehensive guide to justice and policing that was thorough, objective and community-driven. It is the most substantial work product throughout the state, with no close second,” Mr. Russell said. 

At Stony Brook University — where, among other initiatives, she helped spearhead a project to ensure that indigenous Long Islanders were counted in the 2020 census — Ms. Peabody is popular among students, who describe her as a kind and engaging professor who truly cares about them as individuals. 

“[Carolyn Peabody] is one of the most down-to-earth professors I have ever had the pleasure of learning from,” one anonymous reviewer wrote on “She cares about her students, is accessible outside of class and walks the walk that others only talk of. Self-reflection and venturing out of comfort zones required.”

Jack Slattery of the town Police Advisory Committee, who worked with Ms. Peabody on various Justice Review & Reform Task Force efforts, said she facilitates “very productive” and “targeted” meetings and brings “leadership and focus.” 

“She has brought increased transparency to a lot of very complicated subjects and she did that by staying focused on key objectives,” he said. 

Sonia Spar, also a member Anti-Bias Task Force, has known Ms. Peabody since 2015. She said she’s been awed by Ms. Peabody’s resilience and focus on improving her community, and highlighted her influence as an educator. 

“She’s educating the next generation of social workers and people that are engaged in helping our society, helping the people who need it the most in our communities. The impact she’s having, it’s on a large scale,” Ms. Spar said, noting her active involvement in multiple committees. “Right now she’s working to provide language access to community members who need this help … In a nutshell, she’s advocating for social justice, she’s advocating for human rights, she’s advocating for us to not lose our sense of humanity toward others.” 

Carolyn Peabody, the supervisor said, “has set an example of leadership that we all should want to aspire to. She is able to foster dialog between people of very different backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. That dialog helps build bridges that lead to trust, which leads to change.”

Previous Winners

2021: Charles Sanders
2019: Kevin Webster 2018: Rodney Shelby
2017: William Price
2016: Jim Grathwohl
2015: Jack Martilotta
2014: Ted Webb
2013: Heather Lanza
2012: Ed Romaine
2011: Greenport and Southold Highway Department Crews
2010: Leslie Weisman
2009: Betty Neville
2008: Thomas Crowley
2007: Philip Beltz
2006: Jesse Wilson
2005: Martin Flatley
2004: Mattituck-Cutchogue School Board
2003: Ben Orlowski Jr.
2002: Jack Sherwood
2001: Dave Abatelli
2000: Melissa Spiro
1999: Valerie Scopaz
1998: Jamie Mills
1997: Karen McLaughlin
1996: Lisa Israel
1995: John Costello
1994: Ray Jacobs
1993: Judy Terry
1992: William Pell
1991: Beth Wilson
1990: Antonia Booth
1989: Frank Murphy
1988: Venetia McKeighan
1987: Paul Stoutenburgh

Editor’s Note: There was no Public Servant of the year named in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.