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Donna Sytek: Making a difference just goes with the job she loves

SALEM — It has been 13 years since Donna Sytek retired from her position as Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, but the civic-minded Salem resident shows no sign of slowing down.

Sytek is one of five Granite State residents being honored with the 2013 Granite State Legacy Award, which recognizes those who have accomplished great things in business, civics and volunteerism. The annual award is presented by the New Hampshire Union Leader and is sponsored by Centrix Bank.

Her impressive resume of state and municipal service spans several decades: chairman of the state Republican Party from 1981 to 1984; House Speaker from 1996 to 2000; and state representative from Salem for 23 years.

Along the way, Sytek chaired several major committees. She said one of the highlights of her political service was the three years she worked on the Judicial Conduct Committee.

A medical technologist and community relations representative for Seabrook Station at the time, Sytek said building the now-defunct committee from the ground up was truly an eye-opening experience.

"For three years I ran a state agency and was able to help develop a process for investigating the conduct of judges," Sytek said. "Being a fiscal conservative, I couldn't see spending money to hire an executive director, so I did the job myself."

Over the years, she has witnessed an ever-changing political landscape.

"When I first came onto the scene, Meldrim Thomson was the state's governor, and there had always been a confident Republican majority in Concord," Sytek said. "Over the course of my legislative involvement, I saw more and more party divisions."

These days, Sytek devotes a great deal of her time to various charitable causes.

"Since retiring, my passion is public policy," she said. "I love to delve into the issues of the day."

Sytek served eight years on the board of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and is now vice chairman of the board of New Hampshire Catholic Charities.

Appointed to the state's Adult Parole Board by former Gov. John Lynch, Sytek said she's also proud of the work she's done to reduce recidivism among the state's prison population.

"It continues to be a labor of love, even though it's a major time commitment," Sytek said.

She said she never intended to go into politics.

"Really, I never thought of it as a career move," Sytek recalled, noting that during the early 1970s, then-county attorney Vesta Roy encouraged her to put her name on the ballot for state representative.

She lost her first election, but that didn't discourage her. In 1976, Sytek won a representative seat through a special election.

"Because I came in late in the game, it was the luck of the draw when it came to which committee I'd serve on," she said. "But my work with the state Judiciary Committee proved fascinating, and I just rolled up my sleeves and dove in."

Ever humble about her contributions to her home state, Sytek said she simply feels fortunate to have been able to do her part.

"It's wonderful to be able to have the things you love be things that really make a difference in people's lives," she said. "I could have decided that I loved knitting, but knitting doesn't change the world."

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