If persistence had a name: Peter Petrigno

Eric Hilton

It is not unusual in the United States to find civil servants from all walks of life. Some have lived comfortable childhoods and want others to live a similar, worry-free existence. Others have come from poverty and unstable backgrounds and have the first-hand experience necessary to win the trust of those struggling the most. Peter Petrigno, 67, belongs to the second category. 

“When I tell my story as a child people just can’t believe what it was like back then,” Petrigno said. “My mom and dad originally worked at a shoe factory in Boston along the waterfront. I lived in a three-room apartment, not three bedrooms, a three-room apartment and only had cold water.” 

Despite growing up poor in the 1960s, Petrigno went to high school and  graduated from what is now the University of Massachusetts at Boston with an undergraduate degree in political science and later a master’s in secondary education. He and his wife, Marie, married shortly after Petrigno began his 41-year career in public education mostly as a social studies teacher. 

After graduating from college, Petrigno started out as long-term substitute in the Boston school system before accepting a teaching position at Don Bosco Technical High School, a now-defunct, private, all-boys Roman Catholic secondary school. After it closed Petrigno had trouble finding work due to his advanced qualifications.  

“I was unemployed with a master’s degree and 19 years of experience,” Petrigno explained. “I was pretty much untouchable. Schools didn’t want to hire me because I’d be too expensive for them.” 

But Petrigno also has proof that it truly was a monetary issue and not just an excuse, he recalled, “I went on one interview in another New Hampshire school district, and I was sent all the way to the superintendent. He said, ‘I want you to know you’re the number one candidate. The principal wants you; the department wants you, but to be honest…we just can’t afford you. So, I brought you in just to say, you’re a great guy, but we’re not giving you the job.’ And I was like, holy God.” 

In time, he accepted a teaching position at Mascenic Regional High School in New Ipswich and a few years later in 2000 took a new, and final, teaching position at Merrimack High School. After 17 years at MHS, Petrigno decided it was time to officially retire, or so he thought. 

 “Finally, when I did retire, I thought that was it until one day I received a letter from the Milford Town Democrats. They invited me to consider running for the state legislature,” Petrigno explained. 

 Petrigno spent several months considering the offer, weighing how it would affect his marriage and wondering if it would be a meaningful way to spend his time after such a long stint working in public education. Ultimately, he agreed.  

It appeared to be a great time to run as a candidate like Peter Petrigno. A longtime and well-respected teacher would make for a strong contender, especially in a town won by former President Trump in 2016. 

By November 2018, President Trump was unpopular across the state and in much of the country. Because of this, Democrats seized control of the state legislature in New Hampshire, winning seats with candidates like Petrigno. It was during his first term that he realized how much every vote mattered. In 2019, Democrats, and some Republicans, successfully overrode Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of a bill abolishing the death penalty. Petrigno was one of 247 legislators, one more than the two-thirds required in the state House, to override the veto and make it law. 

Unfortunately for Petrigno, Democrats lost control of the state legislature in 2020. But despite being in the minority for the foreseeable future, he has no plans on stepping down from his position and his seat on the Children and Family Law Committee. If he stays long enough, he could even have chance at a higher and more powerful position in the legislature or elsewhere in state government.