Somewhere over the decades Larry Cantwell became the face of East Hampton.
After being village administrator nearly half his life, Cantwell, 60, is almost as much a fixture there as the old duck pond or historic windmill.
He is as comfortable eating an egg salad sandwich in a local restaurant as chatting about interest rates with the rich and famous, figuring out where to put the village's solar-powered trash compactor -- or helping to secure a $3 million loan in a snap.
He seems to know every resident on sight in the tiny community, whose population is only about 1,000, but is one of Long Island's most high-profile villages. It's among the Hamptons' most influential places.
Now the time has come to hand over the reins, he said. Still, he can't say exactly when he decided to retire.
"It's something you think about over time," Cantwell said. "Every important decision I make, I ponder . . . eventually it just sinks in that it feels right."
Cantwell expects to step down from his appointed position about July 31.
Cantwell, who also performs the duties of village clerk and treasurer, knows that everyone -- from environmentalists to supermodels to plumbers -- shares a common desire: nonresident beach permits.
Each year, the village gives out 2,900 summer seasonal nonresident passes and year-rounders get their permits with no problem. But part-time residents -- even those whose jets land at East Hampton Airport every weekend -- learn that when the passes sell out, there are no more.
Judges, senators, even heads of multinational corporations have all come to Cantwell, and all are treated the same.
"I've had a woman sit here and cry," Cantwell said. "But I can't do anything."
While the village has its share of ordinary problems, such as fallen trees and worries over how much parking a new store will need, some situations require Cantwell's special attention.
For instance, when financier Ted Ammon was found beaten to death 10 years ago in his East Hampton home, his wife, Genorosa, inherited the bulk of his $97 million estate. The incident left a 3-acre lot right across from the village post office, on the market.
The widow's $3 million asking price for it came in the first week of December, and she wanted to close by year's end.
The village couldn't bond the deal that quickly, and didn't have $3 million lying around.
So, Cantwell told the mayor about the opportunity to buy the land, and the mayor then made a quiet call to a friend, and Cantwell soon had a $3 million, interest-free loan. On Jan. 2, town officials closed on what became the village green.
Cantwell, the first Democrat to hold town office in 42 years, was elected a bay constable when he was 25. The next year, he was elected to the town board, and served six years.
Next year is a town election year, and he is considering running for office then.
Cantwell and his wife, Anne, have no plans to leave after his retirement. Cantwell, who makes $180,000 a year, said his pension has not yet been calculated, but "I'm sure it will be a pretty good one."
Their daughter, Dr. Laura Siska, has her family practice in East Hampton, and their grandchildren, Avery, 9, and Chase, 6, are fun to play with, Cantwell said. There is golf to be played and fish to be caught.
Not a bad life for someone whose parents were first-generation Americans, Cantwell said.His mother, Mary, came from Italy when she was 4. His father, John, a commercial fisherman, emigrated from Newfoundland when he was 20.