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A tribute to Tom Driscoll

November 22, 2014

Tom Driscoll, RTM from Precinct 4, and longtime town appointed and elected official, passed away unexpectedly last Friday at age 69. He had served the town in a number of capacities, including Finance Committee member, Planning Board member, and Insurance Advisory Committee member.

If you know anything about politics, especially in Walpole, you probably know that there can be a lot of reason for cynicism. You never really know who to trust. You sometimes don’t really know where some of our elected officials stand. You wonder if our representatives and elected officials are really fighting for the best interest of the people, or if they are fighting for themselves.

Tom Driscoll epitomized the best side of politics. Walpole lost a great public servant when he passed away last week. On a more personal basis, I also lost a very good friend. I feel very humbled and privileged to have had a chance to know him.

I was somewhat shortchanged in that I knew Tom for a shorter time than many of his other friends did. I only knew him for one and a half years, but looking back it seemed like much longer. However, during the course of our friendship, I got to know him both as a man and as a politician. Loyalty – to his family, his friends, and his community – is really his most significant character trait. Loyalty is really an underrated virtue in our society, especially these days, but Tom understood its value.

My first interactions with Tom were some time in late 2012, when somehow he stumbled on to my blog and posted a comment on an article about Walpole prison mitigation money.

“Thanks. Very interesting and facts we wouldn’t learn from elected or appointed officials,” Tom wrote, before breaking into one of his trademark short essays about over-taxation from the state and the lack of local aid coming back to cities and towns.

Let me be clear about this: prior to this comment on my blog, Tom was something of a legend in my mind. When I first got involved in local politics, shortly before the power plant controversy of 2007 and 2008, Tom’s vigorous speeches at the microphone at various Town Meetings stuck in my mind even all these years later. I had admired him from a distance for some time, but never got the opportunity to speak to him. And then all of a sudden, here was the great “Tom Driscoll” commenting on my blog. Wow!

A couple months later, Tom and I met for the first time, through mutual connections, when the two of us volunteered to join up and collect signatures for a U.S. Senate candidate outside the Walpole Stop & Shop. While standing out in the cold, just the two of us, he regaled me with stories about his time in town politics, while I peppered him with questions. At that time, Tom also had a lot of questions for me – one of the traits I always liked about Tom is that it was never all about him. He always wanted to know how others were doing, and what they were up to. And he would remember everything you told him, and would follow up with you later on.

A relationship that began outside the Walpole Stop & Shop quickly turned into a much stronger friendship. Since that day, the two of us have collected many hundreds more signatures outside grocery stores, stood out in all types of weather holding signs for political candidates, and had many hours of conversations over the phone and in his living room. The topics of our conversations ranged; we covered everything from Conservation Commission issues to his time as a Vietnam veteran. But politics, of course, was usually the main discussion and we never ran out of things to talk about. In most cases, I would just sit back and listen because he had so much knowledge and wisdom to share.

I got to know his wife, Debbie, too, through many of those conversations in his living room. She was just as kind as he was, and it was obvious that the two of them were very close. This, again, was a function of Tom’s undivided loyalty to his family. He spoke often of his wife, and his two grown children and grandchildren.

His loyalty to his friends and his community was evident in much of his political activism. One thing that stands in my mind is that Tom stood out every Saturday starting this past August, until Election Day in November, on either the Walpole or Norwood town common, holding signs for his dentist and longtime friend Tim Hempton who was running for state rep. He even did this in a drenching rain storm, and under very hot sun. He also took an entire day off from work (he still ran his own business and worked full-time, even at age 69) on Election Day to hold signs at Old Post Road School. How many people would be so loyal to a friend that they would take an entire day off from work to hold a political sign for them?

I would reiterate what former Selectwoman Joanne Muti wrote recently, which is much better than I could have written myself: “What was remarkable to me is that Tom would stand at the polls all day long and never ask for anything in return other than good government.”

Tom also had a reputation for being a steadfast conservative, which he wouldn’t deny, but I also got to know him well enough to say with certainty that political ideology was not the overriding cause that drove him and his efforts. Above all else, he was very loyal to his town, and he wanted what was best for Walpole.

This intense loyalty to his community manifested itself in his long-running devotion to fighting bad developers and contamination of the aquifer, starting in the 1980s with his fight against Walpole Park South. Through just about every major battle against bad development for the past two decades, Tom was always among those leading the charge. You can say what you want about Tom’s political views, but everyone in town has to agree that Tom was a big advocate for protecting our drinking water, and for preventing toxic businesses. We are all unquestionably better off today as a town because of his relentless vigilance.

This desire to only seek what was in the best interest of the community transcended political ideologies. When he passed away, he was still in the process of waging a battle in the state legislature for the passage of House Bill 732, which would strengthen oversight of licensed site professionals. Tom felt very strongly that the bill would protect residents of the community, and he solicited the support of Democratic Rep. Lou Kafka, and other Democratic legislators. He routinely expressed his disgust with the fact that some Republicans in the state legislature were unwilling to support the legislation for fear of being seen as too environmentalist. He pressured many town officials to send letters of support for the bill, and was furious when certain officials were reluctant to do so. Unfortunately, he will never get to see the passage of the bill, but it surely would not be where it is today in the legislative process without his efforts.

Tom did get into a lot of trouble, too. Indeed, he made plenty of enemies. But in order to upset the Establishment and the status quo at Walpole Town Hall, you often have to ruffle some feathers. Everything that he ever did in politics was driven by what he believed was best for the town, and he put his heart and passion into what he did.

Even up to the day he passed away, Tom was still participating in town politics, looking out for the best interest of the entire community. Just 48 hours before his departure, last Wednesday, he attended a Selectmen meeting, with town health insurance as the main agenda item. As an insurance professional, and a longtime member of the Insurance Advisory Committee, Tom has always been very passionate about insurance issues. I did not attend the meeting, but those who were there said Tom got very hot under the collar (very characteristic of him), and vociferously advocated for a change in health insurance that would benefit not only taxpayers, but also union members whose health insurance dollars he felt were not being spent efficiently under the existing structure. He genuinely felt that union members would benefit from the change, just as much as taxpayers. The next day, just hours before his death, he was sending out emails to various friends in town government emphasizing his concerns and expressing disappointment that Selectmen had voted to delay a vote on the issue for 30 days.

In retrospect, attending that meeting, and standing out holding sign for hours on Election Day, was probably not good for his health. But if those activities during the last month of his life contributed in any way to Tom’s passing, I think that he might have liked that politics and health insurance, two of his biggest passions, were among the last issues he got to talk about in his life. It was an appropriate capstone to his political career and to his life as a whole.

The number of people who came out to attend Tom’s wake on Monday was a tribute to how many friends he had made. I don’t think he really even knew just how well-liked he was. He was always so humble about his relationships and connections with other people.

I feel very grateful to have known Tom, and to have had a chance to be in his inner circle of “friends.” In the blood sport that is Walpole politics, I can say with all honesty that Tom was one of the few that I trusted, and the only one I knew who had all the answers I needed. I know that he is looking down on us today, keeping an eye on the town’s water supply and tax dollars for the benefit of all of us.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jen Driscoll permalink
    November 23, 2014 6:09 PM

    Sam, that was an absolutely beautiful tribute to our beloved Tom. Thank you.

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