He Chose to Lead
Greetings everyone! And I would like to thank everyone who called, wrote, and e-mailed me regarding last month’s column “Then and Now”. I enjoyed listening to people’s recollection of where they were, and what they were doing 30, 40, and even 60 years ago. I ran out of room before covering everything I wanted to, but we will visit this again, so please send me your memories for next time.
This month I wanted to look at a colorful former Chairman of the Board of Selectman in Ashland. He was a distant relative of mine on my mother’s side (I will have to consult “Dear Abby” to determine if he was a 32nd cousin 5 times removed or not, but still a relation). Mom would always smile when referring to him. His name was George V. Sullivan, Sr.
Kay Powers interviewed George’s son Dick for a “Stories of Ashland” article about George titled “Chairman of the Board” in 1996. I have included his comments and Kay’s research for today’s piece.
George was born September 6, 1885 on Metropolitan Avenue in Ashland. He had an extensive family: eight brothers and sisters, and 5 half bothers and sisters. By today’s standards that’s a lot of siblings, but at that time it was not uncommon. Growing up in rural Ashland, George loved to hunt rabbits, and as his son Dick noted, “was never without a beagle until his death”. He joined the army, and was assigned to the 13th Infantry in Plattsburg, New York where he met his bride to be, Emma Rock. After his discharge from the service, George brought Emma back to Ashland and was married in 1907. Around 1923, the couple purchased the house on the corner of Alden and Union Streets, living there until his death.
The Sullivans had four children: George V. Sullivan Jr., J. Paul Sullivan, Richard or “Dick” who was interviewed by Kay Powers, and Lucille. They in turn married people with familiar Ashland names: George Jr. to Eda Cerutti, Richard to Edith Nolan, Lucille to Sten Hakansson, and I don’t have the name of J. Paul’s wife.
In 1920, George was elected to the Board of Selectmen, serving on and off for the next 19 years. He often stood his ground regardless of the opposition. His son Dick recalls “Those of us left will remember his confrontations with Henry Warren. To the best of my knowledge, they never agreed on anything at town meetings. Dad lost some, but won more of their debates.” Sound familiar? Not much has changed in the last 70 years I quess. Just the players.
George’s differences were not always with fellow townspeople. The year is 1938, and the town offered an area in Wildwood Cemetery for Catholic burials. But the Pastor of St. Cecilia’s at the time, Fr. Cronin, was adamant in his refusal to accept Wildwood. George appealed to Cardinal O’Connell, but the Cardinal refused to intervene saying the decision was to be made by the Pastor. Things were about to change though. After nearly 20 years heading the flock, Fr Cronin was to be replaced by a new Pastor, Fr. Charles Donahue. Fr. Donahue agreed with George and accepted the town’s offer. Obviously George was delighted with this turn of events, but there was bit of irony involved.
On January 10, 1939, George was preparing a welcoming speech for Fr. Donahue. The event was to be held in the auditorium at the Town Hall. Because of its spaciousness, many events, often accompanied by grand meals, were held in the auditorium and this was no exception. George, and the welcoming committee, spent the day decorating the hall. The long rows of tables were said to extend from the stage in the rear of the hall nearly to the entry doors at the top of the grand staircase. Today, after recent renovations to Town Hall, the stage has been removed, but the grand staircase still remains. If you stand at the top of the stairs and look back to the rear of the building where the conference rooms are you can get a feel for the enormity of this event. Anyway, back to 1939. George’s son Dick explains the next series of events that changed his life, and the politics of Ashland.
“After a fine meal, Dad stood up and delivered the welcoming address. To everyone’s amazement, Dad collapsed on the table. He was immediately taken to Framingham Union Hospital. Dad never regained consciousness and died at 9:15AM. How fitting it was, as all his living sisters were present, … from Ohio, Kansas and Ashland. To this day, I feel that the man above granted Dad eternal rest in the ground he fought so hard for, and he was the first [Catholic] to be interred in Wildwood at the age of 54.”
St. Cecilia’s Church was packed for the funeral. Town business were closed, and the funeral procession was headed by Police Chief Charles MacNear, followed by firemen, town employees, representatives of Dennison Manufacturing Co where George worked for 34 years, and others.
Today, some workers in Town Hall say they still feel his presence. He is known as the “Ghost of George”. And somehow I don’t think he would have wanted to be a footnote in an Ancestry.com genealogy search. He chose to lead.
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions