Thomas Skudder Burgin was my grandfather’s brother. We called him, simply, Uncle Tom. As a child growing up on the periphery of my grandparents’ lives, I never gave him too much thought. I knew he had been a politician, had a yacht, and drove large Detroit-made luxury cars. But not much more.
I knew my grandfather and his brother were terribly close. Their nightly or near nightly phone calls – brief, but consistent – were legend, especially the ritual sign-off. “Ok, Tom. Very good, Tom. That’d be wonderful, Tom. Good-bye, Tom. (long pause) Helen, that was Tom.”
Uncle Tom’s death, coming in the midst of my freshman year at college, was a blip on my radar screen at the time. But, as the years went by, I would come to learn of his true stature, earned the hard way, day after day, doing the decent thing, and treating people well. When I recently found the edition of the Quincy Sun devoted to remembering him, I spent the better part of a Saturday reading it.
Two extraordinary men; brothers; very, very different characters, and yet each leading what some would call simple lives. Serving their communities at the local level. Getting the work done. Many, many friends. Observing life’s passage with dry, mordant, humor, and behind the barely concealed smile, a hint of sadness.
I salute them both.
Here below, are images from the actual paper, as published… Note, I am aware that the quality of the reproductions isn’t great. (If you click and open them in a new tab, you can see them full size.) But it’s worth starting with the basic layout, if only to see how much space, how many separate articles, and reminiscences, were devoted to this man’s passing. And I think this need to be said: if he had been an editorial afterthought in any sense, if the treatment of his death were simply polite, if they were just going through the motions, it wouldn’t look like this. Clearly this was someone for whom people cared deeply, and it shows.
Scroll beyond the images of the newspaper, for the actual pieces (in searchable and reproducible text).
Quincy Sun, Thursday, January 30, 1986)
From a six month compilation of the paper’s daily editions, available here.
Here, as searchable and reproducible text, is the lion’s share of the articles above, each paying tribute to Thomas Burgin.
Thomas S. Burgin: ‘Mr. Quincy’
Thomas Skudder Burgin gave Quincy more than a half century of distinguished service in municipal and state government and in civic causes.
Thirty-eight of those years were as city councilor, mayor, state representative and state senator.
His political career began in 1924 when at the age of 22, he was elected Ward I City Councilor — youngest ever elected to the council.
In 1935, he was elected mayor at age 33 — third youngest to hold that office. He was so youthful looking then, newspapers called him Quincy’s “boy mayor.”
Time marched on as it always does and as the years went by, the “boy mayor” became Quincy’s “elder statesman,” and as he liked to call himself, “the old gray mayor.”
To many, however, he was Mr. Quincy.
Tom Burgin loved Quincy and took pride in being its chief executive and representing his city in the State House as a representative and later, senator.
If Quincy had a “Mayoral Hall of Fame” he would have been one of the first in it.
He was a self-made man.
When he received an honorary degree at Quincy Junior College in 1983 — the first in the college’s then 25-year history — for his long and distinguished career in public service, he surprised the audience with this candid comment:
“This has very special meaning for me. I never went to college.”
But he received a tremendous education in the “University of Life.” Few could express themselves better on their feet. If he had a point to make, he made it, and no one had to wonder what he meant.
He learned — and led.
After being elected mayor at age 33 he served nearly eight years before resigning in 1942 to enter the Navy as a lieutenant during World War II.
His tenure spanned some of the most difficult years and awesome events any Quincy mayor had to face.
There was the Great Depression years with thousands of people in Quincy on welfare and federal work projects.
“It was pathetic and I will never forget it,” he said.
Then came the Hurricane of 1938, roaring into town completely unannounced and plunging the entire city into darkness, leveling 3,900 trees and knocking out all fire alarm and police boxes.
And, after that, the attack on Pearl Harbor. The following day, Tom Burgin faced the task of having (by that night) to billet 1 700 soldiers rushed to Quincy because of the strategic Fore River shipyard.
He did it by commandeering Masonic, Knights of Columbus and church halls.
Tom Burgin was given the equivalent of an A-plus in performance as mayor in 1 940 when he was unopposed for re-election to a fourth term. He was the first mayor accorded that honor. (Mayor Francis McCauley became only the second in 1983 — 43 years later.)
After World War II, Quincy again showed the high esteem in which it held Tom Burgin when he returned to the political arena in 1949 as a candidate for the seven-man City Council under Quincy’s first Plan E charter election. There were 59 candidates seeking the seven seats. He easily topped the field, outdistancing everyone.
That January, his council colleagues honored him by unanimously electing him Quincy’s first Plan E mayor. He voluntarily retired in 1951.
He then returned as a city councilor at-large as Quincy came back to Plan A serving from 1956 to 1959.
He left the City Council in 1959 and was elected state senator, serving from 1961 to 1962.
He suffered his only political defeat when he ran for re-election to the senate, losing to Democrat James McCormack as the district and the state went Democratic.
His political career was certainly a most successful one but he did not count it as his favorite achievement.
And although he was pleased and “humbled” when Upland Rd. was re-named the Honorable Thomas S. Burgin Parkway, that, too, was not his lifetime highlight. Not to him, anyway.
He considered the realization of the new YMCA building on Coddington St. as his favorite accomplishment.
He was president of the YMCA when the city’s biggest fundraiser in history was launched and he spearheaded it. More than $1 million was raised to build the new “Y.”
“I think,” he said in a recent interview, “that would stand as the greatest memorial anyone would want to leave because it is dedicated to youth.”
He himself, was an inspiration to youth to enter public service early and to serve well.
Although he considered the YMCA the greatest memorial, because it is dedicated to youth, his public service is a monument in itself because it was dedicated to all ages.
Tom Burgin showed us how to serve with distinction, dignity and honesty. /
Boy mayor, elder statesman, Mr. Quincy — and the end of another political era in Quincy’s history.
City Bids Farewell To A Beloved Son
By NANCY McLAUGHLIN
Former Mayor Senator Thomas S. Burgin was laid to rest Tuesday morning at Mt. Wollaston Cemetery overlooking the city he loved and served during a distinguished political career which spanned 38 years.
Mr. Burgin was 83. He died Friday night after a battle with cancer.
“His occupation of the mayor’s office over five terms was marked in Quincy by what was called in an early American President’s Day “an era of good feeling’, according to Judge Paul C. Reardon, former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and a long-time friend.
“Tom’s personality was the large reason for that and Quincy citizens will thus recall Tom as an individual who, by simply being himself, helped to produce over a long period of time what was in the main, a happy and peaceful community,” stated Reardon, also a former Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice.
The eulogy by Judge Reardon, who recently underwent throat surgery, was read by Forrest I. Neal, Jr., another close friend and former chairman of the MBTA during a simple but touching memorial service Tuesday afternoon at United First Parish Church, Quincy Sq.
The music and other details of the service were specified by Mr. Burgin before his death.
More than 170 people attended the service which was conducted by the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Edson, interim minister, the Rev. Keith C. Munson, minister emeritus, and the most Rev. Robert D. Fay, associate pastor of St. Theresa’s Church, Billerica, and a long time friend of the Burgin family.
Rev. Munson spoke of Mr. Burgin as a politician “in the true and highest sense.”
“Part of his skill,” said Rev. Munson, “was that he could sense when things were ready to happen. Then he was an enabler helping things to happen.”
Rev. Munson said the former mayor was also a religious man, though it was “not something that was overtly showing all the time.”
“During his years as mayor, when he had a difficult decision to make, he would often leave his office across the street (at City Hall).
“He would enter here and stay until he felt comfortable about the decision he was going to make.
“Death this year has picked a man whose kind we shall never see again,” said Rev. Munson.
Rev. Fay, whose cousin was the late George Fay, Quincy Christmas Festival chairman, noted that Mr. Burgin donated the cross in the church in memory of his mother and father. Another cousin was Robert Fay, late Quincy Savings Bank executive.
Rev. Fay read a poem, requested by Mr. Burgin, which began, “Sometime at eve, when the tide is low, I shall slip my mooring and sail away…”
During a meditation portion of the service. Rev. Edson suggested that those attending “pause to incorporate in thought the seven people who have gone to explore other oceans,” referring to the crew members killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded earlier in the day.
Rev. Edson went on to describe her first, and only visit with Mr. Burgin in early December.
“In early December, he was given three days to live. The doctors may have known his condition and prognosis, but they didn’t know Tom Burgin.
“He proved them wrong. Which reminds us all that we go a long way in creating our reality.”
Rev. Edson said that Mr. Burgin recounted when he was sworn in as mayor.
“I promised to do my best,” Burgin told Rev. Edson with tears in his eyes.
“He did that, in office and out,” said Rev. Edson. “His promise was fulfilled. He did do his very best.”
She concluded the 40 minute service with a prayer given to Mr. Burgin on his 12th birthday which began, “Now I lay me down to sleep…”
Among those attending the service were Mayor Francis McCauley, former mayors Arthur Tobin, Walter Hannon, and Joseph LaRaia; Sheila Mclntyre, wife of the late former-Mayor-Senator James Mclntyre; Police Chief Francis Finn, former Fire Chief Edward Barry, City Clerk John Gillis, Elmer Fagerlund, Marion Fantucchio. Assessor’s Office; treasurer Franklin Jay, H. Hobart Holly, Quincy Historical Society; Councilor Theodore DeCristofaro; Peter Kenney, mayor’s executive secretary; former State Rep. Joseph Brett, Martha Reardon, deputy state DPW Commissioner.
More than 20 members of the Burgin family attended, as well as local business people and other local residents.
Music included “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “The Lord’s Prayer,” “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.”
Mayor McCauley called Burgin “one of the great civic and political leaders in the city’s history. “His life was one of almost complete community involvement,” said McCauley.
In addition to elective office, Burgin was a member of such groups as the Kiwanis Club, Grotto, YMCA, and Historical Society.
“The city of Quincy and its citizens in the past, present and future benefit from him.
“We are all the better for having had Tom Burgin in our midst for so many years.”
Mr. Burgin was born April 15, 1902 in Quincy, the second son of the late Clarence and Minnie M. (Rodgers) Burgin, and a direct descendant on his mother’s side of five Mayflower passengers.
The former mayor was educated in city public schools and graduated from Milton Academy, Class of 1922.
He is survived by a daughter, Mrs. Claire Burgin Allen (wife of Dr. James C. Allen) of Charleston, S.C; a son, Jon Harvey Burgin of New York City; a brother C. Rodgers Burgin of Milton; three grandchildren, David Crawford Allen, Timothy Skudder Allen and Christopher Jon Allen; three nieces, Mrs. Griffith Buttrick of Canton, Mrs. Elisha Lee of Westwood, Mrs. James Lawrence of Baltimore, Maryland; one nephew, William T. Burgin of Dover; one great-granddaughter, Katherine Claire Allen.
Mr. Burgin began his business career in the early 1920s when he was first employed as a teller with the Quincy Savings Bank and directed the school savings program in the city’s public school system.
In 1925 he left the bank to establish an insurance agency under his own name which is known today as Burgin,
Platner & Co., with offices at 1357 Hancock St. and located m the oldest business building in Quincy.
He retired from active management of the firm in 1968, and later sold it to the present owners, the two sons and a nephew of his former associate, Nelford J. Platner, Jr.
In 1925 he was elected a corporator of the Quincy Savings Bank and a trustee in 1926. He retired in 1977. He served as a member on the Board of Investment at the bank for 30 years. In 1977 Quincy Savings Bank honored Mr. Burgin for having served 51 years as a trustee, longest period of service for an individual in that post in the bank’s history. Mr. Burgin’s career in public service began in 1924 when he was elected Ward 1 City Councilor at age 22~the youngest ever to hold that office.
He was elected City Council President for 1927-28, but voluntarily retired after one year in office when he won election to the Mass. House of Representatives for 1929-30.
Having moved his residence to another district in the city he subsequently was ineligible for reelection. Two years later he ran for office and was elected to the council as a member-at-large serving for the years 1932-33 until voluntarily retiring.
At a special election in June 1935, Mr. Burgin was elected mayor to fill an existing vacancy at age 33 — the third youngest to hold that office since 1889 when Quincy became a city. The others were Russell A. Sears and Charles Francis Adams.
He served as mayor for nearly eight years, winning reelection to a fourth term unopposed in 1940. He was the first so honored.
Shortly after World War II broke out his administration organized and directed the city’s first civilian defense program with over 5,000 persons volunteering their services.
In 1942 he resigned as mayor to enlist in the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant.
Following his honorable discharge as a lieutenant commander, Mr. Burgin returned to managing his insurance business. Later he re-entered the political arena and in 1949 was a candidate for the seven-man council under tiie city’s new Plan E form of government. He topped that list of 59 candidates and was unanimously then chosen by that new council to serve as its first Plan E mayor from 1950-51. He retired at the completion of the term satisfied the new form of government was running well.
In 1956 he returned to politics and served as councilor-at-large through 1959.
He accepted another political challenge when he ran for a two-year term in the state senate representing Quincy and Braintree. He failed in his bid for reelection when the state and district went almost entirely Democratic.
Mr. Burgin was affiliated with many community organizations and worth causes. These included:
Member of the United First Parish Unitarian Church, Quincy Sq.
Past President (1952-56) of the Quincy Y.M.C.A. in that position he directed a fundraising campaign that realized over $1 million in contributions which built the present Y.M.C.A. building on Coddington St. He was a director of the Y.M.C.A. for 49 years.
In 1958 he was the recipient of the Silver Beaver Award from the Quincy Council, Boy Scouts of America.
He was an honorary director of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce; past president of the Quincy United Fund; former director of the Quincy Chapter of the American Red Cross; past president and an honorary director of the William B. Rice Eventide Home.
He was also a charter member and past president (1927) of the Quincy Kiwanis Club.
In his elder years, Mr. Burgin received many tributes from the city. These included:
- Nov. 4, 1974 Honored by the City Council on the 50th anniversary of his election to that body.
- November, 1977 Upland Rd. was renamed the Hon. Thomas S. Burgin Parkway.
- April 15, 1982 -An 80th birthday reception at city hall in Mr. Burgin’s honor, hosted by Mayor Francis McCauley with four other former mayors attending.
- June 5, 1983 Awarded the first honorary degrees at Quincy Junior College on the 25th anniversary.
Funeral arrangements were by the Wickens & Troupe Funeral Home, 26 Adams St., Quincy.
Donations in Mr. Burgin’s memory may be made to the South Shore YMCA, First Parish Church or the William B. Rice Eventide Home.
By Henry Bosworth
‘I Want To Be Remembered For Having Tried’
Tom Burgin was frail but alert as he lay there in bed at the William B. Rice Eventide Home. It was just a couple days before Christmas and though he had been very weak the week before, he was now feeling stronger and up to seeing a few visitors.
Tom had said he would like to see Dave Leitch and myself because of our long friendship with him. BURGIN
Dave is co-owner of the Burgin Platner Insurance Co. that Tom founded in 1925 and recently bought his Dixwell Ave. home.
We started to reminisce and were soon recalling the day in 1942 when Dorothy Lamour came to Quincy for a defense bond rally at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Tom was mayor then and was her host and escort while she was here. LAMOUR Dorothy Lamour, the “Sarong
Girl” was young and beautiful and near the height of her movie career. She had the town in the palm of her hand that day as she sold thousands and thousands of dollars worth of defense bonds.
And, she was nice. She patiently helped get this writer who was then a part-time cub reporter while still a high school student, through an interview with his first celebrity as he stumbled over questions including “How do you like Quincy?” which he asked at least three or four times. She smiled and answered and then helped interview herself.
Ten years later she was appearing in a Boston night club and invited me in.
“Come on,” she said as I arrived, “you’re not a cub reporter anymore.” And, with that, she took me by the hand to a corner where we were alone.
“Boy,” I said to myself, “I must have really impressed her that day at the stadium in 1942.”
“Tell me,” she said, as we sat down, “how’s that cute mayor back in Quincy?”
He was the one that had impressed her. When I told Tom that story afterwards he laughed. And as he lay in bed at the Rice Eventide Home last month, he laughed again and fondly recalled Dorothy Lamour. Then he suddenly turned serious.
One of his biggest disappointments in his life, he confided, was that because of his illness he was unable to attend the opening last November of the extension of the Hon. Thomas S. Burgin Parkway named after him.
“I hope,” he said, “people don’t think I could have gone and did not.”
We assured him everyone understood.
“I’ve had a good life,” he said. “It has been challenging, but a good life. I want to be remembered for having tried.”
Well, he certainly tried.
He was trying hard that very moment against the inevitable. The odds were stacked against him but he wasn’t going to give up. And he didn’t to the very end last Friday night. He was 83.
He was called the “boy mayor” in 1935 when he was elected Quincy’s chief executive in a special election at age 33 and years later became “Quincy’s elder statesman.”
He served nearly eight years under Plan A until he resigned in 1942 to enter the Navy as a lieutenant during World War II.
His tenure spanned difficult years and awesome events: the Great Depression, the Hurricane of 1938 and the attack on Pearl Harbor which plunged the nation into war and made Quincy with its strategic Fore River shipyard, a threatened target.
On his 82nd birthday in April, 1984 I had the opportunity to reminisce with him in an off-the-cuff interview for Sun Ch. 8.
We covered a wide range of subjects and this is how Tom Burgin remembered them from the period of “boy mayor” to elder statesman:
THE DEPRESSION: Some 10,000 people in Quincy were of relief rolls and another 1,800 on federal WPA and PWA projects. “It was pathetic and I will never forget it.”
CALVIN COOLIDGE’s visit to Quincy before Tom was mayor but a member of the reception committee. After touring First Parish Church, Coolidge was asked what he thought of it. Always a man of few words, he replied: “It’s lovely.” (Period).
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT’S visit to Quincy in 1936 when he was campaigning for re-election against Alfred Landon. Tom’s daughter, Claire, then six, held a big bouquet of roses to present to Mrs. Roosevelt on behalf of the city. Just before the Roosevelts arrived, her father noticed she had a Landon button pinned to her dress.
“You can’t wear that, dear,” he told her.
“Why can’t I wear it?” she wanted to know. “I’m for Landon.”
“So am I,” her father, a Republican said. “But he is running against the President of the United States — the man you are going to greet and it wouldn’t be nice for you to wear that button.”
Claire finally gave in shortly before the Roosevelt motorcade arrived in front of First Parish Church in Quincy Sq.
A Secret Serviceman swung Claire up into the open car in which the President and the First Lady were sitting in the back seat and deposited her in Roosevelt’s lap. “Aren’t those lovely roses,” the President said to her. At that, Claire clutched the roses close to her. glared at the President and said: “These aren’t for you, they’re for Mrs. Roosevelt.”
Roosevelt tilted his head back and roared with laughter. Eleanor Roosevelt leaned across to her husband and mused: “That should take care of you for a little while “
HURRICANE OF 1938: “There were 3,900 trees down and all the fire alarm boxes and police boxes were out of commission. There was no electricity.”
PEARL HARBOR ATTACK: He rushed back from Cape Cod where he had gone for the weekend and went 72 hours without sleep readying the city (or the war. the day after Pearl Harbor, 1 700 troops were sent to Quincy and he had to billet them by that night. “We had to commandeer Masonic halls. Knights of Columbus halls, church halls but we did it.”
TOUGHEST OPPONENT: Leo Mullin who had the advantage of being acting mayor when Burgin first ran for that office in 1935. Later, as incumbent, Burgin went up against a few heavy hitters including Thomas McGrath and Charles Ross and defeated them. He was unopposed for a fourth term the first mayor in the city’s history accorded that honor.
HIS FAVORITE MAYORS: His was reluctant to name them but after some thought and prodding said: “Of the recent ones, Jim Mclntyre. I was close to him. I thought the world of him.
“In the early days, I looked up to Perley Barbour and Joseph Whiton and had the highest regard for Charles Francis Adams.”
PLAN E: Under Plan E, the mayor was like the City Council president and ceremonial head of the city while the city manager was actually the chief executive.
In the first Plan E election in 1949 a field of 59 candidates (that’s right) sought seven City Council at large seats. It was a PR election — preferential voting representation. Voters did not mark an X beside the candidates’ names but a number: No. 1 for first choice. No. 2 for second and so down to No. 7. It took 130 counters six days to count the votes. Burgin topped the list and won the first seat on the first day of the counting.
The other six finally elected honored him by unanimously electing him Quincy’s first Plan E mayor. “I really didn’t care for that kind of voting,” he said. “I was never a fan of Plan E. I would rather have the people vote directly for mayor — not have seven councilors pick him.”
RENAMING OF UPLAND RD.: to Hon. Thomas S. Burgin Parkway in his honor: “I was humbled. It was awfully nice of them to do it. How nice it is to give someone a pat on the back while he is here rather than send the flowers later.”
FAVORITE ACHIEVEMENT: It had nothing to do with politics but the realization of the new YMCA building. He was then president of the old YMCA when more than $1 million was raised — the biggest fundraiser in the city’s history — to build it. And that was when a million dollars was really a million dollars.
“I think,” said Tom, “that would stand as the greatest memorial anyone would want to leave because it is dedicated to youth.”
Senate Adjourns After Harold Tribute
‘He Added Gentlemanliness To Quincy Politics’
The Massachusetts Senate adjourned Monday in memory of Thomas S. Burgin on a motion by Senator Paul Harold who paid special tribute to the man who once held the same Senate seat.
Harold called Burgin “a former member of great stature” and said he added to Quincy politics “a courtesy and gentlemanliness.”
The text of Harold’s remarks to the Senate:
“With the passing of Thomas S. Burgin over the weekend, the Senate lost a former member of great stature.
“Tom Burgin served the city of Quincy as elected official and civic leader for more than half a century.
“First elected as Ward one councilor in 1924 at age 22, he was the youngest person ever elected to the city council. At age 33 he was elected Mayor of the city, serving five terms as the City’s chief executive. He served in the Massachusetts House from 1929-30 and in the Senate from 1961-62.
“Even while not holding elected office Tom Burgin was active in a number of civic capacities; president of the YMCA, president of the United Fund, commander of Post 95 of the American Legion, president of Eventide Home, president of the Kiwanis and Neighborhood Club, commodore of the Quincy Yacht Club. Right up till his recent illness he had an intense interest in the future prosperity of his home city, and conferred often with mayors, senators, councilors and newspaper editors on planned developments and improvements.
“Only two months ago, the state dedicated the new central artery, connecting downtown to routes 3 and 128 as the Burgin Parkway, in recognition of Tom Burgin’s distinguished career.
“With the passing of Tom Burgin, Quincy loses one of its last direct links to its founding Pilgrim lathers. He was a direct descendent of five Mayflower passengers and added to Quincy politics a courtesy and gentlemanliness that helped give the city and its government a unique character and prestige.”
John Herbert Remembers Tom Burgin
By JOHN R. HERBERT
I will remember Tom Burgin for many things:
Despite his wealth and his political power, he was always a gentleman who mingled with the rich and the ordinary people with equal ease and poise.
His uncanny ability, as mayor, to pick able department heads and administrators and to then run the city as if it was a large corporation. He would hold regular weekly luncheons of his “board” to work on the problems of the community.
But I like to remember Tom as the yachtsman who truly loved the sea, and who loved to share it with others. When I was editor of the Patriot Ledger, it was Tom’s custom to take the members of the city hall press corps out for an afternoon sail. His mother would make up a batch of sandwiches and his yacht, the Aries, would head for a harbor sail.
One year when we were not at war but harbor security was very tight we headed into Boston Harbor and some of the newsmen wanted to see “Old Ironsides”. As we neared the Navy yard wharf, a very excited and red faced Marine guard ran down the wharf and screamed to Quincy’s mayor “Get that damn filthy tub out of here as fast as you can.”
It was the only time I ever saw Tom get a little upset. Upset, not because his yacht was inside the security line at the Navy Yard, but upset because someone accused him of having a dirty boat. Tom simply did not have filthy boats. He could own a boat for years and it never lost its showroom luster.
If fact, a second hand Burgin boat was usually better than when new. When he decided to sell a Chris Craft seaskiff also named Aries, my brother and I looked it over. We each had a boat at the Old Snug Harbor Marina at Quincy Point where Tom kept his Aries.
He knew of our interest in his boat although what he did not know was that the price was over our heads. My brother was commissioner of public works for Quincy at the time. The Patriot Ledger’s city hall reporter was the late, beloved Fred Hunt who had come to us from The Boston Post. One day Fred came back from his city hall beat and handed me a note from the Mayor, hand written, in pencil, on a scrap of paper. I think it is the only piece of poetry by Tom Burgin still in existence. Here is what it said:
The Herbert brothers, Charles and John A used boat they bid upon One said “eight” and the other “nine” “Come on” said Tom, “You are doing fine I’ll sell the boat to only one And with it boys, you’ll have some fun When each bids nine we’ll toss and see Who gets the Aries right from me!”
Fred Hunt was an Ozark boy who came to Quincy by way of Texas and he never trusted Yankees. On the back of the note he had penned this comment which he had shown to the mayor before bringing the note to me: “Hunt to Burgin— Who but a Yankee banker could get two brothers bidding against one another for a second hand boat?”
Tom thought Fred’s comment was hilarious.
My last trip with Tom was some years ago when the giant French liner France, the longest ship in the world, came to Boston to pick up passengers (The France is now the cruise ship Norway sailing out of Miami.) My wife and I had been having a late meal at the Neighborhood Club and only a few persons remained. There was the late Ernie Ricker and his wife. Ernie was head of the state appellate tax board. Tom was there with Don Gardner, an architect who helped Tom with his yacht. Clayton and Laura English were there. The Englishes had sailed with Tom and Don to Florida on board Tom’s latest yacht, the Skudder. The conversation was nautical and someone spoke about the France leaving soon from Boston for Europe.
It was now late and dark but it was suggested we go see the France leave Commonwealth Pier, off we went to Boston Harbor Marina to the Skudder and Don took the vessel through the darkness to the France which was just getting ready to leave. When we turned to see her, close to Pier 4, out of the darkness, someone yelled “Hey, Tom, what are you doing here.”
As the magnificent ship turned and headed for sea, threading her way down the harbor, we chased her for a while, with many thoughts about the voyage to Europe the passengers were to enjoy. And back through the darkness of the night Don guided the Skudder into its slip with the same skill he would display on a sunny afternoon.
Thus the trip exemplified the joy the yacht and the harbor brought to Tom.
It would seem to be an appropriate time to recall John Masefield’s famed poem “Sea Fever “which begins “I must go down to the sea again” but the last two lines are so appropriate for Tom when the poem says:
“And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow rover,
and a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.”
A trick at the wheel is when a sailor helps steer his ship to its ultimate port. Tom did his “trick at the wheel” extraordinarily well.
One can hope that somehow Tom and Fred can meet again so Tom may laugh as Fred spins his yarns about the days when he was a fisherman out of Galveston spending his time in the Gulf of Mexico in search of red snappers.
His Father’s Advice
Twenty-two year-old Thomas Burgin decided in 1924 that he wanted to run for the City Council.
When he made that decision known to his family, his father, Quincy banker Clarence Burgin said:
“Well, Tom, if that’s what you want to do, go ahead.
“If you win, the experience can do you no harm….and if you lose, well, a licking may do you some good.”
He ran and won.
Depression Years Left Him ‘Heart-Sick’
The depression years stood out as one of the most eventful periods of Thomas S. Burgin’s career who was first elected mayor in 1935 at the age of 33.
Of the depression Mr. Burgin remembered:
“Literally thousands were out of work. Demands on the relief agencies of the city reached their highest figure. Governmental projects of all types were put in operation by Washington to help alleviate the situation. Local communities inaugurated projects of their own under federal supervision to provide jobs in the WPA and the PWA; and, under the circumstances, they not only provided work for many, but they produced several worthwhile improvements in Quincy, such as the municipal stadium, street and sidewalk construction, certain building projects, cemetery enlargement and the like.
“At the peak of the depression right here in Quincy we had over 10,000 people on our relief rolls and 1,800 on WPA projects, plus those employed by private contractors on various public building construction projects. This was probably the most depressing period I ever experienced in the mayor’s office.
“Four secretaries could barely keep up with the task of handling the daily lines of unemployed, each wanting to personally discuss his or her individual out-of-work problem with the mayor. A 14hour day in the mayor’s office was not unusual and many nights I went home heart-sick over the tragic cases I had encountered.”
Burgin’s Tenure ‘Era Of Good Feeling’
(Following is the text of the eulogy to former Mayor-Senator Thomas S. Burgin by Judge Paul C. Reardon, former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, former Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice, and a long-time friend of Mr. Burgin.)
“Thomas Skudder Burgin will be particularly recalled in Quincy for his contributions to his native city in the field of its local government. Here he was born and here he lived his entire life-almost within a stone’s throw of this church.
“He attended the Quincy schools and Milton Academy and a the early age of 22 was elected to represent the then Ward One of the city in the City Council. Thereafter, he ran for and was elected as a Representative to the General Court for the term 1929-1930.
“Chosen Mayor of Quincy at a special election held in 1935 he continued through four terms in that office, being unopposed for reelection to his fourth term in 1940.
“He organized over 5,000 persons, volunteers, in the civil defense effort in Quincy in the early days of World War II, then joined the Navy as a lieutenant in 1942 and retired as a lieutenant commander in 1945.
“He was the unanimous choice of the new Plan E Council for Mayor in 1950, and hence served a fifth term in that office retiring in 1951. Once again he served as a City Councilor from 1956 to 1959 and as a state senator in 1961-1962.
“Throughout his lifetime he was active in a do/en local organizations being of special support to the Quincy Y.M.C.A.— where he was director for 49 years— to the United Fund, to the Eventide Home, to the Quincy Neighborhood Club, to the Quincy Yacht Club and to other charitable and social groups in Quincy of all of which he seems to have been president at one time or another.
“He was the recipient of numerous citations and awards perhaps the most pleasing to him was the naming of the new Burgin Parkway in his honor and only a week or so before his passing, family members, at a time when he seemed to improve a bit, were enabled to give him a round trip tour of this new and important thoroughfare so appropriately named after him.
“He was a gracious and generous host on innumerable occasions over the years when he entertained guests on “Skudder” while cruising the waters of Boston Harbor and its adjacent bays. It would not be wrong to conclude that his happiest hours were spent on his beloved boats.
“He was, as well, a successful business man, founding in 1925 a still thriving insurance agency—from which he himself retired several years ago— and was for 51 years a Trustee of the Quincy Savings Bank.
“His family should take pride in that Tom will be remembered here in Quincy for his easy and pleasant manner. He had an ability to work his way around some difficult political problems with a certain dexterity which left no one deeply offended but which produced an equitable and principled result.
“He knew those in the community on whose good judgment and fairness he could rely and he was able to summon to assist him any number of citizens who understood his motives, supported his objectives, and who believed in him.
“His occupation of the Mayor’s office over five terms was marked in Quincy by what was called in an early American President’s day “an era of good feeling”.
“Tom’s personality was the large reason for that and Quincy citizens will thus recall Tom as an individual who by simply being himself, helped mightily to produce over a long period of time what was in the main a happy and peaceful community.”
Newton Mayor Inspired Him To Enter Politics
In 1924 when he was only 22, Thomas Burgin went to the old Y MCA on Washington St. to hear then Newton Mayor Edwin Childs address a group of young people.
He said later that meeting “that talk was the turning point of my life.”
Childs had stressed the need for young people to become interested in public service and the challenge it presented to youth.
Childs also proved to be a political prophet. “Who knows,” he said, “it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that a future mayor of Quincy might be right here in this room tonight.”
Burgin ran for the City Council that same year and was elected— the youngest ever-at age 22.
In 1935—at age 33—he was elected mayor, the third youngest to hold that office.
His [History of] Political Offices
- Elected to the City Council 1924 at age of 22, representing the then Ward One.
- Council member 1925 through 1929. President 1927-1928.
- State Representative 1929-1930.
- Councillor-at-large 1932-1933.
- Elected Mayor at a special election in June 1935, serving continuously until October 1942 when he resigned to enter the Navy during World War II. (Unopposed for re-election in 1940 for fourth term.)
- First Mayor under City Manager Type Charter 1950-I951.
- Councillor-at-large 1956 through 1959.
- State Senator (First Norfolk District) 1961-1962.
- November 4, 1974: Honored by City Council on the 50th anniversary of his first election to public office in 1924.
18 Serve As Ushers At Memorial Service
Several weeks before his death, former Mayor Thomas S. Burgin selected 18 longtime friends he would like to have serve as ushers and honorary ushers at his memorial service.
Forrest I. Neal, former Quincy businessman and former chairman of the MBTA and Dr. Morgan Sargent, head ushers; Quincy Sun Publisher Henry Bosworth, H. Maurice Hughes, retired officer of the Quincy Savings Bank; David Leitch, Jack Platner and Ned Platner, co-owners of the Burgin, Platner Insurance agency; and Brooks Robbie, head of Robbie South Shore Fuels.
Charles F. Adams, direct descendent of Presidents John and John Quincy Adams; former Quincy Deputy Fire Chief Robert Henby, Donald L. Gardner, friend and fellow yachtsman; Preston H. Grassick, former Burgin, Platner executive, John R. Herbert, former editor of the Patriot Ledger and Boston Herald Traveler; Thomas E. Oliver; Charles A. Pearce, chief officer of the Quincy Savings Bank; Nelford J. Platner former partner at the Burgin, Platner Insurance Agency; Atty. Joseph Serafini and Russell H. Smollett, former Quincy Savings Bank executive who earlier served as Mr. Burgin’s secretary during his first term as mayor.