WHITMAN — A heavy rain on the morning of the dedication of a Great American elm tree to the memory of former state Sen. Edward P. “Ned” Kirby Saturday morning, couldn’t dampen the spirits of his family and friends attending the ceremony at Town Hall auditorium.
They rather thought Kirby would enjoy the turn of events.
“I never dreamed so many people would come,” Kirby’s widow Mary Alice said of the event and the “amazing” tree planted in her husband’s memory. “It’s breathtaking.”
“I’m not worried about it — at least the tree’s getting some water from heaven, courtesy of Ned,” said June O’Leary of the Friends of Whitman Park.
“I think Ned is up in heaven looking down on us and [the rain] is probably tears coming from his eyes,” agreed Selectman Daniel Salvucci. “He wasn’t the type of a guy that would want anyone to pay tribute to him because what he was doing was what he was meant to do.”
About two dozen family members and friends of Kirby’s attended the ceremony Saturday, June 24 to remember him and his friendship and accomplishments — and dedicate the tree planted near the park bandstand the week before.
“This is a really nice tribute to Ned that you come out in the rain and be here for Mary Alice and his family to remember him,” O’Leary said. She said the choice of a Great American elm was only the appropriate tree to plant in Kirby’s honor. She credited Kirby with being a longtime supporter of Whitman Park, including being the person largely responsible for a $285,000 grant that gave the park such a boost. He also pitched in to rake and clean up the park “just like the rest of us,” she said.
O’Leary also thanked DPW Highway and Park Superintendent Bruce Martin for his help in selecting and planting the tree.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam presented Mary Alice with the Selectmen’s citation, researched by the board’s Administrative Assistant Laurie O’Brien.
Lynam made the presentation for Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski, who was unable to attend due to a family obligation. Selectmen Randy LaMattina and Brian Bezanson joined Salvucci in attending the ceremony.
The citation notes Kirby’s legal education and Korean War-era service in the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s office as well as his service as both a state representative for six years and a state senator and as an elected member of the Plymouth County Commissioners. He also served as an administrative law judge and a worker’s compensation appeals judge. Kirby was also instrumental in returning commuter rail service to the area, among other accomplishments.
“He is sorely missed,” Lynam said of Kirby. “The town would like to recognize Ned for his countless contributions to the town.
The State House citation, presented by state Rep. Geoff Diehl, R-Whitman, recalling a tribute to Ned read as a tribute to him at the General Court’s opening session for the year on Jan. 5.
“He was always doing something,” Diehl said. “I don’t think there was a day when Ned wasn’t serving somebody in some capacity — whether it was in the military, in office, or as a private citizen.”
Diehl also lauded Kirby for his work with the Whitman Food Pantry and the senior center.
“The curse of going second is that virtually everything in the town citation is mirrored in the citation presented by the House,” Diehl said. “I’m going to give this to Frank to keep for the town, because I’ve already presented Mary Alice with a copy of this as well.”
Friends and Kirby family members also spoke, recalling fond memories of the veteran public servant who died Jan. 3.
“I never could find anyone who could find fault with Ned, he was just a very nice person, a gentleman — somebody you were glad to meet,” O’Leary said.
Bezanson said the rain was fitting for the occasion, just as Kirby’s support provided a beginning for his involvement in town politics, as well as for others.
“It’s nourishing Ned’s tree from the beginning to get it started,” he said. “I can guarantee you that’s going to be one of the biggest trees in this park for years to come.”
Kirby’s son Thomas shared a memory.
“He was a great dad and an excellent family man,” he said, recalling an anecdote from his days as a Little League participant. “Most days dad would come home and throw the ball with me in the front yard. On one occasion — I wasn’t very tall — he threw the ball to me and I missed it. [The ball] beaned his windshield — broke it, shattered it — and he just kind of looked at it and said, ‘OK.’ He was just a super-sweet guy.”
He added that a painting of the bandstand owned by the family will mean more now that the Great American elm planted in Ned’s name is growing there.
His daughter Jane remembered that her dad, who was born at home in Whitman, loved his town and how touched he would be by the tree dedication ceremony.
“He wanted to live here his entire life,” she said. “This is where his heart was and it as really because of the people of the town.