WHITMAN — Town officials and others who knew former state Sen. Edward “Ned” Kirby well are mourning one of the last of those government officials who respected and worked well with those on the other side of the political fence.
“He’s got quite a history of helping the citizens of Whitman and Plymouth County and he’ll be greatly missed,” said Selectman Brian Bezanson, the chairman of the Whitman Republican Town Committee. “Back in the day, you could disagree on policy and still be cordial and respectful of each other and that seems to be a lost art now.”
“He was a terrific public servant to the town of Whitman — he loved Whitman and we loved him in return,” Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski, a member of the town’s Democratic Town Committee. “He leaves a big hole. Legislatively, his shoes have been filled for a while, but he was a presence in town and I liked him a lot — in fact, ‘liked’ is probably too mild a word — and I will miss him.”
A staunch Republican, Kirby was a state representative for three terms — the youngest on Beacon Hill when he was first elected in 1961 from the old 5th Plymouth District — a Plymouth County Commissioner for eight years and a six-term state senator. In the state senate he served on Ways & Means, Transportation and Judiciary committees and held the post of assistant Minority Leader. He was also appointed Administrative Law Judge during the Weld administration and was an Appeals Judge in Workers Compensation. [See inset, page 2]
“He was a true statesmen,” Bezanson said. “He wasn’t just a politician. He was a true gentleman, he was an inspiration.”
“The last of the gentlemen,” agreed Town Administrator Frank Lynam. “Ned had a robust history with the town of Whitman … and has applied his sense of commitment to community into pretty much everything he did.”
Kirby was also a faithful member of the Holy Ghost Church, where he met many current town leaders as they first moved to Whitman.
Lynam was one of them, as was Kowalski.
“When I first moved into town I went to church at Holy Ghost and met him there — he introduced himself and welcomed me,” Lynam said. “He was an all-around good guy.”
“He was one of the first people I met when I moved to Whitman 45 years ago,” Kowalski said. “I came out of church and I met this guy and we started talking. He was just very welcoming.”
Before he knew it, Kowalski was serving as a lector at the parish, and later served on a Jewish War Veterans’ scholarship committee with Kirby. Lynam noted that Kirby served on the Holy Ghost Parish Council and the Parish Finance Council, on which Lynam also served. Kirby also supported community groups including the Whitman Food Pantry and the senior center.
“It’s so sad,” said James Davidson of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry. “He was such a nice guy.”
Davidson said Kirby was a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society for about nine years and was always willing to help do “whatever he could to help those less fortunate in town.”
“He was a very sincere, very generous guy,” he said. “They don’t make them like that anymore.”
“Ned was a true gentleman and a scholar — a class act all the way,” Kowalski said. “He and his wife Mary Alice were always very kind to my family.”
A Whitman resident since 1960, Bezanson recalled being a member of the Jaycees in the 1980s and, after a period of inactivity in civic affairs, he said Kirby encouraged him in his interest in joining the Republican Town Committee in 2002.
“He took me under his wing and mentored me. What I thought was community service and what I had done, really was just the tip of the iceberg,” Bezanson said. “He taught me how to stand by your beliefs, to serve the community and treat people with respect. Forever I’ll be thankful for his making me a better person and a better selectman.”
State Rep. Geoff Diehl, R-Whitman, tells a similar story of reaching out to Kirby and receiving support and political counsel.
“Before I made the final decision to run for State Representative, KathyJo and I went to Ned and Mary Alice’s house to ask for their support,” Diehl recalled last week. “Ned showed me around his home office and explained to me some of the goals he set and achieved. Mary Alice, who was also a big part of his political life, filled us in on much of what we needed to know for campaigning.”
Diehl said it was such an honor to have their support and that he highly doubts he would have been able to get elected without all the help the Kirbys provided over those early years.
“In his final years, Ned was not only having a hard time hearing people but also remembering names and conversations,” Diehl recalled. “But that never stopped him from proudly wearing his Army uniform to attend Veterans functions and town events. He remained, to the end, very proud of being able to serve his country, the state of Massachusetts and his home town of Whitman.”
Lynam said Kirby also had strong political opinions as a conservative Republican, noting that his position on gay marriage might have ultimately cost him his state Senate seat, as Therese Murray defeated him after redistricting.