By Rod Lee
He is much older now and long removed from his position as the 65th governor of the Commonwealth and then a candidate for president whose bid in 1988 against the late George H.W. Bush was doomed by mistakes that he himself admits were catastrophic.
Anticipation nevertheless ran high for the appearance of Michael S. Dukakis as guest speaker at the 40th annual meeting and awards ceremony of the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce at Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton on November 16th.
UniBank was presenting sponsor of the event for 2018.
It is not an easy thing to lure a man of Mr. Dukakis’s stature west from his home in Brookline on a morning that felt wintry with rain and snow pelting the windows of the building on Armsby Road but Jeannie Hebert who is president and CEO of the Chamber and her administrative cohorts managed to do just that.
The result were remarks that drew repeated applause and laughter; these set in motion by former State Sen. Richard T. “Dick” Moore of Uxbridge who noted in introducing Mr. Dukakis that they have been friends since they first met when Mr. Moore was a student at Clark University. With his typical deadpan humor (marked by the line “unaccustomed as I am to public speaking,” to chuckles all around), Mr. Moore got right to the subject of Mr. Dukakis’s age by pointing out that the now- elder statesman was celebrating “the 46th anniversary of his 39th birthday.” This left folks weak in math doing some quick arithmetic in determining that Mr. Dukakis is 85.
Mr. Dukakis, who apologized for being dressed down in a blue corduroy shirt and casual pants, took it from there.
At a gathering that also featured a chairman’s report by Daniel Crossin of Homefield Credit Union, a president’s report from Ms. Hebert and recognition of Mark Lyons of Essex-based AET Labs Inc. (the Chamber’s 2018 Volunteer of the Year), Kevin Mulvehill and Brian Distefano of Purgatory Beer Company of Whitinsville (with the Cornerstone Award), the Frongillo family of Prime DSS, Division of Jack Moore Associates, F&D Truck Co. and F&D Salvage Co. of Millbury (as Sustainable Business Leaders) and Leslie Reichert of The Briarwood Community in Worcester (recipient of the Gerry Gaudette Extra Mile Award for her work with the homeless), Mr. Dukakis displayed charm and wit that kept his listeners enthralled from the start of his talk to the finish.
Mr. Dukakis was not hesitant about playing up his Greek heritage.
Having encountered State Rep. Brian Murray’s grandmother in Western Massachusetts when he was running for statewide office, for instance, Mr. Dukakis alluded to her skepticism about his qualifications for the seat by revealing that she said “who is this Greek guy?”
Of Bill Giannopoulos who with his wife Patti owns the Linwood Mill, where the Chamber’s offices are situated, Mr. Dukakis said “sounds Greek to me.”
The real and more serious purpose of Mr. Dukakis’s visit became apparent when he dived into the subject of the state’s transportation system, which he considers inadequate to the task. It has been a pet peeve of his for some time, as evidenced by how he used to brown bag his way to work at the Statehouse on the T in order to make a statement.
He and a graduate student were going to be traversing the Commonwealth from Mattapan to the Seaport District to Lowell later in the day, Mr. Dukakis said, in “a 1949 Hudson,” in a “Driving Miss Daisy”-type scenario (more laughter).
As an advocate for better rail service (he has served on the Board of Directors of Amtrak), Mr. Dukakis said “Massachusetts is choking to death on traffic. Mass. DOT is talking about (an updated traffic plan) 2040. 2040! Kitty (Mr. Dukakis’s wife) is 82 and the best looking Medicare recipient in the U.S., but I don’t think Kitty and I are going to make it to 2040!”
Unless “we build ourselves a first-class rail system, we are coming to a grinding halt. One aspect of this,” Mr. Dukakis said, “is connecting North and South stations” in Boston.” Right now, “if you live on the North Shore, good luck getting to your job. You have to make two changes” on the train for that to happen.
Furthermore, he said, “you ought to be able to go from Springfield to Boston in an hour. They do it in Europe. They’re better than us?”
Biotech manufacturing in Worcester is happening, Mr. Dukakis said, “and there is no reason we can’t do it” to an even greater extent “with rail.”
Listening to Mr. Dukakis, who was in a buoyant and festive mood and who has taught political science at Northeastern University for 28 years (and at UCLA in the winter months), it was obvious that he maintains a healthy outlook on life while beating the drum for a more efficient transportation apparatus.
“I hope we can involve the Chamber actively in the effort,” he said.
With that, he asked “does anyone in the room know what a Hudson is?” Then, as if to remind his listeners that the car is a relic of the American automobile industry, he said “the motor cuts off if you put the windshield wipers on!”
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.