Monday, June 11, 2018

A Tribute to One of Framingham's Best

Last Saturday, our city said goodbye to one of its most beloved citizens, state representative Chris Walsh, who lost his battle with cancer last month. After a stirring but somber procession outside on Concord Street by the Massachusetts National Lancers, a ceremonial cavalry group, Nevins Hall downtown was filled with hundreds of people, from the governor to Framingham city officials, down to ordinary citizens, and everyone in between, from both public and private life.

The tributes that were made, from fellow politicians, friends, and family members, painted a portrait of not just a man of great talent and accomplishments, and an abiding love for Framingham, but deep humanity. And humor. Amidst the sadness, there were occasional outbursts of laughter. Former state rep and friend Tom Sannicandro recounted Chris introducing him over the years to a variety of exclusive whiskeys in the watering holes near the State House after the work day had ended, while friend and neighbor Steve Greeley told a tale of how he once helped Chris, who never met a problem he didn't want to solve, hoist a refrigerator up to the third floor window of his house when it wouldn't fit up the stairs, as the neighborhood looked on in fear and wonder.

I don't remember when I first met Chris, but it was at least a decade ago. It might have been at a Nobscot Neighbors meeting, Town Meeting, the Planning Board, or a Friends of Saxonville, Framingham Public Library, or Framingham History Center event. It could easily have been any one of those, since Chris was at seemingly every significant public meeting or event that took place in the city, even long before he was elected to represent us at the State House eight years ago.

When Chris first announced his intention to run for state office, he reached out and asked to meet with me. We sat down with a cup of coffee at Annie's Book Stop/Espresso Paulo in the Nobscot Shopping Center, and he talked about what he hoped to accomplish if elected, and asked for my support. I didn't need much convincing. I'd spoken to him one on one quite a bit and heard his thoughtful, measured opinions at many public meetings, and thought he'd be a very effective state representative for Framingham. And I never had second thoughts about my decision.

After he was elected, he still continued to attend many Nobscot Neighbors meetings, which I chaired, and whether the topic was the revitalization of Nobscot village, preservation of open space, development of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, or opening the MWRA aqueduct as a recreational trail, his voice was always one of the most informed and insightful in the room. I remember him telling me excitedly about how the aqueduct could serve as a green corridor connecting not only Nobscot and Saxonville, but Wayland as well. He didn't come to that conclusion solely from looking at a map or reading a report; he'd walked the path himself all the way into Wayland from Nobscot as part of his research.

The first time I saw him after his cancer diagnosis, I took him aside and asked how he was doing, and how he was dealing with what is for anyone a life-altering experience. "I'm not driving this bus," he replied, with his characteristic smile, and a mixture of fatalism and optimism. "We'll see how it goes." And then he was back to talking about whatever community issue or problem we were discussing that night. And that was Chris - his unending focus was on how he could improve the community he lived in, where he made his home, raised his family, and dedicated decades to making it the best place he could. A legacy we can all learn from.