Paul Tsongas

I just read that Patrick Mogan was the man who was the most influential in Lowell. Granted, Pat Mogan was the man who first came up with the national history of Lowell, but nothing would have come of Patrick Mogan without Paul Tsongas and I believe that the record justifies that presumption. So, I am tired of books that make the claims to Lowell’s pre-eminence by claiming that this person or that person is the reason that Lowell came back from the netherworld of depressed American mill cities. Paul Tsongas was my brother-in-law, and I am biased but I am saying now that I intend to write a book that looks at Paul Tsongas’ affinity for Lowell, his refusal to take the credit for making Lowell what it is today, and his belief in the people of Lowell as a group bringing the city back to its dominance.

Let me start with a story about my father, the former Superintendent of Schools who funded Patrick Mogan’s dream. When I was sixteen, and extremely interested in Lowell’s history, he told me about a man that he found amusing who paired up with a man named Peter Stamas to investigate Lowell’s canal system and had built a design of the canal system in the Smith/Baker Center across from City Hall. That man, he told me, was a dreamer named Patrick Mogan and I might like to meet him. The School Department, he said, was responsible for funding Dr. Mogan’s research and paying his and Mr. Stamas’ salary out of a series of grants. I might enjoy meeting him, he said. I was very interested in meeting Mr. Mogan. I told my father that, and he set up a time when I could speak with Dr. Mogan.

“Well, we’re paying for his time, at the School Department, and he might want to show you what he is working on.” my father said. I was introduced to Dr. Mogan’s work a few days later. He had started his grants with the previous superintendent My father would be the man who financed the grants but not the person who was responsible for Patrick Mogan who would push him to prominence.

I spent the next couple of days learning about the canal system in the Archival Room at the Memorial Library. Not the Pollard Memorial Library because Samuel Pollard had little to do with the library at the time, but the Memorial Library because it was named as the building named after the many dead from Lowell in the Civil War, or the War Between the States.

My meeting with Dr. Mogan and Mr. Stamas was very interesting. They had built a wooden model of the canal system, painting the water in as blue. The borders of the canals were made of wood. They told me, both of them, of the canal system and its importance to the city. However, they concentrated on gondolas being in the canals and people riding the gondolas like those in Venice, Italy. They said that the canals were too shallow for the gondolas, but that they could be made deeper. I thought it was a wonderful idea, gondolas on the Lowell canals.

I left after getting a dream of Italy in my young brain. I thought it was a magnificient idea. I had recently built a wooden boat and this was right up my alley, as they said back then.

I visited them a few times before going off to college where I took an interest in bringing the first Model United Nations forum to the University of Lowell in 1975. Working on that with many people was a good use of my time and we held it in that year.

My years passed quickly. At sixteen I met Councilor Paul E. Tsongas and helped paint the interior of his house. I kept asking him the secret to his success, through my twentieth year, and I constantly heard his refrain, “I was just lucky.” No science to his politics.

Paul was the first person I heard who gave Dr. Mogan credit for the saving of the Lowell Canal system. He had been elected to his county post, and when asked why had been quoted in the Lowell “Sun” as saying that he needed a parking spot to use when he had to appear in county court and that was the best way to handle it. His wife, Niki, called me on the phone and asked if I would pass out five hundred leaflets throughout the Highlands and I said, “Yes.” So, I did.

In the meantime, Paul introduced me to his younger sister, who thought I was kind of a nerd. I thought she was beautiful. Later, we would be married. But in 1973, I was nineteen and she was seventeen, and though we married early, at twenty-one and nineteen, in 1974, we were most interested in getting Paul elected to Congress. So, we worked on that.

That was the year I met Dennis Kanin. Dennis had a full head of hair, I remember, and had just come in ninth in a party of ten running for a Cambridge State Representative seat. At least, memory says it was ninth, I might be mistaken about that. But he and Paul hit it off right away and a beautiful friendship lasting until Paul’s untimely death at the age of fifty-five would sprout up.

Part of Paul was still interested in the canal ideas of Dr. Mogan and he checked with the Interior Department to see if there was precedence for a National Park in an urban area. He was most assuredly guaranteed that there was none. But, that did not stop him. He pushed for a new idea, an urban National Park, for which there was no precedence. He often gave all of the credit to Dr. Mogan. I remember that clearly. However, the National Park was his baby, and his idea. We have it because of Paul Tsongas. The canal saving steps were Dr. Mogan’s idea and together they made a nice pair.

His battle came to a fruitful transition, and Lowell was voted the first Urban National Park. When he got cancer, Senator Ted Kennedy offered to name it after Paul, the Tsongas National Park. Paul turned him down. He wanted it to be the Lowell National Park.

As I said, I intend to write a book on Paul. There is plenty of information out there. I do not intend to be quick about it, but I do intend to be thorough. If necessary I, like Mr. Thoreau did with his first book, will pay for publication myself. It is time to set the record straight and I would like to be the one to do that. I have a great many personal anecdotes and hopefully I can work them into it. Thank you for being patient enough to read this.

8 thoughts on “Paul Tsongas

  1. Patti

    Jim, Enjoyed reading this blog very much! I can’t wait for you to write the book about Paul. Obviously, your friendship with him was very important to you and changed your life since you marrid his younger sister. Your personal perspective and historical context of your writing will be very powerful, indeed!

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