ATTLEBORO — George T. Ross, who served the city in numerous capacities including seven terms on the city council and one as a state representative, and who was known for his quick wit and big heart, has died at the age of 70.
Details of Ross’ death weren’t immediately known, but he had recently moved back to Attleboro after living out of state for a while, said Walter Thibodeau, one of his closest friends and a former council colleague.
News of Ross’ death was first announced by Mayor Paul Heroux.
Thibodeau and others said Ross’ health had been failing in recent months. He had battled heart disease and diabetes.
“I just talked to him a couple of weeks ago,” Thibodeau said upon learning of his death Thursday. “One of the first places he stopped when he came back (to Attleboro) was to see me.”
Thibodeau recently called Ross to remind him his membership dues for American Legion Post 312 were due.
A Sun Chronicle story about Ross, a U.S. Army veteran, once said he was always one to “leave them laughing,” and that’s what happened in this instance.
“I can’t tell you how good I felt after that conversation,” Thibodeau said. “We laughed and laughed. I’m going to miss him.”
Thibodeau remembered Ross as a sensitive man who cared about the plight of others and would often show his emotions even though he tried to hide them.
“He was always the first one to open his wallet for somebody who needed help or provide a meal for someone who was down on his luck,” Thibodeau said.
One of his charitable endeavors was his years-long involvement in the annual Christmas Is For Kids fundraiser.
Another of his close friends, Aurelio “Sonny” Almeida, former superintendent of Parks, Forestry and Animal Control for the city, was hit hard.
He said he was one of the first people to get to know Ross when he opened up his diner, Murray’s, on Brook Street back in the 1980s.
“I used to go there all the time,” Almeida said. “We became pretty good friends. He was a lovable guy. I miss him already.”
Former mayor Kevin Dumas remembered Ross fondly.
“I am truly saddened to learn of this news,” he said in an emailed statement to The Sun Chronicle. “George was a true friend and colleague for many years and he will be dearly missed.
“His heart was always with Attleboro and doing his best to help the people he served as a city councilor and as state representative and many other local capacities. May he rest in peace.”
Ross represented Ward 2 for 13 years and left halfway through his seventh term to take on a new role as state rep in 2011.
Ross, a Republican, edged out incumbent Democrat Bill Bowles for the seat in the November 2010 election. He also served on the Attleboro Housing Authority, police commission and planning board.
In 2012, current mayor Paul Heroux challenged Ross for the rep’s job and won.
Heroux held the seat for three terms before his election as mayor in 2017.
“I was disappointed to hear that Attleboro lost a longtime public servant, George Ross,” Heroux said in an emailed statement. “George served Attleboro as a state rep, a city council member, several boards and commissions and did so conscientiously. We thank him for his years of service and his family for supporting him during those years.”
During his council years Ross was vehemently opposed to the construction of an industrial park at Ides Hill and questioned the financial stability of the project.
Those questions turned out to be well-founded with the ARA eventually finding itself millions of dollars in debt and teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Former council president Frank Cook expressed sorrow over Ross’ death.
“He served the city in a lot of capacities and did an excellent job,” Cook said. “It was an honor to serve with him and I’m deeply saddened by his passing.”
Cook remembers Ross’ jovial personality and his impatience with debates that in his mind were dragging on too long.
“He was always the first one to make a motion to move the question,” Cook said of the parliamentary procedure to end debate and force a vote.
Ross was an Army veteran who would run toward danger when he was needed.
One night in 1984 on his way home from Murray’s after a long day at the grill, he came upon a house fire and ran into it to save two young children and their mom from the flames, according to a Sun Chronicle story.
Ross also was employed by the former Ro-Jack’s Supermarket at one time and held a state job for several years after losing his state representative post.
He was once wheeled out of a council meeting on a gurney to a waiting ambulance after becoming ill, but true to form left smiling with a thumbs up.
Back in 2000 Ross had a triple bypass operation.
At the time he was quoted in a Sun Chronicle story as hoping for another 20 years, which is what came to be.
“It was a good run,” Almeida said. “Now he’s at peace.”