Time flies, the saying goes. Any who can argue? But has it really been 14 years (last month) since Mike Coppola died of cancer at age 62?
Surely that’s a misprint. It can’t have been 14 years since the longtime local and state office holder said goodbye to his wife, Ginny, and the town they both had adopted three decades earlier — and which, in turn, had embraced them.
I’d known Mike since 1984, after being elected to a seat on the town planning board. We served together for three years during a wild and crazy era when developers simply couldn’t build roads and construct houses fast enough. It was a gold rush atmosphere; with plenty of available land and willing lenders, every Tom, Dick and Harry wanted in on the action.
Of course, every project required approval of the planning board — which in addition to Mike and I included the late Alex Spier, Lloyd Gibbs and John Davis. And while all of the above were both knowledgeable and capable, there was no doubt that Mike Coppola was the straw that stirred the drink.
Even without a town planner (the position hadn’t been created yet), and only a part-time recording secretary and engineering consultant as professional staff, he set the agendas, chaired the meetings, processed then paperwork, helped with site inspections and even wrote the legal notices for public hearings.
All told, Mike spent 9 years on the planning board and 12 more on the board of selectmen before winning election to the state legislature in 2001. Voters respected his commitment to the town, but even more were attracted by his decency, personal loyalty and his most endearing quality – a disarming willingness to poke fun at himself.
I’ll always remember a semi-formal dinner hosted by Bethany Congregational Church to celebrate the completion of a capital building project. Then serving at the State House, and perhaps contemplating higher office, Mike had been invited to present a legislative citation marking the accomplishment — a courtesy he had routinely extended during his political career. So after dinner was served and Mike rose to deliver a few congratulatory remarks few took much notice.
That is, until he started reading the citation which, in keeping with custom, was liberally peppered with references to the recipient — in this case, Bethany Congregational Church.
Except that each time the church’s name arose — and there were many — Mike inexplicably pronounced it “Bethany Congressional Church.” The first reference raised eyebrows. The second brought an audible chuckle. And by the time he finished reaching the entire text church members were laughing good naturedly at this tongue-twister gone awry.
Oblivious to the malaprop, Mike returned to his seat amid a round of polite applause, and was immediately apprised of his gaffe by Jane Curtis — a church member, close friend and political confidant. Never one to miss an opportunity, Mike immediately strode back to the microphone.
“It was just brought to my attention that I mistakenly referred to Bethany Congregational Church as Bethany Congressional Church,” he deadpanned. “Well, I guess you know where my mind is at!”
It was impossible not to like the guy.
Over the years, both Mike and Ginny both left an indelible mark on their adopted hometown — not only in civic affairs (she served out her late husband’s legislative term and subsequently was elected to a seat on the board of selectmen) – but through the countless friends they made along the way.
All of which brings us to an email, and then a phone call, I received from Ginny earlier this summer. Mike, it seems, kept a newspaper archive — no surprise to anyone who knew his penchant for record-keeping and fondness for accumulating. She couldn’t bear to throw it out, and hoped this personal archive might be transferred to some other repository.
Would I be able to help with the process?
“Sure,” I replied, intrigued at the prospect. Yet somehow, I misinterpreted Ginny’s characterization of “archive” as a collection of newspaper clippings chronicling Mike’s political accomplishments and contributions to the community.
Instead she showed up at my house, her Ford Explorer jammed with brown paper grocery bags, each stuffed with old issues of The Foxboro Reporter. Not exactly what I had been expecting. But we lugged them into my garage where they sat, untouched, for more than a month, occupying space and gathering dust.
Finally, motivated by the need for garage access, I started poking through some of the brown bags – and quickly realized that Mike’s personal “archive” consisted of every issue of the Reporter (and in some, cases, multiple issues) stretching back to the early 1980s. All in pristine condition. All in chronological order.
For someone who ran the newspaper for 18 of those years it was like hitting the lottery.
Yet after spending three full days sorting through these vintage papers it became obvious that, instead of trying to repurpose them as historic archives, it would be better to pass them on to those whose stories graced The Reporter’s pages so many years ago.
So with that in mind I now have literally hundreds of papers, many with Mike Coppola’s mailing label affixed to the front page, awaiting delivery to families or individuals still living locally — a process that started in late July and will undoubtedly continue for months. Rest assured, there are lots of visits to come.
Needless to say, it’s been a joy knocking on doors bearing these irreplaceable newspapers — reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances, or just watching long-forgotten images rekindle happy memories.
None of this would have been possible were it not for Mike Coppola’s penchant for hanging on to things — and Ginny’s thoughtfulness. But when contemplating his copious contributions to the community, who would have guessed that 14 years after his death Mike would serve up one last gift for Foxboro?