By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — It’s not often that a vote by the City Council gets loud applause.
It did last night as members voted unanimously to appoint former Councilor Fred Murtagh to a position on the Licensing Board. Murtagh’s own career on the council began in 1962. He replaces longtime member Chuck Holden, who stepped down to avoid any conflicts of interests stemming from his business interests, according to Chairman Minas Dakos.
Murtagh served a total of 28 years as councilor, leaving for the last time in 2008. In the 1960s he ran a close race for mayor, losing to Nick Mavroules. He was asked to take this latest position on the Licensing Board by Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who spoke on his behalf prior to the vote.
“I promise I will do the best I can,” Murtagh told the council.
Later, in an interview, he said, “I served with Mayor Bettencourt. Four years. ... I was very surprised the mayor called me. I told him I’d be happy to serve.”
Since retiring from the council, Murtagh said he has kept busy working several hours a week as the treasurer of Essex Agricultural and Technical High School, where he has had a long career.
“And I baby-sit,” he added. “And I take my brother to dialysis.”
Prior to their vote, councilors, several of whom served with Murtagh, lauded him.
“I was always impressed with his sincerity,” Bob Driscoll said.
Barry Osborne recalled his childhood and being taken with a group to Pleasure Island amusement park by Murtagh.
“It must be in your blood, Fred,” he said of his former colleague’s service.
“I owe a great deal to Fred,” said member Dave Gamache, who recalled his early years on the council.
“I’m glad that he’s stepped up,” said Dave Gravel, remembering that he campaigned for Murtagh in his run for mayor.
“You don’t look a day older, Fred,” observed Arthur Athas.
Similarly, Mike Garabedian joked, “He looks so good since he’s been off the council.”
Rico Mello suggested lightly that Murtagh might run for the seat he is vacating in Ward 3. (Another former veteran councilor, Bill Toomey, has declared his interest in the job.)
Murtagh was smiling, looking energetic and fit. But he made clear his career as a councilor is over.
“I had a good run,” he said when a reporter asked if he missed the council. “I had my time, and it’s time for new blood.”
He responded to the praise from his former colleagues by mentioning them by name and saluting their work. He conceded that the Licensing Board will be a new experience.
“I’ll probably call Minnie Dakos in a couple of days. On the board, I’ll take each case as it comes,” Murtagh said.
The Licensing Board can assign licenses, and it polices their use, guarding, for example, against sales to minors by bestowing penalties on those who violate the prohibition.
“I give Mayor Bettencourt a lot of credit,” Murtagh said. “And I told him tonight, ‘Take care of your family first.’ Because life goes on.”
Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at email@example.com.