SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 29, 2012

Coin flip determined future for 'Mr. Danvers'

By Ethan Forman
Staff Writer

---- — Everyone’s life has a story. In “Lives,” we tell some of those stories about North Shore people who have died recently.

DANVERS — How Thomas Francis “Frank” Tyrrell Jr. came to be known as Mr. Danvers, in recognition of his long years of public service, is rooted in a coin toss in the late 1950s.

Both he and the late Baron Mayer wanted to run for a single selectman’s seat, but rather than start a political battle and lose their friendship, Tyrrell suggested they flip a coin.

Mayer won, and so Tyrrell ran for School Committee instead, winning election in 1959. He would go on to serve 21 years and become the longest-serving School Committee member in town history. Mayer served for more than two decades as a selectman, and Tyrrell never challenged him for his seat.

On Sept. 16, Tyrrell died at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers. He was 94.

He spent much of his life giving back to Danvers — serving on two school boards, as a Town Meeting member, a founding member of the Danvers Kiwanis and a trustee for the Peabody Institute Library.

In 2006, Tyrrell won the Baron Mayer award for outstanding volunteerism, an award named after his old friend.

At the time of the award, Town Manager Wayne Marquis said: “He’s truly an example to all of us of what it means to serve your community. He’s our own version of Mr. Danvers.”

Marquis said this week that he remembers Tyrrell attended the most recent annual Town Meeting in May, and even though it was difficult for him physically, “he felt very good for having been there.”

Tyrrell was a likable, direct, plainspoken public servant with a lot of common sense, two of his daughters said. He liked to stick up for the underdog, and in the days before email, always returned calls.

“He was a townsperson, if you will,” Gail Tyrrell said. “He wasn’t necessarily the establishment. He was in there doing it for the average person in town.”

Frank Tyrrell worked as an insurance auditor for 40 years, but his real vocation was town politics. He joined the Republican Town Committee in 1938, and was elected a Town Meeting member in 1940, at the age of 23.

He went on to serve on a variety of town boards and committees, and ran for state representative in the 1960s, but was beaten in the Republican primary by Bud Lord.

He retired from Continental Casualty Insurance Co. in 1987, but remained active in the town almost until the end of his life.

“I think he just loved the community and he felt a part of the community,” daughter Brenda Tutko said. “He just wanted to be involved. It was a great way to meet people. He developed a number of strong relationships over the years.”

Tyrrell stepped down from the School Committee in 1980, then went on to serve another 25 years as the Danvers representative to the North Shore Regional Vocational School District School Committee.

“He wasn’t ready to not be involved,” Brenda Tutko said.

Even after stepping down from the vocational school committee, he stayed active.

A fixture at Town Meeting, he was honored in May 2011 for a total of 55 years of service, though not consecutively. He was an elected trustee of the Peabody Institute Library of Danvers from 1996 until this past September.

Last year, Tyrrell, the last active charter member of the Danvers Kiwanis Club, celebrated the club’s 50 years with a luncheon at the Danversport Yacht Club.

He also helped organize luncheon reunions for his Holten High Class of 1936.

Tyrrell was raised by foster parents at a small farm on the corner of Summer and Maple streets. After high school, he attended Bryant and Stratton Commercial School in Boston from 1938 to 1939. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army for a year, despite eye problems that led the Army to reject him twice before finally allowing him to enlist.

“He felt it was his duty,” said Brenda Tutko about why he wanted to serve when he did not have to.

In the 1940s, he met his late wife, Mildred, who was from Cincinnati, at a dance while on a business trip. They settled in Danvers and were married for 49 years, raising three daughters, Gail and Deborah Tyrrell and Brenda Tutko.

Debbie was born with Down syndrome, and Tyrrell became an advocate for special education programs in town. He wanted his daughter to have as normal a school experience as possible.

“Institutionalizing her was never an option with my parents, which was pretty unheard of back in the ’50s,” Brenda remembered.

That also led to more public service; he served on the board of directors for what was then called the Association of Retarded Citizens. Governors John Volpe and Francis Sargent also appointed him to the state Board of Mental Retardation.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.