DANVERS — When the Dunn Wing at Danvers High was torn down a year ago to make way for the second phase of the high school’s renovation, with it went the Francis F. Mills Communications Center.
The meeting room had been dedicated to the town’s former 23-year moderator, Francis Mills, who died Nov. 2, 1992, at age 77. Mills died three years after being diagnosed with cancer in 1989, said his son, Selectman David Mills, a former Appeals Court judge.
“It was dedicated a year before my father died, so he knew about that,” Mills said. “And he was absolutely thrilled.”
Francis Mills’ name will not be forgotten with the approximately $70 million renovation of Danvers High, however.
Last night, the School Committee rededicated its meeting room in Mills’ name, restoring the wooden plaque that once hung on the door to the old Mills Room. David Mills, Town Manager Wayne Marquis and selectmen Chairman Gardner Trask were on hand.
Instead of a room buried deep in Danvers High, the new Mills Room sits not far from the front entrance facing Burley Street, in what is by day the Chorus Room, Room E105. The room is outfitted with cameras and equipment to allow meetings to be televised.
School Committee Chairman Eric Crane read a dedication to Mills, pointing out that he was born in Boston, and later in life, he worked as the director of financial planning at Boston College, which meant frequent trips to Washington, D.C., and spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill on behalf of the college. Mills said his father and his mother, Helen, met at a tannery in Salem when his father was just out of accounting school and his mother, a Danversport native, worked as a secretary.
Francis Mills and his family moved to town in 1946. Throughout his years in Danvers, Mills’ public service to the town included stints on the Finance Committee, the Board of Appeals and chairing a major re-evaluation study. He also helped with the rededication ceremony of the tall flagpole in Danvers Square in 1989 with Dan Toomey, the late former longtime finance director. David Mills said the Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 11, 1989, included a jet flyover and the Boston College marching band parading down Maple Street.
“It was typical of my father. He loved the flag, he loved his country, and he loved Danvers,” Mills said.
Francis Mills became moderator in 1966 and presided over his last Town Meeting on Feb. 23, 1989. Crane described him as “firm but fair” as moderator. The dedication of the room was to inspire future generations to serve the town.
Selectman Mills, who became choked up at the start of his talk, said his mother came from a family of 10 children, and he is one of five children, all of whom were educated in Danvers schools.
“We got a good educational buy,” Mills said.
Later, Mills pointed out that he, too, served as town moderator, and “there were a few people in Town Meeting I didn’t like.” However, when he served in that post, he said he made sure every person who spoke was treated with dignity in the way his father treated others.
“This is so important to him,” Mills said, “because he so believed in the Town Meeting as the citadel of democracy ... He really believed in that and the right of every single person to find the safety to be able to say what they wanted to say about the process and what was before the body.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.