McNulty left his mark

Laughter is sure to overwhelm sorrow on Sunday when Tom McNulty’s family, friends and residents of a grateful Marblehead gather at 11:30 a.m. in Abbot Hall to salute a man who gave so much to his town.

Choosing the seat of town government and the repository of some of its most cherished historical artifacts as the memorial site is a tribute to McNulty’s legacy and a gesture of profound respect to his widow, Deborah.

It is easy to imagine McNulty, who died on Nov. 5 at the age of 70, mocking the selection of his memorial site with the mixture of good-natured wit he brought to every occasion. A former Board of Selectmen member whose enduring popularity made him an Election Day favorite, McNulty was one of those rare individuals who combined intelligence with humility and aimed a laser beam at complicated town issues while maintaining a humorous perspective on the business of government.

In his heart, in the core of his being, Thomas A. McNulty loved Marblehead. He was born into service to the town as the third generation of his family to own and manage the Warwick Cinema and provide home-grown entertainment to town residents.

He served the town as a library trustee, selectman and town clerk and he served it when he was out of office. Big campaigns to beautify the town and help the less fortunate were imprinted with the McNulty stamp.

He laughed in the face of illness last year when he accepted the opportunity to attach his name and his wife’s to a scholarship supported by an organization he helped launch 30 years ago. Dollars for Scholars’ success will forever be tied to McNulty just as good government in the town will always bear his stamp.

Small towns are backdrops for politics at its fiercest. Personalities, ambition, and intrigue heat up to the boiling point and the rule of thumb for people tempted to roll up their sleeves and wade into small-town politics is, “stay out of the kitchen if you can’t stand the heat.”

McNulty could stand the heat. If he couldn’t out-argue someone, he could wait them out. If a debate became too heated, he could cool it down with humor or just the right comment delivered at the right moment.

He had his share of spirited debates and civic disagreements but the town officials who served on public boards with McNulty or ran town government when he was in office knew McNulty served for the good of the town and lived and breathed Marblehead.

There won’t be many dry eyes on Sunday but some of the tears shed will be the products of laughter and fond memories for a man who left his town and the world a better place.

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