NAHANT — Thomas P. Costin Jr. has been named Person of the Year for Nahant, but it would be just as fitting to honor him as Person of the Century.
While Costin lives in Nahant, his contributions to Lynn as the city’s youngest mayor at age 29 from 1955-1961 and as the city’s postmaster from 1962 to 1992 live on.
“My proudest accomplishments as mayor was establishing the first hospital in the state to treat alcoholics and I put thousands of people to work as postmaster over 30 years,” he said.
If it were up to his father, Costin would have been a police officer.
“My father said being a cop is good job, you get a pension, and won’t get fired,” he said. “But I told him I wanted to be the person who gives the orders and I wanted to go to college. And I did. I graduated from Boston College and my career worked out fine.”
Costin’s public service began early. In 1935, as a 9-year-old youngster, he helped distribute cups of water to Works Progress Administration (WPA) laborers who passed his home on Pennybrook Road after a day of work building the stone tower in Lynn Woods Reservation. The WPA was the federal program that employed millions of people constructing public buildings and roads during the Great Depression.
“You’re never too young to help others, and never too old to stop,” he said.
One of the first things he noticed once he become mayor was the lack of hospitals to serve people who suffer from alcoholism. He said the issue was deeply personal to him because five of the 10 members of his grandmother’s family were alcoholics.
Years before it became common, Costin saw alcoholism as a disease, not as moral decay. To help address it, he founded Mount Pleasant Hospital in 1962, the first facility in Massachusetts devoted exclusively to alcoholic rehabilitation.
“I brought together two doctors and a banker and helped make the 100-bed hospital a reality,” he said.
Later as postmaster, he led the effort to create a policy for federal workers that employees who face alcoholism must be offered help and an opportunity to turn themselves around before termination.
In 1947, Costin’s youth and public service attracted the attention of Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., John F. Kennedy’s father, who wanted his son, then in Congress, to set his sights on the White House.
Shortly after Costin was elected as the youngest serving City Councilor in Lynn, he received a call from the Ambassador, who requested they have lunch.
“I said ‘I’m awful busy, I was just elected,'” said Costin, then 21, who eventually gave in and arranged to meet him. That meeting, led to getting introduced to the future president and a friendship was started.
After Kennedy won the close race for president against Richard Nixon in 1960, Costin was invited to the Oval Office. The president asked him what job he wanted in the new administration.
“I told him I wanted to be postmaster in Lynn,” he said. “‘What?’ The president asked in shock. ‘Postmaster?’ I told him if he would please just do that I’d be happy.”
On Nov. 22, 1963, Costin was having lunch at home when he heard the news on TV that the president had been assassinated.
“I cried,” he said.