It was late November 1960 and the phone rang in the mayor’s office at Lynn City Hall. Mayor Thomas P. Costin Jr. picked up and there was a familiar voice on the line, someone whom he had helped in multiple campaigns, including the one recently concluded.
The caller was President-elect John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the message was clear: Come to Washington and tell me what job you would like in the United States government.
Costin called his wife, Rosemary, and told her to pack for a trip to D.C., but she had other ideas.
“She said, ‘If you think I’m bringing five small children to Washington while you spend 24 hours at the White House, that’s not going to happen,’” Costin said, recalling that his wife’s reaction informed his pending decision.
Costin knew that Lynn Postmaster Tom Wilkinson was planning to retire, so he called JFK back and asked him for that job. The president-elect was surprised at what he considered a moderate request, but Costin was perfectly happy to stay local.
“My wife didn’t want to go to Washington and I thought it would be a nice job,” he said. “That was fine with me.”
It turned out much better than fine. Costin was sworn in as postmaster on June 30, 1961, and remained in the job until retiring in 1992. He established standards by which all future postmasters would be measured and created a legacy that will be memorialized when Lynn’s main post office is named the Thomas P. Costin Jr. Post Office Building in 2019.
U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton introduced House Bill 6059 in June and the House of Representatives passed it Dec. 11, followed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, making the honor official.
“I’m stunned,” Costin said. “To me, it’s one of the greatest honors anybody can have, to have a federal building named for you, especially when it has to pass the Congress of the United States. That’s usually an honor reserved for former presidents or governors or heroes. I didn’t think I was in that category of person that I would ever be considered.”
Moulton clearly did and he was proud to introduce the legislation to honor someone who has never really stopped being a public servant since enlisting in the Marines right after graduating from Lynn Classical in 1944.
“Tom Costin has lived a life of leadership for his beloved city of Lynn. From his volunteer service in the Marines, to his many volunteer services today, and for his more well-known elected and appointed positions in between,” Moulton said. “The city will be eternally grateful. I am proud to call Tom a mentor, a supporter, and a friend.”
“Tom Costin is an exemplary public servant who has dedicated his life to his country, the commonwealth, and the city of Lynn,” said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “This recognition is well-deserved, and I am pleased to partner with my colleagues to rename the Lynn post office in Mayor Costin’s honor.”
“Tom Costin is a public service powerhouse and as dedicated a leader that Massachusetts has ever seen,” said U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey. “As service member, Councilman, mayor, postmaster, and now advocate, Tom Costin embodies service, integrity, and achievement. I am honored to support Congressman Moulton’s legislation to name this Lynn post office after Tom Costin and to recognize the distinguished career of one of Massachusetts’ great leaders.”
Costin said the postmaster’s job was very much a management position that also required oversight of post offices in neighboring communities including Swampscott, Nahant, Saugus and Lynnfield. But, he added, when you came right down to it, he had to ensure that the mail was processed and delivered in a timely manner.
“There was a lot of PR to it,” he said. “When people have problems with the mail they call, and you try to straighten it out.”
Costin had the Lynn Post Office running like a well-oiled machine, and his performance drew national acclaim. He was twice elected president of the National Postmasters Association (1967 and 1983) and played a leading role in the reorganization of the U.S. Postal Service that started under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 and was completed under Richard Nixon in 1969. Costin advocated for the changes that year at the postmasters’ national convention in Arkansas, where it won the unanimous approval of the 2,500 attendees, he said.
Costin has not slowed down one beat since retiring almost 27 years ago. He served as the Lynn Business Partnership’s Transportation Committee chair for more than 15 years and worked on behalf of a wide variety of nonprofit agencies and worthy causes. In 1962, he helped start Mt. Pleasant Hospital in Lynn, the first facility in Massachusetts exclusively dedicated to rehabilitation from alcohol and drug addiction.
With all his accomplishments, however, Costin is perhaps best known for his association with the Kennedys, which dates back to 1946 when he happened upon a rally in Boston’s North End for JFK when he was running for Congress. After the 21-year-old Costin became Lynn’s youngest elected city councilor ever in 1947, he received a call from Joseph P. Kennedy, JFK’s father and the former ambassador to the United Kingdom. The elder Kennedy requested a meeting with Costin at the Ritz Carlton in Boston.
“I want people like you to be close to my son,” Kennedy told him. “He doesn’t know the problems cities have and you do. He will send you legislation — on cities, veterans, education — and I’d like you to look it over and give him feedback.”
Costin worked on JFK’s U.S. Senate campaigns in 1952 and 1958 and the successful presidential run in 1960. He has remained a friend and confidante of the Kennedys — including JFK’s late brothers Robert and Edward — for more than seven decades. And almost 59 years after the call from JFK led to his becoming postmaster in Lynn, he will be appropriately immortalized with the naming of the building.