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Lynn post office re-dedicated in honor of Thomas P. Costin Jr.

Noel and Thomas P. Costin Jr. get a first glimpse at the plaque dedicating the post office as the Thomas P. Costin Jr. Post Office. (Spenser R. Hasak)

The final chapter of a story that began almost six decades ago with Tom Costin’s telling the president of the United States that the only job he wanted was postmaster was written Friday when Lynn’s main postal facility was renamed the Thomas P. Costin Jr. Post Office.

A few hundred people, including U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey, U.S. Rep. Seth W. Moulton and Mayor Thomas M. McGee, gathered on Willow Street on a sunny Friday morning to witness the immortalization of Costin, Lynn’s longest-serving postmaster.

“Tom Costin is the North Shore’s North Star of public service,” Markey said, calling him a “political powerhouse” and “as dedicated a leader as Massachusetts has ever known.”

It was Moulton, prompted by Lynn Business Partnership president and Item publisher (and master of ceremonies) Ted Grant’s suggestion that the building be named for Costin, who ran with the idea and introduced House Bill 6059 in June 2018. The House passed it Dec. 11, the Senate followed on Dec. 19 and it was signed into law on Dec. 21.

“This is a celebration of one man’s commitment to his country,” said Moulton, recalling a conversation he had with Costin six years ago when he was considering challenging nine-term Congressman John Tierney.

“We talked about what it meant to be in public service and he encouraged me to run,” Moulton said, telling Costin, “I wouldn’t be here without you.” Moulton pulled off an upset in the 2014 election and now, in his third term, he is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.

McGee, whose father, the late Massachusetts Speaker of the House Thomas W. McGee, was City Council president when Costin was Lynn’s youngest mayor ever, called Costin a “kid from West Lynn who never forgot where he came from.”

Costin, 92, is known for his longtime association with the Kennedys, which dates back to 1946 when he happened upon a campaign rally for Congressional candidate John F. Kennedy in Boston’s North End. After Costin was elected to the Lynn City Council as a 21-year-old in 1947, Joseph Kennedy called him and told him he would like him to serve as a de-facto adviser to his son.

Costin worked on JFK’s Senate campaigns in 1952 and 1958 and his successful presidential run in 1960. It was shortly after that election that Kennedy called him to ask what job he would like in the federal government. With his wife, Rosemary, uninterested in relocating to Washington, D.C., Costin asked for the Lynn postmaster position.

He was sworn in on June 30, 1961, and served for 31 years. He played a leading role in the reorganization of the postal service in the late 1960s. Prior to that, he was tasked by JFK with helping to implement the desegregation of post offices in the South, highlighted by the elimination of separate bathrooms and water coolers for whites and blacks. It was no easy task.

Costin is a man of a million stories and it seems as if each one is more interesting than the last. Friday, he recalled visiting Texas a few weeks before JFK was assassinated in Dallas, and hearing on several occasions that if the president were to follow through on his planned visit, he would not make it out of the Lone Star State alive. After returning to Boston, Costin traveled to Washington to meet with JFK and deliver the warning in person, but he was not able to connect with him and instead relayed the information to the president’s closest aides. Twelve days later, Kennedy was dead.

“I wept,” Costin said, sharing a lifelong lesson that remains with him. “If you’re going to do something, don’t depend on anyone else to do it. Do it yourself.”

Costin has spent a lifetime of getting things done, including in the 27 years in which he has been “retired,” though he has never quite fit the role of retiree. He has been a driving force with the Lynn Business Partnership, serving as chairman of its Transportation Committee and tirelessly advocating for the extension of the Blue Line to Lynn.

After the ceremony — which included the presentation of colors by the Lynn English Marine Corps JROTC, the Pledge of Allegiance led by Costin’s grandchildren, a stirring rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” by Ute Gferer and “Taps” played by bugler Alex Payton, an English senior — Costin said the day was “beyond anything I thought would have happened, but I’m very happy and pleased it did.”

As were those who came to pay tribute to a giant of a man and one of this area’s last living links to a very special time in this country’s history.

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