Recalling a True Chelmsford Townie
CHELMSFORD -- A man as good as his word, who made everyone feel valued.
That’s how many in town will remember Paul Hart, the former farmer, businessman and selectman who died unexpectedly Dec. 18 at age 76 after a bout with cancer.
“His word was good,” said Helen Hart, his wife of 43 years. “If he said he’d do it, he did it. If he said he couldn’t, he’d tell you why.”
“He was a very level-headed Yankee,” said longtime friend and former Police Chief Ray McCusker. “Paul was very bright and he used his moral judgment as a selectman, a father and a businessman. If Paul gave you his word, you could take it to the bank.”
A true townie and lifelong resident of Chelmsford, Paul raised his children in town and contributed to it in many ways.
Born Aug. 26, 1942, he came into a family well-known in town for farming and politics.
His father, Daniel “D.J.” Hart, also served on a number of local boards and on national committees under three presidents. The two would farm together at Hart Farms, which grew produce at a number of locations around the area.
Longtime friend John Harrington grew up next door to Paul. They played on the same Little League team and worked together at the farm at about 10 years old, earning a 25 cents an hour, Harrington recalled.
“Paul liked to be known as the gentleman farmer,” Harrington said. “He was a big fellow. People might be intimidated by his size, but he was a nice and caring individual.”
Paul met Helen through mutual friends, and the two married March 1, 1975, at St. Margaret Parish in Lowell.
Paul had long days as a farmer, even longer when he had Board of Selectmen meetings.
“When we were first married, he’d be gone at 5:30 a.m. and get back at 6 p.m.,” Helen said. “Board of Selectmen meetings used to be twice a week. He’d come home, eat, shower, change and be out the door.”
But he was “a very good provider” while Helen took care of the home and their three children. They felt he always made time for his family, and was their biggest fan at sports and other activities.
At his last Thanksgiving, Paul -- who was never the sentimental or overly mushy type -- gave thanks for his long partnership with his wife and being able to spend the holiday with all of his loved ones, said sons Chris and Dan Hart.
“That’s something I’ll always remember and I’ll always cherish,” Chris said. “It meant a lot to him and it meant a lot to us.”
One of the longest-serving selectmen in town history at 15 years, Paul’s longevity was matched only by Bill Dalton.
During his 1971 to 1986 tenure, the Board of Selectmen was a strong board and ran all aspects of the town. Paul was the force behind a number of changes, including outsourcing trash pickup, Harrington said. That particular move wasn’t immediately popular because it eliminated some personnel, but in the long-run saved the town a lot of money, he said.
One year, then-Gov. Edward King came to one of Hart’s campaign fundraisers, Harrington recalled. It was “a big deal” when King arrived in Chelmsford by helicopter, landing at the McCarthy School, at that time the high school, he said.
About 1986, Paul purchased the Glenview Pub and Grille in North Chelmsford, running it for a decade before retiring in 1996. The restaurant was a haven for his children’s friends and sports teams, and a first job for many.
It was also a fun place for the parents, said McCusker, whose son played on baseball and basketball teams with Dan Hart. They’d end up there after games for a bite to eat and a laugh -- even after late games played during blizzards, the Glenview would be open for them, he said.
Everyone in the family worked at the Glenview at some point -- though Dan Hart had the shortest tenure at only two weeks.
As a high school student, Dan Hart preferred to hang out and watch games at the restaurant rather than work, and Paul saw it as the perfect opportunity to teach him a valuable lesson. He fired Dan and hired one of his friends, who ended up working there five years.
“That’s how he raised us,” Dan said. “You don’t make excuses. If you don’t get better at a job, someone else will take it.”
In 1989, Paul called fellow businessmen Harrington, Ed Duffy and Charlie Parlee together for the meeting that would be the start of the Chelmsford Business Association. The CBA officially formed in 1990, and continues to be a force today, led by Harrington as executive director.
“Paul Hart was the lightning rod that got that going,” Harrington said.
In his later years, Paul enjoyed spending time with his five grandchildren.
“He loved being able to spend time with them at the pool, at the beach in Florida,” said daughter Elizabeth Goguen. “He was just such a great grandfather. The kids loved being around him.”
Helen said Paul had never been sick or in the hospital for the vast majority of his life, but was in his final weeks.
In September, he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma at the base of his tongue, and began radiation and chemotherapy at the Lowell General Hospital Cancer Center. He had no complications until the fifth week of treatment, she said.
The combination of the cancer treatments and his diabetes left him weak and he was in and out of the hospital for three weeks, Helen said.
On Dec. 18, Paul was happy to be home and watched the Bruins game with son-in-law Dan Goguen before collapsing later that night, she said. Goguen, a Chelmsford police officer with EMT training, aided his father-in-law before help arrived, but Paul later died at the hospital.
“Paul lived a long life,” Helen said. “He got to see his children grow and get married. He got to know his grandchildren, and they knew him. That’s a good life.”
Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.