Newburyport, Thoughts on the Appointment of Byron Matthews

I can imagine that people who have lived in Newburyport, Massachusetts a “short” time wonder what in the world all the whoop-la is about Byron Matthews being picked for the board of the NRA, and what in the world a “good old boy” could be.

Bill Plant, who served as the editor of the Newburyport Daily News for many years, has a description of “good old boys” in the Newburyport Daily News, October 6, 2003, and he has this to say:

“Most of those who participated in what became the economic recovery of Newburyport between 1950 and the end of the century knew one another because there was little movement in or out of communities at that time. They could be separated by age groups, but, in the main, those who are sometimes referred to as the “good old boys” were in their 30s as they began to move through careers and public service after World War II. We not only knew one another, we often had family relationships on some level. That was true of my family and that of Byron Matthews.”

Mr. Plant also indicates in the same article that it was this generation that replaced that of Andrew J (Bossy) Gillis’ time ( and Bossy Gillis is a whole other series of posts.) There is an indication in the article that there was great pride in this generation that they took this initiative and also were the ones that began turning Newburyport around with Urban Renewal in the 1970’s.

Byron Matthews served as mayor of Newburyport, Massachusetts for a 5 year term from 1968-1978, the longest anyone has ever served in the corner office. Mr. Matthew oversaw much of the restoration of historic downtown Newburyport, and by all accounts was an excellent mayor.

When I moved here in 1981, the “good old boys” were a closed community that “newcomers” just could not penetrate. There was a definite wall. It has always been my impression that as more and more newcomers arrived in Newburyport as a result of Urban Renewal, that a resentment of not being let into this inner community festered and grew.

When Mayor Lisa Mead, a young women of 32 from Ohio, was elected mayor in 1993, for a newcomer, it was like the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. It finally felt as if Newburyport was now our town too and finally we also had a “voice.”

Also, part of the story is that Lisa Mead defeated Byron Matthews in her second term as mayor of Newburyport, Massachusetts. It must have been an extremely bitter pill for Mr. Matthews to swallow after everything that he had contributed to the community. It must have felt as if “history” had been erased.

Ever since I’ve lived here I have felt that there has been this incredible tension between these two groups within the community of Newburyport, Massachusetts, the “new comers” and the “good old boys.”

Many, many “newcomers” felt that Mayor John Moak was “one of them,” and that their voice was going to continue to be heard. So, I think it came as a shock to find out that Byron Matthew, to quote the Newburyport Daily News, March 21, 2006, is a “long time friend and mentor” to Mayor John Moak.

I think that there is a great deal of fear that this appointment is an indication that the “voice” of the “newcomers” will no longer be heard, and their many contributions will be discounted, if not wiped out. And that the disappointment that Mr. Matthews must have felt when he was defeated by Lisa Mead could cloud his ability to be objective, appreciative and embrace the point of view of those of us who have moved here as a result of all his hard work and vision.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport