Great Story from the Sun on the award to Mr Berube. Front page story, excellent work.
30 Years After He Retired, Dracut’s ‘Everyman’ to Be Honored
By Todd Feathers, [email protected]
Hector Berube, winner of Dracut’s Joseph Bradley Varnum Award, at his home on Monday afternoon. Berube was valedictorian of his class and an athlete at Dracut High School just before entering the Navy and serving in the Pacific in World War II after Pearl Harbor was bombed. SUN/JOHN LOVE
DRACUT — When Hector Berube appears before the Board of Selectmen on March 22 to receive the Joseph Bradley Varnum Award, it will be the first time he’s set foot inside Town Hall — any town hall — since he retired in 1986.
But for the 40 years Berube served as assessor, town clerk and tax collector, Dracut’s business was his business. He was there when Town Meeting voted to approve Dracut’s first stoplight — at Lakeview Avenue and Pleasant Street. He was the first town employee to use a computer.
His house was a satellite office where his spare time was unpaid overtime. His children sat on the floor and stuffed hundreds of tax bills into envelopes. He performed marriages there, and issued everything from dog to pistol licenses.
If someone couldn’t make the trip to his home or Town Hall, he went to them. If someone couldn’t pay their tax bill, he often paid it for them.It was, as he says, a different time. And it was all recorded in Hector Berube’s tight, black-ink scrawl.
“He was a quiet type of person,” said Don Morowski, who nominated Berube for the award. “He wasn’t flamboyant or anything. He never played the game of politics. He was a straight shooter.”
“When you look at the guy and what he did for the town, it was actually incredible. He was the perfect employee,” Morowski added.
Berube is now 93, although he rounds up to 94 for the sake of his life insurance actuary, and his doctor tells him he’ll live to be 114.
He was born in Dracut on July 29, 1922. At the Greenmont High School he lettered in football and baseball. He was class president three out of his four years and graduated as valedictorian.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Berube and a friend were walking back to Dracut from a movie in Lowell when they heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.
He soon signed up for the Navy and was off to the South Pacific, where he participated in some of World War II’s most famous battles.
He and his fellow sailors watched as five Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman raised an American flag over the island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. It didn’t seem particularly important at the time.
“We didn’t even think about it. We just said, ‘Hey look, they’re doing something,'” Berube said.
At the time, he was more focused on the room-sized shells whistling overhead and the typhoons that rocked his small ship so violently that he tied himself to the depth-charge rack on the bow to keep from drowning in case it capsized.
After recuperating from an undisclosed injury at Chelsea Naval Hospital following the war, Berube returned to Dracut unsure of what to do next. One day he walked down the stairs to breakfast to find his father’s friend sitting at the table.
Hector Berube, far left, with his Navy shipmates in World War II in the Pacific. Watch video on this story at lowellsun.com. courtesy photo
Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
“He says to me, ‘Why don’t you go run for assessor of taxes.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘Oh, you’ll find out.'”
Berube went to the post office and bought 3,000 “penny” post cards for a total of $30 and mailed them out to voters. He still has a copy of his first campaign sign, and while it could not be independently confirmed, Berube claims to have pioneered the art of the campaign yard sign in Dracut.
He won, and for the next four decades he was Town Hall’s everyman. He visited nearly every property in town as assessor and at a time when there were no full-time police officers or firefighters, and the chiefs had to call in from payphones when they were out on a call, Berube served as the 911 dispatcher.
Hector Berube’s high School yearbook picture. courtesy photo
Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
He sat through Town Meetings that lasted five entire Saturdays, and his nights and weekends were devoted to the minutiae that made Dracut tick.
In 1949, Berube was out at a dance with some friends when he first met his future wife Francisca. He asked her for a dance even though he had “two left feet” at the time.
The couple would go on to marry, have three children, and became trophy-winning ballroom dancers.
The walls of Berube’s Frances Street home are covered in artfully arranged pictures of his family — from his parents’ wedding portrait to photos of his grandchildren.
The house is also a treasure trove of Dracut history.
“You go to Dracut House of Pizza or Primo’s, and people say, ‘I used to pay my taxes at your house,'” said Angelina Berube, Hector’s granddaughter, who stays with him during the day before going to work at night. “You get a good history lesson every time you’re in the car going through Dracut.”
Berube kept scrapbooks in immaculate detail from his high-school years, down to a graph of his batting stats in each baseball game. In black, leather-bound books with broken bindings, Berube devoted the same attention to every transaction he oversaw in Dracut.
The Joseph Bradley Varnum Award is given each year to someone who embodies “civic and patriotic spirit … through their volunteerism to the Dracut community or demonstration of love of country through military service.”
When Morowski read that description, he couldn’t think of a more perfect fit.
Neither, perhaps, could Donat H. Paquet, who dedicated a special section to Berube in his 1982 book, “The Photographic History of Dracut, Massachusetts.”
Next to a picture of Berube at his desk in Town Hall, Paquet wrote the following words: “humble,” “dedicated,” “honest,” “quite the avid dancer,” “our friend … always.”
“The qualifications by his picture are whisperings from the people who work with and around him,” Paquet added. “I could read in their eyes the admiration they have for ‘Hector.’ Their total respect. Reverence.”
Follow Todd Feathers on Twitter and Tout @ToddFeathers.