Remembering Phyllis Hull

17Jan18

It’s my favorite photo of Phyllis Hull.

It’s Veterans Day, 2011, and she’s standing at the podium on Veterans Memorial Common, about to make her dedication speech in front of the just unveiled, brand new World War II Monument.

She’s beaming, and she had every right to be proud. She was the first to say that she didn’t do it alone, but no other single person was more responsible for the creation of that monument.

It was she who brought the idea of replacing the old World War II Memorial to the Board of Selectmen after a couple of World War II veterans approached her about the condition of the crumbling old wooden memorial. She chaired the committee that the selectmen appointed to study the feasibility of replacing the monument.

In the hands of someone else, a project like that could have easily stalled. We’ve seen it happen time and again with worthy projects. Other things come up. People lose interest. Enthusiasm wanes. Phyllis was not about to let that happen to the World War II veterans.

“I want the new monument to be built while there are still World War II veterans alive to see it,” she’d say.

For three years, she spent most weekends and virtually every spare minute working to make it happen. With the help of other committee members, she’d set up a table in front of The Savings Bank, or in front of Caporale’s Liquors, or near Veterans Field. She’d sell T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and take donations to raise money for the new monument. She kept the mission front and center in front of the public.

Phyllis was elected to the Board of Selectmen three times. She won her first three-year term in 2006. She returned to the board in 2013. She lost her bid for re-lection in the spring of 2016, but won a Special Election in July 2016 to fill the remaining year on Betsy Sheeran’s term after Betsy was elected Town Clerk.

That brings me to another of my favorite memories of Phyllis. She collected the 200 signatures necessary to call the Special Election and then went before the Board of Selectmen to advocate for setting Special Election date in July.

Board members pleaded with her to wait and combine the Special Election with the state primary in September. People suddenly became fiscal conservatives, so worried were they about the $13,000-cost of a separate election. They also argued that more voters would participate in the September Primary than a July Special Election.

Phyllis wasn’t buying it.

“I don’t want to wait,” she told them, calmly and respectfully.

She won that July Special Election and was once again a Selectman. It was a title that she wore with pride. As a strong woman, she did not find the title threatening or offensive. And oh, by the way, the local turnout for that July Special Election was higher than the State Primary. Phyllis may not have been a typical politician, but she understood politics.

Typical politicians tell you what you want to hear and then do something else. Phyllis actually told you what she thought, and if you didn’t like it, well, that was too bad.

And plenty of people didn’t like what Phyllis had to say. Publicly, they called her “polarizing” or “divisive,” which were euphemisms for what they really thought of her.

She was called “divisive” for demanding that schools be maintained before we build new ones at great expense to the taxpayers. She was called “polarizing” because she spoke up on behalf of seniors who were being taxed out of their homes.

Phyllis’s plainspoken views would sometimes irritate those with delicate sensibilities. She grew up in Somerville and got good grades at Somerville High School. But, as she explained it, girls didn’t go to college in those days, especially girls from traditional Italian families. So she went to work.

She married John Hull and they lived in various places in the United States before settling permanently in Wakefield in the early 1960s with their daughter, Diane. After John Hull died in 1975 at age 48, Phyllis continued working – right up until two weeks ago.

“I can’t afford to retire,” she’d say. I believe her. But I also believe that she didn’t want to stop working. She always wanted to be doing something, and she loved being around people.

She would cook big Italian dinners for friends in her immaculate home and would not allow you to help her clean up. She’d get angry if you so much as tried to carry a plate to the sink. You were her guest and you’d best remember it. She was one of the most giving people I knew.

It took an accident to fell Phyllis Hull. It would have been fun to see how long she would have kept going, because in her 10th decade of life, she was showing no signs of slowing down. She was the first candidate to pull papers to run for Board of Selectmen again this coming April.

I would not have bet against her.

[This column originally appeared in the January 18, 2018 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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One Response to “Remembering Phyllis Hull”

  1. 1 Anthony Antetomaso

    One of the last local politicians worth my attention. She will be missed by Wakefield, but, unfortunately, not enough Wakefieldians. Goodby Phyllis! And thank you for everything.

    From one townie to another.


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