When Tom Hoover was city manager, I used to drive him crazy. If we were speaking at the same event, knowing that Tom was a transplant from Ohio, I would often reference that “Worcester is my home.”
In my comments I would say that Worcester was where I was raised, where I went to school, and where I was raising my children. I said it with great passion because I felt strongly about it. People in the audience always responded warmly.
Poor Tom Hoover. He would get so self-conscious about my comments, because he wasn’t from Worcester, that he would try to make excuses. “Well, I wasn’t born in Worcester, but we chose Worcester as a place to live,” he would say. No one else seemed to notice that he was so uncomfortable. But, I have to admit, I did enjoy torturing him just a bit.
All kidding aside, I am a Worcester guy. I know everyone does not love our city, but I truly do. Oh sure, there are things that we should fix: Worcester could be much cleaner, our roads and sidewalks could be in better shape, and Kelley Square is a mess. But, warts and all, Worcester fits me perfectly.
Why I love Worcester
I love going to dinner on Shrewsbury Street or taking my grandchildren to Elm Park. I love watching the fireworks from East Park and being able to catch a world-class show at the Hanover Theatre.
I love our colleges and universities and the diversity of our citizenry. I love that Worcester is a relatively safe place and that although we are a city, Worcester is a place where everyone knows almost everyone else.
I am excited about the new developments in our downtown and I am anxious to see what changes are still to come. And I love that we are in the middle of everything, that after a short drive you can get to so many wonderful places in New England but still make it home to sleep in your own bed.
But more than the attractions and our location, a big part of my affinity for Worcester is my great respect for all that the city and its citizens have done for me. My father was a disabled World War II veteran. My mother was an immigrant. We never had much. But the good citizens of Worcester made sure my brothers and sisters and I had a place to live, food to eat, good schools to attend, and parks to play in.
When it came time for me to attend college, I wanted to stay in Worcester. Both of my degrees are from Worcester schools: Worcester State College and Clark University.
Then I decided to serve the city, and ran for a seat on the School Committee. Over the next 30 years, I ran for and served the city as a member of the School Committee, City Council and as mayor.
When I campaigned, I went to neighborhoods I had never been to. After I was elected, I went back to those same neighborhoods and tried to help improve the neighborhood school and make the community better, safer and stronger.
I have always been a bit overwhelmed by the fact that so many people, many of whom I did not even know, voted for me and counted on me to help improve their communities. I realize that I am not all that special, but to have people trust you to lead them and their government, at least for me, forms a bond that is hard to break.
When I was in office, I always took any criticism of Worcester very personally. I have argued with leaders at The Boston Globe because they always seemed to ignore our city. I fought with executives at the major Boston television stations who often had trouble even finding Worcester.
I remember the day back when I was a young city councilor that my favorite weatherman, Dick Albert, on WCVB Channel 5, was following the track of a tornado. As he drew the path of the storm with his finger, he turned to co-anchor Natalie Jacobson and said “Nat, if it stays just to the west of us, we will be fine.”
Of course, the path that he drew, for the desired route of the storm, was right through the city of Worcester. I called the station, furious. “Hey pal, you’re rooting for the storm to pass through my house!” Of course, the station manager was very apologetic.
After I left City Hall, I went to work for the Worcester Housing Authority. I often referred to the families who lived in those apartments as “our families” and the children as “our children.” To me, they were. It was all a part of being a Worcester guy.
A family during tragedy
On Friday, Dec. 3, 1999, Worcester experienced a tragic fire. We lost six brave firefighters that night. As mayor, one of my most important responsibilities during the days following the fire was to speak for the city and its citizens.
I did not have to look far for my inspiration. All around me, I saw a city reaching out to ease the pain of the families who lost a husband, a dad, a son or a brother. I saw a city holding our remaining firefighters in its arms as their brethren searched the rubble for the remains of their lost comrades.
Long before there was “Boston Strong,” Worcester showed the country what it meant to be part of something very special. As mayor, I could not have been more proud of our people.
When it came time to finally leave Worcester
Now that I am retired and our children are grown, my wife and I talked about packing up and moving to the Cape. A number of our friends have retired there.
Over the summer, we looked at dozens of homes – my wife looked at hundreds in her online search. Finally, we found a great place, not far from an open ocean beach, at a very reasonable price.
To be honest, it was almost exactly what we were looking for. But when the time came for me to go to sign on the dotted line, I hesitated. My wife and I agonized for 48 hours over what to do. This new home was too good to pass up.
There was only one thing holding us back – I could not leave Worcester. In my head, I know that buying that new home was the smart decision, the better financial decision. But in my heart, I just could not do it. Oh sure, we can spend a few weeks away on vacation, but leaving Worcester permanently was something else.
After all is said and done, Worcester is where I belong. It may not be a perfect place, but for me, it is the only place.
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A few weeks ago, some wiseguy tried to give me a cheap shot, leaving a comment on one of my columns about President Trump.
“Steve” wrote: “… little ray never made it out of worcester.”
Well Steverino, I am not “little Ray” — that would be my grandson. And with a 6-foot, 4-inch son, I am not even “big Ray” anymore. So I guess I will have to settle for “old Ray.” I’m good with that.
As for leaving Worcester, the truth is that whenever I have had a chance to leave, it always came down to one thing: Worcester is my home. It is where I am most comfortable, where I belong. I could have left, but I never really wanted to.
My children went to college outside of Massachusetts. They have moved on to other places. They have wonderful careers that take them all around the country and the world.
But, for me, it’s like Dorothy said in the “Wizard of Oz”: “There’s no place like home!”
Editor’s note: We hope you’ve enjoyed this free preview of Ray’s unique perspective and unmistakable candor. Be sure to check back in coming weeks to find out how you can keep on reading Worcester’s best commentary without becoming a Sun member when the preview ends. Ray can be reached via email at Mariano@worcester.ma.
Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown and global issues that impact it every week in the Worcester Sun. His column will appear weekly in the Sun’s print edition, on newsstands Saturdays.