Eulogy of the Honorable Mayor Rosemary S. Tierney

Photo of Honorable Mayor Rosemary S. Tierney

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St. Lawrence Church
Interment – Riverside Cemetery, Fairhaven, MA

Good morning, thank you for celebrating Mayor Tierney’s life. We all live on GOD’s time, no one knows when their loved one will leave them. We only hope that they are at peace, and know that their family and friends cherished their time together, and loved them. Rosemary knew this with all of her heart. Her children Moira, Sheila, John, Matt and Kara were dedicated to their Mom. Rosemary’s sons-in-law and daughter-in-law, Keith, Robert, Doug and Patricia were fully part of her life. Her 9 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren all feel the loss of their grandmother. Rosemary loved her sister JoAnne and her sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Jean and Jim, as well as every one of her nieces and nephews. Rosemary’s husband and partner in life, her true love, Jack Tierney, who she married in December of 1956, passed away almost 5 years ago, and never a day went by without her deeply missing him. She is now in heaven with Jack, her parents, her grandson David Sosnowski, her sister-in-law and brother-in-law Mary and Bill Burns, her niece Annemarie Warren, her nephew Ian Tierney, and all family members and friends who went before her. Rosemary was a devout catholic and every day she prayed for each of her family members, now she looks after them from heaven. While not with us any longer, Rosemary will remain in our hearts forever.

Four score and seven years ago a most historic event occurred, Rosemary Kirby Seibert Tierney was born. The original four score and seven years ago brought forth a new nation. Rosemary’s four score and seven years ago brought forth a style of politics and public service to the City of New Bedford that changed our City’s course of history. Rosemary Tierney, also known as “Rosie” and Nana Rosie, impacted the lives of the people of New Bedford for seven decades. Rosemary and Jack moved to New Bedford in 1961. In the 1960s and early 1970s she was a teacher and administrator in our public schools, and at our public college. In 1970 she was elected to the New Bedford Democratic City Committee. Rosemary served our city as an elected School Committee member from 1971 to 1977. She was elected to the Governor’s Councilor three times beginning in 1984. In 1991 she was elected the 35th Mayor of the City of New Bedford. She was the first, and up to now, the only woman to be elected in the one hundred and seventy-three years of our City’s history. She was elected Mayor for 3 terms. After leaving office, she served for over 20 years as the City’s representative and Chairperson of the Crapo Hill Regional Refuse District. She was a lifetime member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee.

In the City’s elections of 2005 and 2011, Mayor Tierney actively campaigned for myself and John Mitchell. Her wise counsel to both of our Administrations was greatly appreciated and extremely helpful. So, in essence, while the Tierney Administration spanned the years from 1992 until 1998, she rebooted her style of government with the Lang 2.0 and the Mitchell 2.1 administrations.

There are three Mayors of New Bedford in attendance today. Everyone one of us was impacted by her presence, advice, and support.

Four score and 7 years, four score and 7 years, 87 years of a great life as a daughter, granddaughter, niece, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt and friend and 66 of those 87 years as a teacher and public servant. That is a heck of a commitment to public service.

Rosemary Tierney was authentic and genuine. You always knew where you stood with her. She grew up during the Depression in a family of little means, that instilled in her a sense of maturity and responsibility at a very young age. She was brought up to have a strong belief in her faith, family and country. She was proud of her Irish heritage. She was taught that everyone should have access to a quality education. She loved to learn. Her educational achievements were impressive: an athlete at St. Gregory’s High School in Dorchester, a degree from Emmanuel College. She attended graduate courses at Boston University and Southeastern Massachusetts University and studied and taught abroad in France. She also earned a Masters from Bridgewater State University. Her Masters was achieved while she worked and raised a family of five children. In 1996, she received an honorary law degree from Southern New England School of Law, now, UMass Law School. Add to this, all of her experiences which earned her a figurative Ph.D. in living life and giving back to the community.

As she and Jack began to have professional successes, she never forgot her upbringing and was fondly known as “Tenement Tess.” She was the smallest imposing figure that we have all run into. On a good day, on her tiptoes, she was 5 feet 2inches, and when soaking wet in boots and an overcoat, she weighed 110 pounds, but when she was engaged in an important activity, she hit like a 275 lb. linebacker.

Rosemary was a Harry Truman/John Kennedy Democrat. She was an old-style Ward politician, who understood that door-to-door neighborhood campaigning and personal relationships drove public policy. No one in the City has ever built coalitions to drive an issue like Rosemary Tierney. She was a leader, she was demanding, she was supportive, she built teams and she worked well with other leaders. She was respectful of opposing points of view. She was multi-dimensional; she could have lunch at “Your Dog Mill” with the everyday person and dine with the Queen that evening. She was book smart, street smart, sophisticated, but down to earth. She had boundless energy and was ever optimistic. She was the “near-empty glass will soon be overflowing” type of gal. Her personal touch was completely sincere and never dissipated. Rosemary was a woman of the people. Rosemary was a woman of profound faith. A highlight of her life was hosting the visit of Mother Theresa in 1995. Rosemary understood the enormity of the visit for herself and for the people of New Bedford.

As the Mayor, she had a great sense of humor. At a press conference, in order to speak eye-to-eye with her 6 foot 5 inch Community Development Director, Pat Sullivan, she stood on a chair and towered over him. She was never shy to point out the conundrum that you, or she, was approaching. She was mischievous in a mischievous and fun way. The Mayor would enlist anyone and everyone, regardless of their schedule, including City Councilor Brian Gomes, to drive the City’s M4 to whatever event she was headed to, and then make you the recruited driver an integral part of the event.

She fought for what she believed in, and fought harder for your cause if she saw an injustice. She was always loaded for bear. Mayor Tierney devoted her life to improving the lives of others and loved doing it – everyday. She believed that one person can make a difference and she made a big difference in our City. She was kind – she cared for the common, hardworking individual regardless of their plight in life. She loved kids – her own and everyone else’s. She was tenacious and tough as nails, and bold as brass but, in private moments, showed a sweet sense of humanity and tremendous empathy that is rarely seen in a public figure.

Her term as Mayor was highlighted by many notable achievements, the most important of which was bringing fiscal stability to city government. Her philosophy regarding City government was simple: every person deserved the highest quality of city services, a safe and clean neighborhood, effective community policing, and the finest fire protection possible. She oversaw a welcoming city for business.

On November 20, 1992, she unveiled her “Cornerstone for Change” initiative. She invited the public to build New Bedford from the ground up. Her emphasis was to improve the beaches, parks and recreational opportunities for the families and seniors of New Bedford. To upgrade infrastructure and roads, to improve the quality of life of our citizens to improve New Bedford’s business climate. To stimulate downtown development to be the center of New Bedford’s cultural life, including the development of the Star Store, and building a tourism economy.

The brick and mortar projects that she focused on were numerous and located all over the City. The New Bedford Art Museum stands out as a memorial to her, and her belief, that New Bedford would become the epicenter for arts and culture in New England. She believed that the Zoo was worth saving for every family in the City, and she set the Zoo on its modern course. She was far ahead of her time regarding the “broken windows theory” for providing the highest quality of life for the residents of New Bedford. While the Wampanoag Casino seemed far fetched 25 years ago, Mayor Tierney’s economic development model of providing jobs and tax revenue through entertainment casinos has come to full fruition in our Commonwealth. She championed the commuter train and public transportation. She focused on finishing the work of the Bullard Administration in building Fort Rodman/Fort Taber Park. The New Bedford National Historic District Park came about during her administration with her strong leadership.

She understood the importance of the environmentally responsible disposal of household and commercial trash and worked hard to help establish the regional Crapo Hill Refuge District. She oversaw the construction of the Dennison Memorial Community Center, a multi-purpose gymnasium, the Senior Citizen Centers in Brooklawn Park and Downtown. She championed the summer job programs for the City’s youth. She supported the creation of Youth Build. She worked tirelessly with our legislative delegations to bring Federal and State grants to our City.

Mayor Tierney never rested. She had a day job at City Hall dealing with each Department, their employees and the mission of City government. Her night job consisted of attending events throughout the City and state where she represented the goodwill and good wishes of all of our citizens. Her other 24-hour, 7 day a week job was being a wife, mother, grandmother, eventually great grandmother, and true friend to all that knew her.

Unique is a unique word, a special word, that means unlike anything else, one of a kind. Mayor Rosemary S. Tierney was unique. In fact, her picture is in Webster’s next to the word Unique. Twenty-two years after she left office, we have the benefit of time, which provides an overview of her 3 terms and her accomplishments. As the years have passed, Mayor Tierney’s Administration has held up very well.

Often at a funeral service, as we try to celebrate someone’s long and wonderful life, we arrive at a loss for words trying to describe our departed loved one and friend, but I am not going to try to narrate Mayor Tierney’s thoughts about her election as Mayor. Rather, I am going to read from her first inaugural address given on January 6, 1992 which explains in her own words how she was feeling the night she was sworn in as the first woman Mayor of the City of New Bedford (please imagine her distinctive voice as I read):

“The first thing a new Mayor should say to the people of the City is “thank you.” Thank you for electing me, for asking me to serve as chief executive of this old and honorable corporation, our City of New Bedford. These thanks are not just a hollow formality. I mean them. I recognize that this office of Mayor, to which I have just sworn an oath before God, to give my best efforts, is both a high honor and a strict responsibility. Both this honor and these responsibilities have been loaned to me, by you, and I understand very well that I am answerable to you, and that I have to live up to them, every day of my tenure in this office. I thank you for the honor and privilege of serving you as Mayor. I look forward to the challenge. Let me say also, that I take this office to be the office of the Mayor of all the people of this City. My politics and my policies are politics and policies of inclusion, and that means that I want, and ask for, the help of all of the citizens of this City just as I now offer my energies and skills to every citizen of New Bedford, from every neighborhood, in every walk of life, of every generation and gender, of all persuasions of politics and of religion, of every color, of every race, the happy, the hurt, the helpless, in a word, all of us. I will not be in anybody’s pocket, but I will be in everybody’s corner, and everybody will be welcome in mine.
The inauguration of a Mayor is always a historic event, but this one is especially so, since you have elected, and today have sworn in, the first woman Mayor of our City. My mother and mother-in-law, both of whom saw women receive the right to vote in their lifetimes, would have loved to have been here tonight. Our electorate understands, and has shown that they understand, that men and women are equally qualified to serve in any job that this City of New Bedford has to offer. And as the first woman in New Bedford highest office, I will feel a special obligation to be, for men and women alike, a proof of that understanding. I also feel a very special pride in you, for being one of the first municipalities in Massachusetts to translate your beliefs in equal opportunity for men and women into practical reality at the very top.”

If she was here today, she would want to thank all of her children for their love, support and sacrifices throughout the years, her grandchildren, her great grandchildren and the citizens of this City for their tremendous support and love for her as a person and as a public servant. She would also pause and say how much she appreciated every city worker, the police, the firefighters, EMS, teachers, para professionals, cafeteria workers, custodians, every DPW worker, every DPI worker, every clerk, every department head, her staff – anyone who ever got up in the morning and said “how can I make New Bedford a better place.”

To conclude, I again read from Mayor Tierney’s first Inaugurate speech, (imagine her voice):

“New Bedford with all its current struggling, is still a terrific City. We have the best, hardest working, and most community-minded, people anywhere. We have enormous unrealized potential, and we have marvelous resources of which the rest of the world is relatively ignorant. The years ahead will impose more sacrifices, will require the taking of more risks, will call for a revival again of our famous spirits of self-reliance and mutual aid. But we are a people who can and do survive, and grow, and we are a resilient people, always ready for the future, always up to the newest and most demanding challenges. Let’s revive our faith in ourselves, together. Let’s rekindle New Bedford’s light, let’s renew our faith in ourselves and with faith that God will provide The Mayor of the City of New Bedford with wisdom and courage to perform well, let’s go forward together!”

GOD bless Rosemary S. Tierney; may she rest in peace alongside Jack and GOD bless our City.

By Scott W. Lang