Arthur Paleologos (1924-2013)
NBC Nightly News’ legendary anchor, Tom Brokaw dubbed them “The Greatest Generation.” Arthur Paleologos, one of that generation’s few remaining members, died quietly on Tuesday of this week. He was eighty-eight.
During his 1980 swearing-in ceremony as Chief Magistrate of the Woburn District Court, Paleologos began his brief remarks by stating the simple principle that guided every aspect of his remarkable journey from the hardscrabble streets of Lowell, Massachusetts to accepting Governor Edward King’s nomination that day in the historic chamber of Boston’s storied State House.
“In the course of a lifetime, with working people,” he said, “you don’t accumulate very much money, or material things. But I’ve been blessed with riches beyond description, and they are all deposited in the balcony to my left—my family.“
Born of Greek immigrant parents who settled among the textile mills in Depression-ravaged Lowell, Paleologos—like many of his contemporaries—arrived at elementary school speaking only Greek. “It never ceases to amaze me,” he once joked, “how we ever got out of the first grade.” Nevertheless, he not only “got out” of first grade, but was double-promoted. “Believe it or not,” he recalled, “I never even saw the second and fourth grades.”
When he arrived at Lowell High School, Paleologos became an avid participant in the Lowell Brigade (a 1940’s version of Junior ROTC). By his senior year he rose from the rank of private to captain. In a local television interview after becoming Chief Magistrate, Paleologos fondly remembered the drill competitions which took place each Memorial Day on Lowell’s South Common.
He also recalled the hardship.
“In those days, a lot of people were out of work. It was very, very difficult to get along. When I was a junior in high school, in order to help my family, I got a job in the mill. I used my older brother’s name. I was 15 years old then and I got a job as a weaver. The only job they had was the late night shift--10pm to 6am—so I took it.”
He then recounted the routine.
“I’d go to work at ten o’clock at night. I’d come home at six. I’d wash up, have some breakfast, and then I’d go to school…I was delighted to do it—to help my father and mother. I wasn’t alone…working and trying to get an education. It was a little difficult, but we took it in stride.”
Paleologos was a decorated World War II navy veteran having served on a PT Boat in the Pacific between 1943 and 1945. After his honorable discharge from active duty, he attended Northeastern University and Suffolk Law School on the GI Bill.
During that time he met Janet Paicopolos, a Fisher Business School graduate and the daughter of another Greek immigrant family with a similar background that had settled in the nearby tanning town of Woburn, Massachusetts. They married in 1952. The newlyweds made their home in Woburn and had three children (Nicholas, Jonathan & David).
After getting married, Paleologos worked at the VA hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts while attending Suffolk Law School at night. He graduated in 1956 in the same class as his friend, the late Congressman Joe Moakley.
Upon passing the bar, Paleologos decided to quit his job at the VA Hospital and practice law full time. But his first year was a real struggle. “Nobody seemed to want a new lawyer,” he recounted. With three young children to care for and a struggling law practice, he sought a job with New York Life--selling insurance. Because the position required a car, Paleologos paid a visit to the Woburn Credit Union seeking a loan. The president at the time, was Attorney Jack Moss. That meeting changed the course of his life.
“I didn’t know he was a lawyer.” Paleologos remembered. “I wasn’t dressed very well and I needed a shave.” But Moss was so impressed with the young veteran and freshly minted lawyer that he offered Paleologos a job on the spot. Attorney Moss became an important mentor to Paleologos, affording him valuable courtroom experience that would have been otherwise impossible for him to attain.
For the next several years Paleologos tried hundreds of cases in the Woburn District Court. In 1970, he was offered the position of Assistant Magistrate there, and served in that capacity until Governor King appointed him Chief Magistrate in 1980. For the better part of three decades, the Woburn District Court became the center of Paleologos’ professional life. He often cautioned his fellow magistrates that “the power to give a policeman a piece of paper making it legal for him to break down somebody’s door and search their home…is an awesome responsibility.”
In addition, Paleologos took great interest and pride in the careers of his three sons--who were at the center of his life, as well as in the education and accomplishments of his five grandchildren.
Most of all, he brought his strong family values, solid work ethic, amazing life experience, boundless humility and a genuine common touch to every aspect of his public and personal life.
As he told the audience at his 1980 swearing-in ceremony:
“The district courts are the peoples’ courts. Our primary responsibility is to protect the public… I’m not going to stand here and tell you that I’m the most knowledgeable clerk in the system, because if I did, it wouldn’t be true…but I can promise you this: that I shall conduct myself with a profound sense of integrity, and with compassion and a sense of fair play for those people that come before our court seeking equity and justice.”