Voice of Brookline book jacket

October 2005. 6 x 9 Hardcover $28.00
528 pp. 104 illus. Fully indexed.
ISBN 1-931807-39-6.

Copyright © 2005 by Lawrence A. Ruttman. All rights reserved.

Voices of Brookline

by Larry Ruttman

Foreword by Michael Dukakis

What does one say when asked to write the foreword to Larry Ruttman’s extraordinarily entertaining and historical Voices of Brookline about his and my hometown on its three hundredth birthday–as a town father? I love this book because I share the same love and admiration for the town that helped to shape me that you find in virtually all of Larry’s interviews and stories, which I have read and reread.

I was the young reformer for so long that taking on this new role is a real switch. But at seventy-one years of age, with both a Social Security and a Medicare card and the right to ride Boston’s venerable public transportation system for thirty-five cents, it may well be time to assume that role.

I was born, like so many older Brookline residents, at the Boston Lying-In hospital on Longwood Avenue in Boston. Every day, as we used to say, was Labor Day at the Boston Lying-In. I left there at the age of six days; took up residence in a brick two-family house at 397 Boylston Street with my then three-year-old-brother and my parents; moved to South Brookline–what the Townies called “the Country”–six years later, and with time off for college in Pennsylvania and military service in Korea, have been a proud resident of the town all my life.

Like so many of the people about whom you will read in Larry’s book, I owe a great deal to the community in which I was reared, which I served in both local and state government, and where Kitty and I grew up, married, raised our kids, and still reside. Actually, although she was a freshman and I was a senior at the high school, I don’t remember ever meeting her there, although she says we met once briefly in the hallowed high school quadrangle. In fact, I used to chide Johnny Grinnell, my basketball coach and political mentor, Kitty’s home room teacher, and the first teacher who ever encouraged me to run for office, because he never introduced us when I was in high school. Of course, had he done so, I probably wouldn’t have been interested. I was a Big Man on Campus, and I would hardly have been interested in a freshman woman!

Fortunately for me, we met years later, and I fell head over heels in love. By that time, however, I was gearing up for my first run for legislative office, and I made sure she was in front of St. Mary’s Church for thirteen hours working the polls for her intended in the Democratic primary in September of 1962. When the votes were counted in that precinct and I had won by a decisive majority, I knew Kitty was the girl for me! And she has been ever since we took up residence as man and wife on Perry Street; raised three terrific kids, all of whom are products of the Brookline school system; and continue to live on the same street where we began our married life together in 1963.

Why do I love Larry Ruttman’s stories about me and my fellow citizens? Because it informs us in a flowing style of all the facets of Brookline life going back as far as the eldest among us. Reading Larry’s Voices of Brookline, it is clear that three things among many stand out about those of us who have had the great good fortune to live in our town. First, the town’s commitment to educational excellence is absolutely fundamental. It is why our parents moved here. It is why there was no question when we were married that Kitty and I wanted to live here, too.

Read, for example, Larry’s story on Bob Weintraub, headmaster of Brookline High School, and you will discover what it is about this terrific educator that makes him the man he is–a commitment to children, an instinctive sense of optimism, a powerful belief that good people, working together, can make a difference in the lives of children and the lives of their fellow citizens.

Bob is not alone. The best teacher I ever had was Kate O’Brien, my French teacher, and the longtime head of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages at the high school. What a woman! And what a teacher! If you didn’t come out of her classes with a perfect French accent, there was something wrong with you.

The second thing that stands out about the town, and which comes through so loudly and clearly in Larry Ruttman’s stories, is the commitment of its citizens to their community and the opportunity the town meeting form of government has given us to participate actively in its governance. I teach these days during the winter months at UCLA in Los Angeles. It’s a great place to teach and a great place to spend the winter, but Los Angeles has only fifteen city councilors, each representing districts with approximately two hundred and fifty thousand people! How does one get into the politics of Los Angeles and run for office when it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars just to run for city council?

In Brookline, as Larry and I both know, all it takes is a comfortable pair of walking shoes, a bunch of brochures, and the energy to knock on the doors of your neighbors and greet them at the polls for thirteen hours on election day. If you do those things, chances are you will be elected to a town legislature of two hundred and forty town meeting members, participate actively in the government of the community, and represent your constituents in your neighborhood to the best of your ability.

But you don’t even have to be a town meeting member. As Larry’s informative and anecdotal stories on citizen participants like Chobee Hoy, Roger and Arlene Stern, Owen Carle, Ethel Weiss, and Ira Jackson make clear, there is probably no other community in which more people are more deeply involved in its civic life. Parks, schools, libraries, children’s services, the senior center, the Coolidge Corner Theater, the Brookline Arts Center in an old town firehouse–you name it, the people of the town are engaged and involved. We hope the town benefits, but in our heart of hearts we know that we are doing this for ourselves as well.

Finally, as you can quickly sense from these pages, especially in Larry’s story “Giuliani, Baseball and Brookline,” which my good friend and former congressman representing Brookline, Father Robert J. Drinan, called “nostalgic, illuminating, and indeed inspiring,” baseball played a huge role in the lives of all of us. Back in our youth, we had two professional teams in Boston, and many of us were within easy walking distance of both Fenway Park and Braves Field. I saw my first Red Sox game when I was four and a half, so waiting for the Sox to win a World Series has been a long ordeal indeed. But I also saw my share of games at Braves Field, including one during World War II where there were so few ballplayers available that the Braves first baseman wore a left-handed fielder’s mitt, and there was a one-armed center fielder playing against the Red Sox at Fenway.

This was in the days before the Little League, and we used to play ball on our local diamonds literally every day of the season. Each elementary school had sixth-, seventh-, and eighth- grade teams, and we played, and played hard. In fact, my brother Stelian and I were perhaps the only brother battery in Brookline school history–he pitched and I caught–and I remember we beat one team–I think it was Pierce–27-0.

Do I have concerns about the future of our community as Kitty and I live out our golden years? Yes, I do, but, then, I wouldn’t be a true son of Brookline if I didn’t. When we bought our house on Perry Street in 1971 in which we still live today (where else can one grow tomatoes and cucumbers in his front yard?), we paid twenty-five thousand dollars for our half of a brick duplex that consisted of two ten-room units with a common firewall. And that price at the time was not a bargain. In fact, the bank thought it was slightly overvalued. With today’s inflated values, what happens to the kind of solid middle class that lived in Brookline in our youth? What happens to young couples like us who today couldn’t possibly afford to live in the town? What happens to our teachers and cops and firefighters who increasingly must look elsewhere for housing?

That worries the hell out of me. I want other young couples coming along to have the same opportunity Kitty and I had to live in and bring up their families in this vibrant town. But we will continue to work together with commitment, as we always have, to make our community the very best place we can make it, and try the best we can to open it up to people of all incomes, faiths, and colors.

The future of Brookline will flow from the quality and variety of its citizenry rather than from accumulated bricks and mortar. That said, how better to understand the ever-developing character of our town in this tercentenary year than to listen to its citizens in the Voices of Brookline as told by Larry Ruttman, my friend of close to fifty years. This book provides a window to the extraordinary fabric of a very special place at this very special time.

Michael Dukakis
Los Angeles, California
February 19, 2005