“Being Paul Tsongas’ Brother-in-Law” by Jim Peters

Frequent contributor Jim Peters shared the following essay with us:

Where to begin: Well, first let us begin with a truism, it is hard being related to a famous person because you live your life in the open and sometimes you lack privacy and some of the other essentials. I once asked Paul how he did it, live in a fishbowl, and he said, “You get used to it.”

I met Paul before I met his little sister, Vicki, who became my wife. I was interested in politics, and I had a mutual friend with Paul named Daniel Brosnan. Danny is still a good friend of mine and does an excellent job in finance at UMASS-Lowell. When we were about sixteen, Danny asked me if I wanted to meet Lowell’s newest City Councillor, and I unabashedly said “Yes!” We bicycled to Paul’s home on Highland Avenue where he and sister Thaliea were born, or to be more accurate, where they came home to after their birth in a hospital. At their birth, their parents sent out a cute little card announcing the birth of twins. But I digress. Danny and I turned onto Highland Avenue and, not at all to my surprise, my life changed because I met a man of integrity and honesty who would become one of my best friends.

My first visit to Paul’s home was not without its drama, however. After we had stayed there an inordinate amount of time, I told Danny that we should go as Paul was taking a shower and we were bothering his new bride, Niki. Danny whispered, “No, he will be out in a minute.” And he was. By his own admission, he was more than a little surprised seeing us both still there on the couch, waiting for him.

Niki was marvelous, making small talk to us, the heathen brotherhood, and trying to explain to Paul all that had transpired or been said during Paul’s absence. He was politely glaring at us and I got up and insisted that it was time for us to go. So we went. Years later Paul would repeatedly tell that story, maybe to get my goat, and maybe to say how funny and you can read strange into that, we were.

My next introduction to Paul continued to be through Danny. Danny got the job of being the Ralph-Tsongas-Counihan driver for the campaign for County Commissioner and County Treasurer. As such, he carried all of the literature for the campaign, and got me to ride along. We often parked the van in front of our respective houses, his on Harris Avenue in the Highlands and mine on Pine Street, also in the Highlands. We were committed. We were perhaps somewhat commitable, but I leave that to more understanding minds than mine to decide.

We campaigned hard through the summer and it seemed hopeless. There were just too many southern county aristocrats in Cambridge and its environs. As my last desperate task, I passed out five hundred brochures throughout the Highlands. This is something I do for many candidates that I have worked for, and it works out well. On the day or so before the Final Election Day, the famous County Courthouse, a huge skyscraper of eighteen stories, slipped on its foundation. It made it into all of the newspapers in the area along with a story that S. Lester Ralph, the Mayor of Somerville, Paul E. Tsongas, the City Councilor from Lowell, and Mr. Counihan had been railing at the inconsistencies of that building for the past year. Its structural difficulties would become a major story in the campaign and the timing of the building lapse was listed as a reason that Ralph and Tsongas won. Poor Mr. Counihan lost.

Paul’s humor was also part of the story. When asked what had been the reason for running for County Commissioner he joked, “I needed a parking space on the days I appear in court and that was the best way to get one.”

At this point, I was not even aware that Paul had a younger sister, let alone one who was to me, at least, the most beautiful girl in the world. I would learn about that later.