For someone with such a sunny disposition, it was fitting that summer sunshine this morning graced the dedication ceremony for the Armand W. LeMay Garden at the corner of University and Gershom avenues in Pawtucketville. About 100 people gathered to share in the recognition of one of the most natural politicians that Lowell has ever seen. For 20 years he served on the City Council, including a term as mayor. For eight years, he was a commissioner of a federal agency called the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission. He held high administrative posts in state government. For many years, he successfully operated the LeMay Company, a construction firm. Armand was one of the originators of the Franco-American Day Committee, which has grown into an annual weeklong celebration. He played a critical role in the development of both Lowell Heritage State Park and Lowell National Historical Park. Next time you walk on Vandenberg Esplanade on the north bank of the Merrimack or bring visiting relatives on a historic trolley ride downtown, say thanks to Armand LeMay for the thousands of hours he invested in the development of these resources for Lowell and for his leadership in preserving our cultural heritage.
The surprise of the morning for me was the appearance of former Massachusetts governor and Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States Michael S. Dukakis, a close friend of Armand and Connie LeMay’s. Governor Dukakis, of course, said nobody should have been surprised to see him there because he would not have missed the event. He praised the experience of running for office and serving if fortunate enough to be elected—and encouraged everyone to get involved. His wife, Kitty, was unable to be at the event because she was campaigning with a candidate running for state senate. Later, when Armand spoke, he said there were 52 candidates for City Council when he first ran in the 1960s. The gathering was loaded with current and past councilors, two former city managers (Dick Johnson and Jim Campbell), and many other community leaders, neighbors, and admirers of Armand or “Dad,” as former councilor and son Curtis LeMay called him when he shared master-of-ceremony duties with Mayor Rodney Elliott. The mayor recounted Armand’s heroics in 1972 when he saved two children from a burning car involved in an accident on Riverside Street.
State Sen. Eileen Donoghue and Rep. Tom Golden offered tributes from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Councilor Bill Martin reviewed Armand’s impressive political career. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas brought a flag that had flown over the Capitol for Armand’s 35-foot flagpole at his home, the same house in which he grew up. Niki said she hoped Armand would sing “O Canada” (the music having been written by old-time Lowellian composer Calixa Lavallee)—and Armand did not disappoint as he led the crowd, rich in French Canadians, in singing the Canadian anthem. City Parks and Recreation Director Tom Bellegarde and his team did a fabulous job sprucing up the planting bed around the broad-faced stone bearing the words “Pawtucketville Champion” and a bit about Armand’s public service in the city he loves. The Pawtucketville Social Club across the street hosted the pre-game reception and stayed open for attendees after the dedication ceremony.
As someone who had an opportunity to work with Armand on heritage and preservation projects, I always admired his optimism, can-do attitude, fierce devotion to the community, and the way he made public service, whether in elected or administrative or volunteer position, part of the “pursuit of happiness” that we as Americans are supposed to be all about.