from ‘The Park Bill Becomes Law’: Ray LaPorte’s Story

Here’s another excerpt from the book about the origin and impact of Lowell’s national park that I’ve been working on for the past two years. With luck, the book will be available by the end of 2014. The search is on for a publisher that can distribute the book widely, probably a university press because of the specific subject. The following is from a sidebar feature about Lowell native Ray LaPorte’s experience in Washington, D.C., helping then-Congressman Paul Tsongas get the Park legislation passed. The diary continues through the final votes in Congress. Ray worked for the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission and now lives on Martha’s Vineyard.—PM

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Ray LaPorte, c. 2010

from “The Park Bill Becomes Law: A Staff Diary” in Mill Power: Reclaiming Lowell’s Place and Story

     Ray LaPorte finished his master’s degree requirements in Political Science at The New School in New York City in December 1977, and went home to Lowell for the holidays to figure out what to do next. At 26 years old, he says, ‘the school gig was up’ and he needed meaningful work. He had been away from Lowell at boarding school and college in Worcester, and spent summers at his family’s beach house in Seabrook, N.H. Despite being a fourth generation Pawtucketville neighborhood native, and having played along the Merrimack and its canals as a kid, he did not feel rooted in the place. Bored at Christmastime, he became curious about the Park chatter in the newspaper. His mother urged him to talk to Pat Mogan at City Hall. Without an appointment, he dropped in on for a talk, but Mogan did all the talking.

“’I was spellbound by his enthusiasm, intrigued by the community planning efforts, and dumbfounded at how little I knew of Lowell’s history,’ says LaPorte. ‘When he said that all further action about the Lowell Park legislation was to be in Washington, D.C., I knew where I was headed after New Year’s Day.’

“LaPorte arrived in D.C. with no money, no place to stay, no job, and no plan other than to deal his ‘woeful deck of resume cards around Capitol Hill with enthusiasm and a smile.’ He roamed the halls of the Capitol until he found the office of his member of Congress, Paul Tsongas. The appointment secretary told him to come back the next day, which he did—waiting almost all day until Tsongas returned from committee meetings and floor votes. ‘In a flash, there I was sitting alone with Paul, who was fully engaged in my story, interests and our shared Lowell childhoods and families,’ says LaPorte. A week later he was in place as an intern. Following are excerpts from a diary he kept during the run up to the passage of the Park legislation.

“January 27, 1978: Lunch in the Members’ restaurant with the Congressman. I was assigned to work with legislative aide Fred Faust on Park legislation. We conferred with the House subcommittee staff about final draft language of the Lowell Park bill.

“February 16: Met Karen Carpenter of Human Services Corporation and Pat Mogan at the Health, Education, and Welfare Dept.’s Teacher Corps office; I ran back to office afterwards, so missed a surprise meeting they had with Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus! Got things ready for hearings. Met Lowell City Councilors Ed Kennedy and Ray Lord, City planner Bob Malavich and Lew Karabatsos of the Lowell Museum.

“February 17: Subcommittee hearings from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  A love-in, favorable hearing. The NPS is supportive, but they want to do it their way, meaning scattered sites for Park activities instead of an intensive-use zone covering the core of the city—and less money. Pat Mogan, Lowell City Councilor Sam Pollard, and mill operator Ted Larter were excellent.  . . .”

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