Hyannis's Robert Tucker: A Voice Of The People

Robert W. Tucker greeted the members of the Barnstable Town Council at a meeting last spring with an apology that he had missed a meeting.

Absence was a rare occurrence for the man, who identified himself meeting after meeting, year after year, during the public comment period of the council meetings as "Mr. Tucker of 63 Pleasant Street."

Although he never served on a committee, he was well known in the hallways of Barnstable Town Hall, and so word traveled quickly early Wednesday morning that Mr. Tucker, 66, had died of a heart attack at his home, just a few blocks from town hall in Hyannis.

Town Council President Frederick Chirigotis called Mr. Tucker, "the voice of the ordinary guy."

"We heard from him regularly and we'll certainly miss him," Mr. Chirigotis said.

Mr. Tucker, Mr. Chirigotis said, was one who "paid attention to things going on around town."

Approaching the podium with a purposeful step, his jet-black hair slicked back with a wide part, Mr. Tucker was often first to speak during the public comment section of town council meetings.

His topics covered a range of issues. One night he asked why a new commercial building was still vacant. Repeatedly he questioned why the council was not enforcing a zoning bylaw about overcrowding in rental housing.

Two of Mr. Tucker's main complaints were what he referred to as "unlegals," illegal immigrants, who did not have proper driver's licenses or registrations. He also repeatedly scolded the town council for not collecting excise taxes from unregistered drivers.

Town Council President Frederick Chirigotis called Mr. Tucker, 'the voice of the ordinary guy.'

At the September 6 town council meeting last week, Mr. Tucker said he was not planning to vote but decided to do so after a candidate visited his home and said he would do something about the excise tax situation.

"Every day you're losing revenue," Mr. Tucker said to the town council at that meeting. He ended his comments by asking the council to remember to "help the old people and try to be kind to them."

Mr. Tucker said what was on his mind. "He wasn't shy. He wasn't afraid to speak his peace," Mr. Chirigotis said. But he was always polite when he addressed the board, never raising his voice, Mr. Chirigotis pointed out.

Mr. Chirigotis said when he thinks of Mr. Tucker, the words "self-respect, honor and pride," come to mind.

"He had a unique way of putting things. He had an interesting perspective on what was going on in town. I thought he was pretty astute," Mr. Chirigotis said.

Strong Loyalty To Klimm

Mr. Tucker was steadfastly loyal to former town manager John C. Klimm and to his successor, Town Manager Thomas K. Lynch. During last year's political infighting in which the council voted to buy out Mr. Klimm's contract, Mr. Tucker spoke numerous times in support of the administration.

"He's a good man," Mr. Tucker would say of Mr. Klimm. He did not at all care for the council's votes to oust Mr. Klimm, believing the votes were unfair.

"That's not right," Mr. Tucker would say.

Mr. Tucker figured out a clever way around the town council president's admonition not to make personal attacks on the dais. Instead of using a councilor's name, Mr. Tucker would use their precinct number.

"I know what 'number five' has been up to and I don't like it," Mr. Tucker would say, his eyes averted from the Precinct Five councilor in question.

Mr. Tucker often said he was inspired to speak during public comment at town council by Eugenia Fortes of Hyannis, who also used to attend every meeting of the Barnstable Town Council before her death in 2006.

Mr. Tucker worked as a seasonal custodian for the Barnstable Senior Center, one of a number of custodial jobs he held with the town over the years.

'I think what he wanted was a place to belong.'

                                            Lynne Poyant 

At the senior center, he did maintenance work around the building, but spent much of his time sprucing up the landscaping, a job much appreciated by those who visited the center, according to Mary A. Enos, Principal Senior Services Division assistant.

"Bob did a great job. He helped beautify the gardens," Ms. Enos said. "He weeded and mulched."

Ms. Enos said Mr. Tucker's death was a great shock to the staff at the senior center, who had just seen him the day before.

As for Mr. Tucker's personality, Ms. Enos said, "Everybody here loved Bob. He was a character."

Mr. Tucker was also a hard worker, Ms. Enos said, and seemed to enjoy it.

After working outside in the summer heat, Mr. Tucker would occasionally come inside to cool off. Once inside, he would visit with the seniors and the staff. He had lunch at the senior center Mondays through Fridays and then he would return to work. "Bob didn't need a lot of supervision," Ms. Enos said.

Mr. Tucker's green thumb was also evident at his home on Pleasant Street, a handsome historic Greek Revival notable for its colorful gardens. Mr. Tucker, who was a basement tenant in the house, took care of those gardens as well in exchange for a break in the rent, Ms. Enos said.

A Difficult Time For Town Staff

Linda R. Wheelden, who works as the town manager's assistant, said when staff in the town manager's office learned of Mr. Tucker's death, "I have to say, we were all very emotional."

Shirlee M. Oakley, who also works in the town manager's office, said Mr. Tucker would bring the ladies individual chocolate samplers and other gifts, just to express his gratitude for their assistance, be it filling out a form or answering a question.

Ms. Oakley said Mr. Tucker made his rounds during the day, a regular routine of visiting various establishments, like Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's, both on North Street, where other older men congregated, talking about town affairs.

"He was just trying to figure out the day," she said.

No one knew precisely when Mr. Tucker moved to town, but Ms. Oakley said she believed he had lived in Barnstable for more than 40 years, because he once mentioned that he worked at a gas station near the Airport Rotary back in the 1970s.

Ms. Oakley said Mr. Tucker gave respect and he expected it back, especially when it came to greetings.

He took particular offense if he believed that someone he knew did not say hello when he saw them on the street. Once speaking before the town council he accused a town councilor of ignoring him outside town hall.

Mr. Tucker occasionally mentioned his health problems. "We knew he had a heart condition," Ms. Oakley said.

As far as anyone knows, Mr. Tucker never married and had no children. He was a veteran. Several people said they believe he grew up in Rhode Island and has at least one relative, perhaps a stepbrother, there.

Officials are still working to identify his next of kin. He had several cats. His colleagues at the senior center are working to place them in new homes.

When speaking before town council, he would often mention a friend of his, whom he referred to as "Helen from Dennis," who, according to Mr. Tucker, would question him about the workings of town government.

"My friend Helen from Dennis wants to know why you are doing a search when you have a town manager here. That's not right," he said when the town council was deciding whether to do a nationwide search for a new manager.

Ms. Enos said she believed "Helen from Dennis," was a friend of Mr. Tucker's whose yard he had tended. She, in turn, helped him with paperwork, read his mail and would write letters for him.

Tucker's Secret

Ms. Wheelden said Mr. Tucker eventually felt comfortable enough around the town manager's staff to let them in on a secret: that he could not read or write. 

"He didn't tell that to many people," Ms. Wheelden said.

She will remember him, she said, by an angel snow globe he once bought for her that she keeps on her desk. The globe had a message on it that Mr. Tucker said he had asked his friend Helen to read to him.

Barnstable Town Manager Thomas K. Lynch is on vacation this week, but Assistant Town Manager Mark S. Ells said he was alerted to Mr. Tucker's death first thing Wednesday morning.

Mr. Ells said, Mr. Tucker would, over the years, sometimes stop in to see him when he was director of the Department of Public Works, to discuss a matter. "He was very concerned with our community and, in his way, he wanted to play an active part in that. It was always a welcome visit."

'He was very concerned with our community and, in his way, he wanted to play an active part in that. It was always a welcome visit.'

                                                        Mark Ells

Stephen J. Sundelin, head of the town's Structures and Grounds division, said Mr. Tucker seemed to genuinely enjoy working for the town, especially the social element of getting out of the house to talk to people. He was "very civic-minded. He always had an opinion," Mr. Sundelin said.

Lynne M. Poyant, Barnstable Community Services director, said she was saddened when she heard that Mr. Tucker had died in his home. "The one thing he was afraid of was dying alone," she said.

Once, when she heard him express concerns about elderly people being alone, she arranged for the senior center to do a "reassurance" call to his home, a service to check on those who live alone. Mr. Tucker said he was not interested in being called, though, Ms. Poyant said.

Ms. Poyant, who attends town council meetings, said she had once offered Mr. Tucker candy that she brought for her staff to help them make it through a particularly long meeting. He declined the candy, saying he was diabetic, so she offered him almonds instead, which he happily took.

Ms. Poyant said, she believes Mr. Tucker felt it was his civic duty to attend town council meetings and speak his mind. But he may have also been looking for something else.

"I think what he wanted was a place to belong," Ms. Poyant said.

Ms. Wheelden agreed. Without family nearby, "the Town of Barnstable was more like family for him," she said.

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