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In praise of a life well-lived.

Byline: Dianne Williamson

One of the most remarkable displays of political courage I've ever witnessed occurred in 1993, when an angry crowd of more than 200 packed an auditorium to protest the siting of a group home in their neighborhood.

As is typical in such situations, the residents were apoplectic. Belligerent audience members shouted down mental health officials and demanded the plan be scuttled. Politicians played to the crowd and strongly denounced the home.

All except one.

"I would have to say I could not support stopping this kind of house in this or any other neighborhood,'' then-state Sen. Arthur Chase told the stunned crowd. Nor would he support a bill to ban group homes within 1,000 feet of a school, noting that it would keep such homes out of the city.

Later, I asked Chase why he showed up at the meeting when he knew he'd lose valued voter support. He shrugged and said he was elected to lead.

"You can't count noses and take a poll of how many are for and how many are against,'' he said.

An outspoken statesman with a shiny bald noggin and prominent nose of his own, Chase never counted many others. He was a pro-choice Republican in a Democratic state. He lost the support of police unions by supporting flagmen at construction sites. He filed legislation to abolish county government, calling it "a fat-filled layer of government'' that provides jobs for politicians' family and friends.

"I think I had a hell of a lot of nerve,'' he told me last week. "It's only now, that I have the chance to think about my life and what I'd do differently, I realize there's not much.''

At 84, the retired businessman and politician suffers from advanced heart failure and is receiving home hospice care. His breath is labored and he speaks in slow, soft whispers. But Chase said he's not afraid to die, perhaps because he's never been afraid to live.

"I feel very satisfied,'' he said, during an interview in his home on Kenilworth Road. "I'll leave this world with no guilt, and that's a pleasure most people don't have.''

This is not Chase's obituary or a recitation of his public service -- Worcester School Committee member, city councilor, state senator, founder of Chase Paper Co. and later Checkerboard Ltd. Rather, it's an acknowledgment of a life well lived and a career that brooked little compromise. It's a rarity that deserves our attention and gratitude.

His proudest accomplishment was the creation of the Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Science at WPI. Chase designed the elite academy and in 1992 sponsored the legislation. In June, the school dedicated its central gathering place as the Senator Arthur Chase Brickyard.

"So many things are not timeless,'' he said. "The academy? That's a legacy.''

He and his second wife, Elaine, have been married 12 years and have five children and 14 grandchildren between them. In 1997 he lost Wynne Chase, his wife of four decades, to cancer. "He's an extraordinary human being,'' Elaine said. "He's such a man of principle. He loves easily but wisely. An incredible number of people come to him for counsel.''

He said he would have changed his Republican party affiliation years ago but "the Democrats are no better.'' He admitted that he "lived on the float,'' as a young businessman, always in danger of bouncing checks. He said the hardest part about dying is not knowing what comes next.

"But so many people before me have died, and they made it through,'' he said.

He hasn't lost his sense of humor and he never abandoned his principles. His body is failing, but Arthur Chase is at peace.

"My mother used to say, 'I'd rather wear out than rust,''' he recalled. "I've lived a wonderful life. And I didn't rust.'' Contact Dianne Williamson at
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Williamson, Dianne
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 7, 2014
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