The Remembrance Project: Tony Winsor

Tony Winsor (Courtesy of the Winsor family)

Tony Winsor (Courtesy of the Winsor family)

Tony Winsor died November 4, 2013, in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. He was 77 years old, and a long-time lawyer for the liberal Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. He believed in an uncomplicated set of rights and wrongs, and, in 55 years of service, never grew discouraged when society didn’t change as rapidly as he thought it should.

Growing up, his parents were rare Democrats in a part of town where Republicanism ruled. When his father suddenly shifted alliances and voted for Eisenhower, Tony couldn’t fathom it. Politics called early, but not for personal ambitions. His ambitions were for others.

He trained volunteers to become court watchers who documented abuses of procedure, and he drafted legislation requiring the state to cover costs of low-income litigants. No political activity was too insignificant: leafleting doorsteps for campaigns, making phone calls for the ACLU, working the 7 to 9 a.m. polling shift on elections.

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After dementia descended, he couldn’t use Microsoft Word or voicemail on a cell phone — and these non-accomplishments left him feeling sad and unintelligent. But they would have been less necessary to his life’s purpose than serving on the board of the Prisoners’ Legal Services, or working pro bono cases for the Disability Law Center, or figuring out some anonymous way to send an indigent client some of his own money. (It was the most generous kind of laundering.)

He was a frugal man, and kept a log of purchases for years — how much a tube of toothpaste cost and how long the tube lasted. Yet he couldn’t refuse charitable requests, dozens and dozens and dozens of pleading envelopes.

Tony gave in other ways, too. When he and his wife hosted their annual Lawn and Sneaker Party, he served his “Mama Tone’s” famous rum punch. He also served his Mama Tone’s famous fried rice and famous hot fudge sauce. “None of this is precise,” his fudge sauce recipe says, “so you don’t have to be too persnickety.”

It was another way he lightly offered his knowledge.

The last movie he and his wife saw together before he died was “Lincoln.” Perhaps this was coincidental. Perhaps it was not.

Did you know Tony Winsor? Share your memories in the comments section.

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  • MelissaJane

    Oh, Elissa Ely. Again you bring me to tears.

  • Deb Thomson

    I had the privilege of working alongside Tony for many years. What a remarkable human being he was. Thank you for remembering him.

  • John Roberts

    Memorial Service Rememberences by John Roberts

    When I came to the Civil
    Liberties Union of Massachusetts as executive director in 1970, I found that I
    had inherited a two room office on Beacon Hill, and two salt-of–earth Irish
    women that composed the support staff, but I also found that my predecessor,
    Luther Macnair had left me a treasure, and that was a cadre of young attorneys
    that formed the backbone of the litigation program, the Board of Directors, and
    the committees at CLUM. That cadre, and some of you are in this room today,
    remained that backbone of the organization throughout my entire 32 year tenure
    at CLUM, and helped grow a small organization that had been attacked for years
    by the progeny of the Joseph
    McCarthyites, into a strong, progressive
    organization few dreamed was possible. At the center of that cadre of
    attorneys was a bright-eyed, busy tailed attorney named Tony Winsor who had a
    passion, enthusiasm, and vision of the possible that was contagious to all who
    worked with him.

    And in the best sense of the
    word, Tony was a character, a beloved bundle of energy who delighted us with
    his exploits. One day Tony came into my office to announce that he and I were
    related. “Oh”, I responded, “and how is that”. “We are related thorough John Alden
    going all the way back to the Mayflower”, he announced.

    Exactly how Tony found that
    out I do not remember, but it sounded very possible to me because my mother had
    meticulously traced our family geneology back to the Mayflower so I knew that that
    relationship through John Alden was indeed possible. From that day on Tony
    always referred to me as “Cousin John”, and I loved even the possibility that I
    was related to Tony Winsor, although I told him that the way our ancestors
    treated the native population perhaps the Mayflower connection was not
    something that we should announce too broadly, at least not in the circles we
    traveled in.

    And Tony delighted us with
    his, shall we say, extra curricular activities whether it was organizing tennis
    matches, promoting progressive political candidates (remember how early he came
    out for Fred Harris for President), or his schemes to save money. I remember
    him coming into my office trying to get me to throw-in with a combine he was
    putting together to buy a boatload of chocolate, that if purchased in huge
    quantities would be ridiculously cheap. He was promoting the purchase of shares
    of chocolate. What an opportunity! But I broke his heart by turning him down. “Why
    would you turn down such an opportunity to buy great chocolate so cheaply”, he
    asked. “Because”, I replied, “if I buy it, I will eat it”. He looked at me as
    if I was out of my mind and moved on down the hall to give the rest of our
    staff a great opportunity to join his chocolate combine.

    He was an endearing colleague…one
    of kind, but he really made his mark in this world because of the work he did
    to make this a more just, humane, and equitable society. That was his passion:
    that was his vocation, and that was his avocation. That commitment is what
    drove him and what made him drive us.

    You always knew where Tony
    stood. He did his homework. He was always meticulously prepared. I do not
    remember what the context was for this story, but I remember him telling me
    that when he was at Exeter Academy he never wanted to waste any time in his
    preparation for his classes to the extent that even on Saturday night as he sat
    in the school auditorium waiting to watch the weekly film presentation, he would
    have his Latin vocabulary flash cards with him, and would review them until the
    lights went out.

    I have always remembered him
    telling me that story because that was so…Tony Winsor. Preparation, hard
    work…results. And he got results. He went on to Harvard, became a lawyer, and
    focused all that preparation, not on creating personal wealth for himself, but
    on working to make this world a better place for poor people, for immigrants,
    for welfare mothers, those least able to fend for themselves. He championed the
    rights of women, prisoners, students, and did yeomen’s work in the struggle to
    preserve our privacy in the face of overwhelming odds presented by the evolving
    technology. No matter what the odds he never became dispirited, and he would
    never let us become dispirited either. In the toughest battles and at the time
    of seemingly greatest losses, he was always up, always organizing for the next
    battle. He was a great team player, and the best kind of advocate to have on
    your team.

    And that is who we are. We
    are Tony’s team, those he worked with, those he played with, those who served
    with him on countless boards and committees and campaigns.

    We are better for having had
    him in our lives. And the world is better for what we all did and continue to
    do together.

    But as we move forward we
    certainly will miss that boundless energy that was in our midst for so many
    years. We will miss our friend and colleague Tony, but we will be forever
    grateful for what he did with us and what he meant to us.

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