By David Perry
Over the course of 34,000 archived pages, students, scholars and anyone with a thirst for political history can now explore the legacy of Lowell’s own Paul Tsongas.
For years, scholars and researchers had to visit UMass Lowell’s O’Leary Library to view papers belonging to the late U.S. senator. Now, thanks to a project that began in 1986, anyone can access the Paul E. Tsongas Congressional Collection from their computer or smartphone.
The university has unveiled its vast digital archive of papers belonging to Lowell-born Tsongas, who served his city, state and nation before beginning a long battle with cancer, which eventually took his life. A presidential candidate in 1992, Tsongas died at 55 in 1997.
During a recent gathering at O’Leary Learning Commons, speakers included U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas – Tsongas’ widow – UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney and Library Director George Hart. Tsongas and Moloney simultaneously snipped a ceremonial red ribbon across a flat screen beaming an image of Tsongas from the '70s.
Boldly prescient, Sen. Tsongas’ work on the environment, human rights, and the economy remain ahead of their time decades later, and he helmed Lowell’s renaissance from the depths of economic despair.
“I remember Paul making the decision about where all his papers would go,” said Tsongas. “He was a graduate of Dartmouth, but in the end Lowell is where his home is, where he knew they would be valued and taken care of.”
The collection includes 720 boxes – 2,300 linear feet – of Tsongas’ political papers.
“Thankfully,” his widow joked, “they’re out of the attic.”
Moloney noted Tsongas’ fondness for new technologies, and her own time as a college student when she worked on his first campaign.
“I remember being inspired by Paul and his knack for connecting with people and motivating them to get involved,” she said, “much the same as Bernie Sanders has lit up young people to get involved.”
Near the back of the room, a collection of Tsongas campaign buttons and other souvenirs drew the attention of onlookers, including Rep. Tsongas.
Hart offered a quick sampling of materials from the archive, including photos of Tsongas with President Jimmy Carter, with Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, with Pope John Paul II. Hart also called up documents in various stages of editing. Among the documents were those concerning the Chrysler bailout, the Alaska Lands Bill, gun control and solar energy.
“It’s astonishing to see the level of concern and stewardship for the country,” said Hart. “The editing marks are as they were, showing the struggle for the strongest and best language going into a bill.”
Moloney noted she had been to an early-morning meeting of the Lowell Plan that day, which included Gov. Charlie Baker. The Lowell Plan, which was a product of Tsongas’ imagination, reflected Tsongas’ belief in cooperative collaboration, sometimes between disparate personalities.
“It was quite a group of people. (State Sen.) Eileen Donoghue, Niki ... all there for the common purpose of building the city and making it great," Moloney said. "That’s a reflection of Paul Tsongas’ life in this community.”
“Paul thought out of the box,” said Tsongas. “And he understood that when we work together it’s remarkable what we can do.”