CHELMSFORD — Finance Committee Chairman Tom Gilroy, was known throughout the community for his dedication to town matters, love of politics, larger-than-life personality and often caustic speech.
But mostly, Gilroy, 74, who died of a heart attack Friday night, was described by many as a man who loved his family, town and country.
He leaves his wife, Ellie, three children and several grandchildren.
Gilroy was an outspoken proponent of financial accountability in Chelmsford. During the school budget debacle of 2014 and 2015, Gilroy often went toe-to-toe with then-Superintendent Frank Tiano and other school officials, demanding that they get their finances in order.
“Tom might have come across as a lion at times, but deep down this man was a pussycat,” said longtime friend Donna Sargent. “Willing to help anyone, anytime, always.”
Town Manager Paul Cohen said Gilroy was never shy about sharing his opinions, but behind it all, he had a kind heart and was always trying to promote and do right by the town.
Town Finance Director John Sousa said Gilroy led the Finance Committee “with clarity, common sense and strong conviction” and “poured his heart and soul into everything he did.”
Gilroy was a long-involved member of the Republican Town Committee and served as a Precinct 9 Town Meeting representative. An avid Donald Trump supporter, Gilroy truly believed Trump would “make America great again” as president.
Like many others in the community, Finance Committee member Annita Tanini was shocked to learn of Gilroy’s death. She said Gilroy touched the lives of many, young and old. Her son Andre, 10, who was “Trump buddies” with Gilroy, is heartbroken.
Gilroy also served as chairman of the Grinder Pump Study Committee, taking on the controversial topic of town-paid grinder pumps on private residential properties.
Town Moderator Jon Kurland said that during those heated debates, Gilroy showed he was willing to listen to others’ ideas and change his opinions when presented with facts and information that permitted him to understand another perspective.
“Only a very special man would be willing to publicly admit that he had a mistaken opinion and then fight for the other side when he knew it was the right thing to do,” Kurland said.
Paul Haverty, a former member of the Board of Appeals, said he appreciated how passionately and vehemently Gilroy would defend people on local issues, while equally passionately disagreeing with them on national political issues.
“That is all too rare these days,” Haverty said.
Gilroy laid low for a few weeks in March as he adjusted to a recent diagnosis of diabetes. He rejoined public life during the town election, holding signs for Glenn Diggs, who was elected to the Board of Selectmen.
On Thursday, Gilroy participated in the Community Read-In at South Row Elementary School, reading a book about Paul Revere and the role of Concord and Lexington in the American Revolution to second graders.
“The students loved his stories,” said Linda Davis, who substitute taught during the class.
Cohen has ordered all flags placed at half-staff through the day of Gilroy’s funeral.
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