Sam Zoll: A Friend To All In Salem
Zoll leaves a legacy of caring, passion, achievement, and above all, friendship.
Sam Zoll loved Salem.
He loved its history and its people. You could see that as he strode its streets with his long stride during his early morning walks. It was evident when he rode his bicycle to Winter Island to swim in the waters of the harbor.
Salem returned that love to Sam Zoll in all that he did — supporting him with friendship and at the polls.
His career as the true Mr. Salem began in his father's house on North Street. He developed his skill with people playing games and rough housing with other boys at McGlew Park in a small field known as "the Pit" alongside another esteemed son of Salem — Jack Welch. These skills were sharpened delivering newspapers for the old Goldsmith News Agency.
We sent him to the City Council from Ward Six. We voted him into the Massachusetts Legislature. Eventually, we seated him in the corner office at City Hall.
My first memories of Mr. Zoll (that's what I called him then, and it is how I greeted him the last time I saw him), preceded that election by a couple of years. He and my father were friends from back in their newspaper delivery days. He was one of the first non-family members to see me after I was born.
As a boy, I tagged along with my father as he visited him at his law office in the Hawthorne Building (Bank of America today) and later at 256 Essex St. There were visits to his then home on Oakland Street. It was there that I began to get a sense of who this tall and accomplished man really was.
On Oakland Street, I helped as my father built the signs for his mayoral campaign made from pressed board, painted white with blue lettering. The signs were simple and succinct. After the election, the signs found their way into our basement for use in the next election.
The mayoral election of 1969 was a pivotal moment in Salem history. Francis X. Collins had just finished a 20-year run as mayor. Urban renewal was in full swing, and much rancorous discussion was taking place concerning the razing of historical buildings. School facilities were seen as old and not up to their educational tasks. There was talk of tying the City in directly to Rte. 128 as a way to revive downtown retail business.
That election pitted two favorite sons of Salem against each other — Sam Zoll from North Salem and Richard "Dick" Guy from South Salem. As a South Salem Franco-American kid, I took a lot of heat for my father's loyalties. When the smoke cleared, Sam Zoll stood victorious.
His time as mayor was short — only three years — but his impact was long-term. As you walk the City, his fingerprints are everywhere. The pedestrian mall, the High School on Willson Road, Fire Headquarters and Winter Island Park are all a part of his legacy and reflect his influence on Salem.
His judicial career was true to character as he made decisions with care and compassion. Justice was administered with thoughtful humanity. Many a local youth found himself washing fire trucks and writing an essay about the experience.
A larger part of his legacy are his personal connections. He influenced many a son and daughter of Salem. I stand as one of those fortunate enough to have known him beyond his professional and political life.
Through my time away and in the military service, we would occasionally connect through snail mail. When I was promoted to sergeant in the Air Force in 1981, he sent me a letter of congratulations.
I reacquainted with him personally on my return to Salem in 1998. He was a vital and energetic presence at the Y. To most everyone else at the Y, he was Sam or Your Honor.
To me, he was still Mr. Zoll. His booming voice, frequently singing, could be heard in the locker room and on the pool deck. His energy was contagious and he encouraged all he saw to look at the day as bright and new. This continued through his illness, even when you could tell he was not feeling his best.
I last saw him at the Y towards the end of winter. He was on his way to the pool. We spoke a bit as we each began our morning with some exercise. I felt better for having seen and spoken with him. He always had that effect on me.
Salem will miss but always remember this man. I will miss and always remember a man who never failed to help others see the bright side.
Salem is a good and better place as a result of his efforts and presence. I am a better and more caring man for having had the privilege of his friendship.
Goodbye and Godspeed, Mr. Zoll.