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The Honorable Thaddeus Buczko: A Life of Service, Honor, Kindness
He wanted to be remembered as “imbued with as fine a Christian spirit as ever activated a human soul” – his words. As “able, energetic and courageous.” As “a friend to all mankind.” He hoped that his “lovable spirit radiated sunshine that drew to him all who came within its scope.” He said that, “his soul rang with music – the music of friendship, the music of love, the music of charity, the music of inspiration.” He wanted those he left behind to remember “his service to country and to humanity … his perseverance, sincerity of purpose, and his loyalty to his values.” He hoped that he had, and would, “inspire us through his vision, vitality, generosity, and passion for excellence.”
Thaddeus Buczko, a proud son of Salem, died peacefully on March 7, 2021, at the age of 95 with his large and loving family close by. His life story reads like a novel about American success, and yet his humility and generosity of spirit were ever-present. And he will be remembered for all of the reasons he had wished for, and more.
Thaddeus Buczko was born on February 23, 1926, in Salem, Mass., to Ignacy and Veronica (Brzozowska) Buczisko (changed to Buczko) illiterate Polish farmers who were recruited by Salem mill owners with the promise of a better life. Buczko’s father worked in leather factories, at that time a booming industry in Salem; his mother worked for the Pequot Mills, Salem’s most successful company at the time.
The couple was living in Salem’s Polish neighborhood, on Ward Street, in 1914 when the Great Salem Fire destroyed their home. Like hundreds of other families, they lived in tents on Salem Common before being relocated to temporary housing, eventually returning to Ward Street. By the time Thaddeus was born, there were already three Buczko children; three more would follow. Thaddeus was “in the middle,” in his words. He attended the Polish Parochial School on Herbert Street and Salem public schools, graduating from Salem High School in 1943. Not much was expected of him except that he would join his father in the leather industry. But for reasons Buczko could never articulate, he wanted more -- and he reached for more.
In 1944, Buczko signed up for the draft at Salem Town Hall. He had read somewhere about Norwich University, the elite military school in Vermont, and decided that some military education and training would serve him well. He was preparing himself, unwittingly. In Boston, during a health check before joining the Army, he encountered a Navy recruiter who was looking for young men with technical ability. Buczko had been studying engineering at Norwich. The recruiter convinced him to join the Navy, and he did. Eighteen-year-old Thaddeus Buczko was assigned first to the destroyer USS Bearss (DD-654), and was present during the “last shot” of World War II off the coast of Japan. He was then assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Midway.
After the war, Buczko graduated with honors from Norwich University and was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the Armored Cavalry, U. S. Army. At the same time, he was accepted to the Boston University School of Law, receiving his J. D. in 1951. (He also studied accounting, finance, business administration, liberal arts, and served as an Active Reserve Officer.) Buczko went to work for a small law firm in Salem, but he was called into active service by the Army in 1949 during the Korean conflict. He served as a unit tank commander and assistant staff judge advocate in the 304th Armored Division, and in Army Intelligence.
By 1953, Buczko had resumed practicing law in Salem and now began a long career of public service. The elected or appointed positions he held included Salem City Council (1955-1979, at age 29), State Representative (1959-1964), Post Master of Salem (1963), and State Auditor (1964-1980).
In 1969, while serving as State Auditor, Buczko met then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow, Poland, who was scheduled to visit Boston as part of his U. S. tour to thank Polish-Americans for their support of Polish independence. As the only and highest-ranking Polish-American to hold state-wide office, Buczko was tapped to join the delegation to escort the Cardinal around the City. They became friends, and one of Buczko’s fondest memories was when Cardinal Wojtyla predicted that Buczko would become President of the United States one day and Buczko assured the Cardinal that he would become Pope. Buczko’s prophecy came true, and in 1979 he invited Pope John Paul II (the former Cardinal) to Boston. (Years later, in 1993, Buczko was invested as a Knight in the Order of Saint Sylvester by the Pope in Rome, named for a much earlier Pope who was known for his acts of faith and courage.)
Buczko’s military career advanced during these years as well. On his retirement from the Army in 1979 -- as Chief of Staff of the 94th Army Reserve Command (ARCOM) where he supervised more than 12,000 citizen-soldier reservists in over 100 units in New England -- now-Colonel Buczko was presented with the Legion of Merit. The following year, 1980, Massachusetts Governor Edward J. King appointed him to serve as an Associate Justice of the Essex County Probate and Family Court. He rose to First Justice in 1986, retiring in 1996 at the obligatory age of 70. (In 2016, the newly-restored, magnificent Probate and Family Court Building on Federal Street in Salem was named the Thaddeus Buczko Building.)
Buczko’s “retirement” from his professional and military positions only accelerated his numerous philanthropic, religious, and civic involvements. He was particularly dedicated to the City of Salem, to his alma maters, to veterans, to Polish-American organizations, and the Pope John Paul II and Kosciuszko Foundations. In 2014, at the age of 88, the City of Salem asked Buczko to stay on for another twelve-year term as a City Trust Fund Commissioner. He agreed. Why not?
And then, there is the man behind the impressive resumé. Thaddeus Buczko will be remembered with love and gratitude by thousands for his warmth, his good-natured charm, his sincerity, loyalty, and reliably decent character. Standing at six feet, four inches tall, always impeccably dressed in or out of uniform, with broad shoulders, a ready, welcoming smile and sincere interest in people and the goings-on of the day, Buczko was known for taking forever to cross a crowded room or a street in downtown Salem because he knew everyone and everyone knew him.
He was known for engaging young people who were just starting out, inquiring about their education, interests, and ambitions. In a recent interview, Buczko admitted, “No one was interested in me when I was young. No one reached out. I like to reach out and help in whatever way I can.” His advice to young people? “Go into public service. You can’t go wrong helping people, and it’s a great way to meet people, understand their needs and the needs of their family and community.” Buczko was also known for opening doors for promising up-and-coming professionals in state government, business, and civic life.
He was known not only for his mentoring and for his philanthropic and volunteer leadership, but for his many personal acts of kindness as well – except that we will never really know the extent of their number and substance. When asked recently by a struggling writer whom he helped secure a place to live, completely unexpectedly, she asked him, “Why are you doing this?” He said, “I help people. It’s what I do.”
He was known for his restless intellect, and his knowledge of American and world history. As a member of the military, as a Polish-American dignitary and honored Catholic who traveled frequently to Poland, Rome, and other parts of Europe, he enjoyed well-earned stature locally, nationally, and internationally.
Finally, Thaddeus Buczko was known as a steady, ever-present man of faith and family. He adored the extensive and ever-expanding Buczko clan, delighting in their company and their achievements. And they adored him. His passing leaves a hole in the hearts of his family, his many friends, and in all of the communities of which he was a part.
Rest in Peace, beloved Servant of God. Our love and gratitude know no bounds. You are an example to us all.
Surviving Thaddeus are his sisters, Alfreida Hunt, Irene Shea, and his brother, Albert Buczko all of Salem and many nieces, nephews and great nieces and great nephews. He was also the brother of the late Sophie Theriault, Joan Hourihan and Bernard Buczko.
ARRANGEMENTS: Relatives and friends are invited to Judge Buczko’s funeral Mass which will be celebrated in St. John Paul II Shrine of Divine Mercy, St. Peter St., Salem on Monday, March 15th at 9 A.M. All attendees must register to attend the funeral Mass by clicking the link below or by calling the funeral home at 978-744-2350. Burial in Massachusetts National Cemetery at Bourne. Visiting hours at O’Donnell Cremations - Funerals - Celebrations, 84 Washington Sq., Salem, MA 01970, Sunday, March 14th from 2 to 6 P.M. All attendees are required to wear face coverings, practice social distancing and are respectfully asked for no physical contact with the family. In lieu of flowers, expressions of sympathy may be made in his memory to the Judge Thaddeus Buczko Scholarship Fund, C/O Norwich University, 158 Harmon Dr., Northfield, VT, 05663. To share a memory or offer a condolence, please visit www.odonnellfuneralservice.com.