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Thaddeus 'Ted' Buczko, retired judge, Mass. state auditor and WWII veteran, dies at 95

Judge Thaddeus Buczko

SALEM STATE ARCHIVES

By JULIE MANGANIS | The Salem News, Beverly, Mass. | Published: March 9, 2021

SALEM, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — Judge Thaddeus "Ted" Buczko, the son of Polish immigrants who rose to become the first Polish-American to hold statewide office, later became a judge, and counted a pope among his many friends, died Sunday. He had recently celebrated his 95th birthday.

"You could fill Salem Common with all the people he helped throughout his life," said his biographer and friend, Bonnie Hurd Smith. "He was an extraordinarily kind man."

"He was such a lovely and kind man," said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll. "I feel lucky to have gotten to know him."

Buczko was the middle child in a family of seven children, born on Feb. 23, 1926 to Ignacy and Veronica Buczko. The family lived on Ward Street.

His father worked in the leather tanneries and his mother at the Pequot Mills to support their large family. His parents had grown up on farms in Poland and could not read or write. They wanted all of their children to receive an education.

Buczko graduated from Salem High School in 1943.

Smith said like many young men growing up in Salem in that era, many expected him to follow his dad into the tanneries after serving in World War II. Instead, Buczko set his sights on an education.

After service in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during the war, Buczko completed his degree at Norwich University and became a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, serving his country in Korea before finishing his law degree at the Boston University School of Law in 1951. He would maintain a role in the Army Reserve, retiring in 1979 as a colonel and chief of staff of the 94th Army Reserve Command.

Buczko returned to Salem and began practicing law. He also began his decades-long political career with his election to the Salem City Council, representing Ward 4, in 1955.

He went on to serve as state representative and briefly as the city's postmaster before he became state auditor in 1964.

It was a big deal: he was the first Polish-American in a statewide office, in an era when derogatory "Polish jokes" were still passed around with impunity even on network television.

Buczko spoke multiple languages, said Driscoll, a skill that enabled him to connect with the community, not only during his political career but later as a judge and then during his time on the city's Board of Trust Fund Commissioners. Many of the people seeking help from those trust funds were recent immigrants. Buczko, said the mayor, never forgot the struggles faced by his own immigrant parents a century earlier.

"He always cared so deeply about people," said the mayor. When he was 88, she appointed him to another 12-year term on the board, after first discussing it with him. "We both thought, 'Why not?'" He was a regular attendee and active participant until the pandemic took hold last year, Driscoll said.

Buczko was also a born storyteller, recounting his political adventures, like campaigning for John F. Kennedy in Polish neighborhoods around the state.

"He was fun to be around," said Driscoll.

In 1969, several years into his tenure as state auditor, Buczko met the Archbishop of Krakow, who was visiting the United States to thank supporters of Polish independence, Smith recalled. The two men hit it off.

Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II in 1978 and the following year, Buczko invited him back to Boston.

His Catholic faith and his Polish heritage were precious to Buczko. He would serve for years in Polish-American organizations including the Kosciuszko and Pope John Paul II foundations. He was also made a Knight of the Order of Saint Sylvester by the pope in 1993.

In 1980 then Gov. Ed King nominated Buczko to a judgeship in the Salem Probate and Family Court, where he served, including 10 years as the presiding judge, until reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70, in 1996.

Two decades later, the courthouse, which had recently undergone a $50 million renovation, was renamed in his honor.

During a ceremony to commemorate the naming in 2017, the 6-foot-4 Buczko commanded the room full of the state's highest officials, including Gov. Charlie Baker and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, pausing to shake hands with just about everyone there before making some brief remarks.

"I remember as a young boy growing up in Salem the recurring joy and pride my parents took in raising a large and active family of seven children in the United States," Buczko said during that ceremony. "They shared their optimism with each of us and that vision was their greatest legacy to me and one which I'd like to leave today with each of you."

Buczko never married but with six siblings had a large extended family of nephews and nieces who looked after him in his later years.

Funeral arrangements were still pending on Monday evening.

Driscoll said the city will also pay tribute to Buczko.

jmanganis@salemnews.com

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