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Former Greenfield public figure, McGuane, dies

GREENFIELD — Martin A. McGuane, a former Greenfield Town Council president, school committee member and executive director of the Greenfield and Frontier community cable television stations who was briefly a candidate for the state representative’s seat that his father had held, died Tuesday following a sudden illness. He was 55.

“My passion in life has always been to help people and to effect change,” McGuane told The Recorder in 2010 in announcing his candidacy for the Second Franklin District legislative seat – a campaign he was forced to drop out of five months later.

A longtime resident of his native Greenfield, McGuane had most recently been living in Erving.

McGuane had served in the 1990s as a member and president of the Greenfield Town Council and was also a member of the Greenfield School Committee, chairing its finance committee.

He was the son of the late Allan McGuane, who represented the Second Franklin District from 1961 to 1973.

“From the time I was 3 until I was 15 I would regularly go to Boston with my dad, sit in on committee meetings, and watch the proceedings of the General Court from the balcony. I know the people, I know the issues and I know the political process. I know that I can be an effective legislator,” he said in the 2010 interview.

McGuane attended Greenfield public schools, Greenfield Community College and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and worked at radio station WHAI in Greenfield as an announcer and then music director, at WCAT in Orange and also worked as an announcer at WRSI and as that station’s first music director.

McGuane’s service also included many years on the board of directors of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Franklin County, and as a “big brother” for four years. He was a founding member of Hospice of Franklin County and sat on its board of directors, and also was on the boards of the United ARC of Franklin and Hampshire Counties, the Franklin County Community Meals Program, and the GCC Alumni Association.

“Marty was everywhere,” said Franklin County Register of Probate John F. Merrigan, whose father Thomas W. Merrigan was active in Democratic politics at a time when the area was largely Republican. “He evolved to become one of the young Turks to carry on the mantle of the Democrats and was helpful in many campaigns across Franklin County. He was always colorful and had a unique perspective on things. He was fun to be around.”

As McGuane pursued his own career, Merrigan said, he thought a great deal about how proud his father — who went on to become a Greenfield District Court judge — would be of him.

“As he began his journey running for the Legislature,” said Merrigan, who also served in the state House, “he told me, ‘I wish my father was alive to see me do this.’”

McGuane had health and personal problems that caused him to drop out of the four-way primary contest that was ultimately won by Denise Andrews of Orange and also contributed to his dismissal as GCTV’s executive director’s post.

Edward Porter, executive director of the United ARC, where McGuane helped with fundraising and outreach efforts, said he admired McGuane for the way he was able to confront his problems with alcohol and his health decline.

“Marty’s ability to face that and work through that, to be part of who he was — I have immense respect for someone with the character to be able to do that. I’m deeply saddened by his death, and I know he will be deeply missed in our community. There was a complexity about Marty, but he really gave a damn about his community.”

McGuane also struggled with and confronted a weight issue, and after reaching 400 pounds, he underwent gastric bypass surgery in 2003 and was public about the difficulties it involved.

“Weight is like a depression, a downward spiral,” said McGuane in 2003. “As I’ve gone to support groups and meetings, I’ve seen people who are absolutely debilitated by weight. I was lucky enough to have a very supportive family. Food is a comfort, so you go to it and gain a little more weight, and then you feel worse about yourself.”

But mostly, people remembered McGuane after hearing of his death as a very likeable member of the community who cared deeply about making it a better place for everyone.

Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said, “He knew so much about Franklin County politics and had politics in his blood. Like his father, he was a terrific storyteller.”

Kulik knew McGuane from GCTV, where McGuane would always offer insightful questions from the control booth during political programming. Later, at Frontier TV, Kulik said McGuane was instrumental in getting Frontier Regional High School students involved in programs during election season.

“Marty was a great mixer of people,” he said. “He loved to talk, listen and engage people.”

Timothy Farrell said he got to know McGuane after he was first elected a Greenfield selectman as a Republican, and McGuane offered his expertise about local government.

“We had a lot of long, interesting conversations about Greenfield government and politics,” Farrell said. “He really did care deeply about Greenfield. The way he felt about Greenfield as his hometown is not as common in today’s society as it was to Marty.”

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said, “There’s probably a countless number of people who had conversations with Marty on the porch or in the garden on a summer’s eve. Mine was while baking pizza on the grill at his house a number of years ago. He was really an engaging, entertaining fellow with unending ideas of what might be done to improve his community. And he was willing to do his part and enlist others in the effort. There were a lot of big ideas: some workable, some unworkable.”

Among the unworkable ideas, but one that Rosenberg called “a great vision to develop the downtown” was to build a state-of-the-art studio for GCTV on the former Showplace Theater property on Chapman Street. Plans were abandoned in 2005, after a foundation had been poured, because of lack of funding.

On Wednesday, the loss of McGuane to the town and the county was on the minds of many whose lives he touched.

“We’ve lost a dear friend,” said Amy Clarke, executive director of Franklin County Community Meals Program, who recalled McGuane serving as cook recently for community meals — including a special event for homeless families living in the nearby motels. “Marty loved everything about Greenfield. It’s a great loss to the community.”

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