Rep. Olver roasted for breakfast
BERNARDSTON — It was “roast John Olver for breakfast” on Friday, with tributes from 120 or so area business and government leaders for the congressman retiring after 44 years in office on Beacon Hill and then Capitol Hill.
“John is not a very funny person — at least, not intentionally,” state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, told the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast gathering at Bella Notte Restaurant, where he was toastmaster. He then described the first time he ever heard Olver’s drawn-out, ponderous voice at the other end of an 11:30 p.m. phone call he got in response to an ad looking for volunteers to work on a Democratic presidential campaign he was coordinating. “I thought it was an obscene phone call,” Rosenberg said, imitating Olver’s slow, professorial way of asking, after a long pause, “Is this Stan Rosenberg?” at that late hour.
In the end, when they met, Rosenberg was able to get the legendarily serious professor-turned-politician to get past deadpan to a “slightly upturned corner of the mouth, and I think I had him,” Rosenberg quipped.
The pacing of Friday’s event — punctuated by a 12-minute video tribute to Olver — was itself a poking of sorts at Olver, who is infamous for lengthy, detailed and usually dry commentary. Rosenberg, who started his career as a volunteer for Olver’s campaign when he was still in the Statehouse, and then as an aide to the state senator, handed out candy bars to each speaker for staying within their three-minute limit. Olver was allowed four minutes.
The quips were all a way of lauding the career of Olver, who went from University of Massachusetts chemistry professor, then state rep and state senator, and finally, in 1991, to Congress.
“But John’s not perfect,” said Jonathan Healy of Charlemont, who worked with Olver in the Legislature and is now regional director of USDA Rural Development. “For any of you who’ve gone there, if you don’t have your ducks in a row when you’re sitting there and talking to him in his congressional office, you’d better make sure you’ve got your facts straight. He’s got a great penetrating gaze.”
Greenfield Community College President Robert Pura, said that instead of “fighting windmills,” as many politicians wind up doing during their careers, “This congressman has figured it out, leading the nation in the ways in which he doesn’t just fight windmills, he brings back resources and leads the way to build windmills.” Pura called Olver “an absolute and stunning leader” in helping GCC build green energy systems like geothermal wells, photovoltaic systems and a nearly energy-neutral greenhouse.
Linda Dunlavy, executive director of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, pointed to the nation’s “first zero-net-energy transportation center,” which bears his name at the foot of Greenfield’s Bank Row, as an example of the achievements depicted in the COG video tribute that leaves her “awestruck with everything Congressman Olver has done for Franklin County, for his district and for the country.”
That video included comments from everyone from former Gov. Michael Dukakis and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown and fellow congressional members Barney Frank, Nikki Tsongas, John Tierney and Michael Capuato all praising Olver’s work.
Kerry called Olver, “a constant fighter for the development of renewable energy. John stands up to anyone who tries to dismiss the science of climate change. … Some of John’s friends have said, ‘He is the most unlikely politician.’” But, he added, “This most unlikely politician has never lost an election, not one. His secret? Voters long ago recognized John Olver for what he is: a hard-working, down-to-earth, no-nonsense, principled legislator, and above all, public servant.”
Pelosi praised Olver’s efforts beyond the borders of his state and his visionary leadership in the campaign to invest in high speed rail, reinforce our infrastructure, rebuild America and strengthen our economy.
Friday’s tribute also included comments from Franklin County Community Development Corp. Executive Director John Waite and Chamber President Ann Hamilton praising Olver’s economic development work to develop a Northern Tier Initiative that has included funding for the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center and other projects along Route 2 — as well as his efforts as a ranking House Appropriations Committee member to secure funding for safety improvements along Route 2.
Congressman James McGovern of Worcester joked about how he and Olver had been jailed together in 2006 and again last March for protesting against injustices in Sudan’s Darfur region.
“For countless hours … he read the graffiti on the wall aloud,” the Worcester congressman jibed, so that by the time they were released, McGovern thanked the guards for confiscating their belts, shoelaces and ties as a precaution against suicide.
Then he got serious.
“This gentle man has a spine of steel,” McGovern said. “His fingerprints are on everything” that has been accomplished across Massachusetts, including bringing passenger rail funding to the state and broadband development to western Massachusetts. “All of us in this delegation owe him a great debt of gratitude. He has been a workhorse and not a show horse. He is really an incredible public servant.”
As the first election day in 44 years approaches without Olver’s name on the ballot, the 76-year-old Pennsylvania native and Saint Louis Cardinals fan said he hopes to devote his post-retirement time to tending a 2,000-square-foot perennial garden, as well as some hiking, traveling and as much rock climbing as he can handle.
In the end, the candy bar he won for curtailing his comments was a Snickers, its wrapper imprinted with the word, “Satisfies.”
You can reach Richie Davis at
or 413-772-0261, ext. 269