I was sitting down to pen my column tonight, planning to write about the underlying shortcomings in President Trump’s recently released federal infrastructure plan (knowing there was a lot to cover). As is my habit, I first clicked on the State House News Service website. The headline froze me mid-motion. Rep. Peter Kocot of Northampton had died suddenly.
My first thought was sadness for Rep. Kocot’s family. Peter was just 61 years old, with a wife and two sons. A few days ago, a happy family. Today, a family beset by grief.
My next thought was the bitter realization that Peter was gone, and I felt deep sadness for him. Because he was unable to continue doing what he loved – to be with his family and with his community.
My next thought was how implausible and impossible this seemed. Physically, Peter Kocot was larger-than-life – a “gentle giant” who always exuded kindness and thoughtfulness and decency. His nature was always to be himself. No varnish, no guardedness, always authentic, always down-to-earth, always within himself. Being elected to the Legislature did not change him. His calling was public service, his desire was to do what he thought was right, to do what would help people.
Cynics may try to portray this era as a self-interested time, but I see far more evidence of goodness and honesty and selflessness. Peter Kocot exemplified our best instincts and our best natures – the very qualities that inspire so many people to devote their careers to public service, to helping people, to making a difference.
In a broader sense, we each know people who live good lives, who love their families, support their friends, aid strangers, and nurture the planet. It’s easy to see, admire and learn from these “better angels,” because they contribute more than they receive.
There are many better angels – people who grow our families and communities and enable progress from generation to generation. Peter was one of those people.
In Massachusetts, there are thousands of local and state officials who lean in and devote their lives to building stronger communities, to knitting us and our neighborhoods together. There is very little in the way of personal recognition. There are no perks. There is no money to be made.
At the local level, where most people serve for no or negligible pay, we can see that public service and public good are what drive these neighbors and residents to stand up, step out, and lean in. For what? To make a difference, to help people, to build a better future.
I am not singling out Peter as being a better legislator or neighbor or friend or father than all the rest of us. I don’t know enough to make that judgment. But I can say that he strove to do what he thought was right and best for people. To improve our quality of life. To make a positive difference.
When we peel back all the layers, isn’t that the most we can ask of each other?
For Peter, his legacy will last because he treated people with respect, because he valued everyone’s input, because he used his intellect and judgment to do what he thought was right and the best thing to do.
And from this view, Peter’s life is a reflection and symbol of the amazing and wonderful qualities of public service. We all want to have a sense of purpose in our lives. We all want to know that we contribute and belong. And we all want to connect to movements and institutions and causes that are larger than ourselves.
This story is repeated thousands of times each year in Massachusetts alone. Every day, families mourn the passing of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, children. And every day, we lose people who have lived lives of service, who have sought to bring us together and move us forward.
These are lives well lived.
Exemplified by Peter, and the many others before him, we can see how much impact each of us can have, and how much of an imprint we can leave if public service guides our lives and motivates us.
And so today, let us celebrate the gifts of selflessness, kindness and service. Let us remember what is most important, and how we can each make a difference and build a better future for our neighbors and our communities.
In this way, we can learn from and respect the gifts we have received, and pass these gifts on to others. It is this act of giving that makes our lives well-lived.
Written by Geoff Beckwith, MMA Executive Director & CEO