By ROBERT BOSWORTH
Funeral arrangements have been announced for beloved public servant John M. Gillis, Quincy’s longest serving city clerk and former Norfolk County commissioner, who embodied the pride of Quincy Point. Mr. Gillis died Wednesday at the age of 91.
Visiting hours will be Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Sweeney Brothers Home for Funerals, 1 Independence Ave., Quincy.
A funeral Mass for Mr. Gillis will be celebrated Monday at 10 a.m. in Saint John the Baptist Church, School Street, Quincy.
Mr. Gillis, a lifelong Quincy Point resident and respected public servant, served 33 years as Quincy city clerk – the longest tenure in city history. He also served 23 years as a Norfolk County Commissioner before stepping down in 2015 at the age of 90. He retired as city clerk in 1992.
Born May 16, 1925, Mr. Gillis was raised in Quincy Point. He attended the Adams Elementary School and Quincy Point Junior High School before graduating from Quincy High School in 1943. He then enlisted in the U.S. Marines and saw action in the Battle of Saipan, a battle in the Pacific campaign of World War II.
After the war in 1947, Mr. Gillis became a Quincy firefighter and was stationed at Central Headquarters. But six months later, Mr. Gillis opted to go to college. He graduated in 1953 from Northeastern University with a degree in accounting.
Mr. Gillis worked as a state auditor from 1952 to 1956 before becoming assistant city clerk in 1957. Two years later, Mr. Gillis was unanimously elected city clerk by the City Council succeeding the late Allen Cole. It was an historic occasion: Mr. Gillis became the first Democrat to serve as city clerk in Quincy history. At age 34, he was also one of the youngest.
During his 33-year tenure as city clerk – the longest ever in Quincy – Mr. Gillis served during the administrations of seven mayors: Amelio Della Chiesa, James McIntyre, Walter Hannon, Joseph LaRaia, Arthur Tobin, Frank McCauley and James Sheets.
In 1992, Gillis stepped down as city clerk but he did not retire from public service. Instead, he started a new chapter in his public service career winning a four-year term as a Norfolk County commissioner that fall. He was re-elected five times (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012). He stepped down in 2015 and his seat was filled by Joseph Shea who also succeeded him as city clerk.
As a Norfolk County commissioner, Mr. Gillis advocated for $30 million in state funding to expand the Norfolk County Agricultural High School. He said enlarging the building would expand enrollment and allow more students to attend the school. He also favored expanding the function facility at Presidents Golf Course in Quincy.
Mr. Gillis was also active in many community and veterans organizations.
He was a member of the Quincy Democratic City Committee, a former commander of the Quincy Veterans Council and a former grand knight of the Knights of Columbus.
He was a member of the Quincy Lodge of Elks, the George F. Bryan VFW Post, Caddy Detachment Marine Corps League and the Cyril P. Morrisette American Legion Post. He was also a member of the Quincy High School Football Hall of Fame and QHS Baseball Hall of Fame.
Mr. Gillis was proud of his Quincy Point roots. One of his first jobs was selling newspapers outside the main gate at the Quincy shipyard. He often treated his friends by buying tickets to the movies at the Lincoln Theater.
“The Point was a great place to be brought up,” Gills fondly recalled in a 2011 interview. “We had every ethnic group, religion and nationality. You were either a good guy or a bad guy. Those other things didn’t matter.”
In 2011, Mr. Gillis was honored with The Henry W. Bosworth, Jr. Memorial Citizenship Award presented by The Quincy Sun. Mr. Gillis and Mr. Bosworth was longtime friends.
Mr. Bosworth once said of his boyhood buddy:
“As city clerk, he bent over backwards to accommodate the public. And wearing his other hat as chairman of the City License Board, he was a champion of the little guy – especially one who needed a license to start a small business.”
During his tenure as clerk, it was Mr. Gillis who advocated for punch-card ballots to replace the old paper ballots. The city finally switched to punch-cards during the administration of former Mayor Francis McCauley who along with Gillis agreed retiring paper ballots would save the city money and pay for themselves – which it did.
The city has since moved on to the opt-scan voting method.
Mr. Gillis called the city clerk’s position the best job in municipal government because “you can do favors for people. You’re always helping someone out.
“You can help the little guy.”
Mayor Thomas Koch called Mr. Gillis “a giant” in Quincy and a “blessing to everyone.”
“John was a giant in this City and a true blessing to everyone, including myself, lucky enough to call him a friend. His love of Quincy was unmatched, his service unparalleled, and the dignity and respect with which he treated everyone he met through the years will long stand as a model for anyone in public service.
“He was a great mentor to many and helped countless more in ways large and small. That legacy will undoubtedly carry on. On behalf of our community, I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to his daughter, Pam, and his grandchildren,” Koch said.
Complete obituary http://thequincysun.com/2017/04/27/john-m-gillis-91/