METHUEN — Ronald F. Ford, known for his involvement in local politics and as a radio talkmaster and political mentor, died yesterday one week after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
He was a member of the Town Council (now a city council) for 20 years and also served on the Essex County Advisory Board, the Methuen School Committee and the Greater Lawrence Technical School Committee.
In early 2001, he revived the popular “Hotline” talk show on Radio 800 WCCM, which had gone off the air in late 2000 after a run of more than 20 years.
The show tackled local issues, mostly political and often controversial.
In addition to being a politician, Ford, affectionately known as “Ronnie” and “Fordie” was known for his kindness toward others and his willingness to help people who needed a job or housing.
“He was a doer and a giver,” said Bob Sheehan, who knew Ford all of his life.
“He lectured me at 10 and 48 years old. He had a lot of common sense. He told me, in politics always return your phone calls, even if you don’t want to hear what they have to say,” recalled Sheehan, owner of Sheehan’s Towing where Ford would often stop to talk.
Born in Lawrence, Ford graduated from Central Catholic High School. He attended Merrimack College before transferring to Boston College. He entered the Army in 1954 and served in Korea.
He began his political career in 1974 when he was elected a Councilor-at-large in Methuen, where he served for six terms. Over the years, he was also a Town Meeting member, a member of the Methuen School Committee, a deputy sheriff for Lawrence and Methuen and a constable in both towns. He was also a former Methuen police officer and was an unsuccessful candidate for state senator.
While he was out serving the community, his son Mike said his father was also very involved in the lives of his six children.
“He was the best father. He was tough but that made me the person I am today,” Mike Ford said. Mike Ford recalled how his father would attend his hockey games and often take one of his team mates home. “He gained a lot of respect from my friends,” he said.
“He was a city councilor and politician who first and foremost led with his heart,” said former Mayor Bill Manzi. “He reminded us politics was still a people business. If I neglected to return his call, he would give me hell. He tried to impart a lesson, if I forgot why I was there, I wouldn’t be there long.”
Manzi said Ford served on the council when Methuen had a town manager and later when it elected its mayor.
“Ronnie was considered to be the driving force over the change of government. He was a city councilor who served under both and was a bridge between the old and the new,” Manzi said.
On Tuesday, Manzi along with former councilors including Joyce Campagnone, Mike Condon and Jack Cronin visited Ford at home for several hours.
“I’m glad I was able to see him one last time. We were very close friends through the years,” Condon said.
He considered Ford like a second father.
“When I had a problem, I had two allies on my side, my father and him. I hope I can walk in his steps,” Condon said.
Ford and Condon met for breakfast daily at the Irish Cottage.
“It was sad to see someone so energetic in that condition,” Campagnone said. “We wanted to be there to show him with him and to help him deal through this.”
Campagnone said she learned a lot from Ford.
“I learned to respect everyone’s thoughts and to stand up for what I believe and not to be intimidated by others who were on the opposite side,” she said. “He also taught me to be my own person and always tell the truth.”
“He was really a great talk master and was fairly knowledgeable in a lot of areas,” said Pat Costa, manager of Costa-Eagle Radio in Methuen.
“He never held anything back. When you talked to him, you always knew where he stood,” Costa said.