April 19, 2018 — Belmont Citizen-Herald
In a way, this is a story about neighborhoods. It’s a story about how neighborhoods have a certain rhythm to them. It’s a story of how residents of a neighborhood grow. How they change. How the residents can interact with each other and create something vibrant and fulfilling. It’s a story about community. It’s a story about Bill Skelley. Skelley, who passed away this month and who will be sorely missed by those who knew him, was all about community.
Bill Skelley lived on Warwick Road until his death. Oh no, not that (!) Bill Skelley. Did I forget to mention it? The story begins before Bill Skelley the Selectman. This was Big Bill, the one who was a firefighter in Cambridge. Bill, along with his wife Edna, raised their children, including Belmont’s future selectman, on this small one-block long street off Common Street. Bill and Edna began their tenure on Warwick Road as the young parents on the block. Bill and Edna, however, remained in their home for decades. Over time, they became the oldsters and other young families moved in around them.
As Bill and Edna aged, they became less and less able to do some of the necessary chores around their home. Living in New England, one of those chores, of course, was clearing the snow that seemed always to drift along the driveway running up the hill to the back of their home. Particularly in those days, before the time of snowblowers and contractors who cleared driveways with a pick-up and a blade, clearing snow proved a challenge to the seniors of Warwick Road.
My neighbor, Mike Smith, and I took it upon ourselves to visit the Skelley home after each snowfall to clear their driveway. We, and our wives, had become the youngsters on the block, displacing Bill and Edna from that status. And, quite frankly, being younger, we had stronger backs and more ability to clear the Skelley driveway than Big Bill did. It wasn’t an obligation. It was simply something neighbors did for neighbors.
That’s where “Little Bill” comes in. By now, Little Bill had completed his star sports career at Belmont High. He had married and had his own kids. He sharpened his own sense of community as he coached youth sports. He pursued that sense of community through participation on a variety of town committees, ultimately being elected to Belmont’s Board of Selectmen. He still regularly visited his parents, however, in their little white house with the long driveway on Warwick Road. And he noticed that his parents’ driveway always seemed to be clear after snow storms.
After he was elected to the Board of Selectmen, Little Bill visited Mike and I one night after visiting his parents across the street. He thanked us for helping his mom and dad. However, he did more than that. He talked about the needs of the larger community, of the town as a whole. He talked about the need for the town to have participation in community affairs by residents young and old. And he talked about how shoveling the driveway of an aging couple wasn’t all that different in principle from serving on a town committee addressing town needs. He asked Mike and I to think about what committees we might have an interest in.
Mike was appointed to the Historic District Commission. I was appointed to the Fair Housing Committee. All because we shoveled the driveway of a neighbor in need.
There are new residents now on Warwick Road, those who have come since the Skelleys, both “big” and “little,” lived there. The people who are the young families are different. The people who were young have now grown older and look to others for help with more frequency. The rhythm of the neighborhood continues. The cycle of change never ends. But we are lucky to have known Bill Skelley. What lives on, as embodied in the life of Bill Skelley, is the sense that we’re all in this together. We are more than a group of families who happen to live next to each other. We are a community.