He was the perfect old-school local newspaper publisher, equally comfortable with posting Little League scores as he was with taking on powerful politicians. He believed in a mix of community news, pictures of Brownie troops and senior citizens at a dance. But also wouldn’t hesitate to take on any politician, who deserved a swift boot in the butt in the pages of the Peabody Citizen, a weekly newspaper that became ingrained in Peabody’s cultural fabric.
When Tom Grelish, editor, publisher, friend, devoted father and husband — and the last of the great local “characters” — passed away unexpectedly Saturday night, an era ended for our burg and for local newspapering. He was only 63.
I’m not sure what the future holds for the Peabody Citizen, a weekly through which Tom Grelish defined the phase “local newspaper,” but with his passing things will never be the same when it comes all the Peabody news that’s fit to print.
If Tom could speak to us now, he’d probably say, in his legendary self-deprecating style: “Big deal. The village just lost its idiot.” He once proudly showed me a key chain he had with something similar written as a slogan.
It was something that showed off his sense of humor, but make no mistake, Tom Grelish was a serious, and well-respected journalist.
Peabody has lost a journalistic watchdog. I’m sure there are plenty of places still left to post bake sale announcements, local sports scores, and other community news. But there will never be another Tom Grelish to tell it like it is while holding many a political scoundrel accountable.
In doing so, Tom never discriminated. You could be a close friend and an elected official, but if you did something really dumb as an elected official, he let you know about it in his weekly and much-read “Just Thinking” column. Before opening The Citizen in 1993, Tom had been a legendary local sports writer for the old Peabody Times.
But, perhaps, this local guy with ink in his veins, earned legendary status in the 1990s when he used his small, but mighty weekly paper to take on one of the most-powerful politicians in Peabody’s history.
Just when Mayor Peter Torigian had managed to control all of the local media spin, and totally influence every editorial written about Peabody in the Salem News, along came Tom Grelish. At first, Tom was just telling the truth about Powerful Pete, and his very controlling ways, even dubbing him the “Emperor.” And when Torigian got his revenge by not allowing The Citizen to benefit from a lucrative legal notice ad business, it become Grelish vs. the City of Peabody.
When local businesses and residents come before the City Council for special permits and variances, they are required – at their own expense – to publish a legal notice in any local newspaper of their choosing. But during Torigian’s rein, the city wouldn’t offer residents and businesses the option of posting their ads in The Citizen. What it meant too was that residents would be forced – at a higher cost – to publish their legals in the Salem News, a paper that always painted the Torigian Administration in a very positive light.
While Tom Grelish was hailing Torigian as the Emperor, Salem News editorial page editor Nelson Benton was throwing roses at the mayor’s feet.
Tom Grelish fought this legal ad injustice in court, and not only won the right to run the ads, but also took the city for thousands of dollars in damages.
“It was a very big moment not only for The Citizen, but for small newspapers everywhere. We got national attention for that one,” Tom told me last fall. “As a newspaper guy it was a pretty proud moment for me. The citizens of Peabody also got a much less-expensive choice for their legal ads.”
And local, small-town newspaper publishers everywhere could thank him for being a champion of the little guy.
It was an all glorious, all-American journalistic run that ended much too soon. This space definitely owes its “chutzpah” to Tom Grelish, who will continue to inspire us to hold elected officials accountable to the people who put them in office.
My sincere condolences to Patti, John, and Jackie, and the entire extended Grelish family.
I’m positive that Tom’s up in heaven right now getting ready to pen his latest “Grelish’s Goulash” sports column, or a “Just Thinking” column where he’ll poke the “Emperor” once more.
— 30 –
… my friend
If you would like to attend Tom’s services, here is the information:
(Relatives and friends are kindly invited to gather on Thursday at 9 AM from the Conway, Cahill-Brodeur Funeral Home, 82 Lynn St., Peabody, followed by a Funeral Mass at 10 AM in St. John the Baptist Church, Peabody. A visitation will be held on Wednesday from 4 – 8 P.M. in the funeral home. Burial will be in Cedar Grove Cemetery, Peabody. His family suggests those who wish make a donation in his name to a Peabody Youth Sports group, or Peabody High School Athletic Department. )