Editor’s Note: Lifelong local activist Helen Eccles was an education reporter years ago for the Andover Townsman. This tribute was written by former Eagle-Tribune reporter Casey Coburn.
If she had ever run for public office, Helen “Skip” Eccles would probably have won in a landslide, voted in by the myriad of friends she made from all walks of life.
Instead, she preferred to throw her 5-foot-2-inch dynamo self into working for candidates and causes she believed would make a difference in the world.
Former state Sen. Sue Tucker of Andover said that wherever there was a just cause — equal opportunity, women’s rights, the environment — Helen was there.
“She was one of the warriors for justice,” Tucker said.
Helen died last week at her home in Andover with her family by her side. She was 86.
Helen’s passion for justice was reinforced by the equally fierce sense of social concern of her late husband, Frank, a former Andover School Committee member who was a faculty member and administrator at Phillips Academy in Andover.
The couple, who shared the nickname “Skip,” worked together on the Andover-Dartmouth Urban Teachers Summer Institute, which they created for inner-city school teachers across the U.S.
Former Phillips faculty member David Penner, who served as the institute’s director during its last two years, said that Helen could talk to and work with anybody. When the institute first opened and teachers from the deep South arrived, dubious about the program, Penner said Helen made them feel welcome and at home — and helped them overcome any culture shock they experienced visiting Yankee territory for the first time.
But Helen’s energy extended beyond the boundaries of Phillips into the health, educational and daily living challenges of the Hispanic community in Lawrence. Through Christ Episcopal Church in Andover, she became active in the Merrimack Valley Project, an interfaith group committed to social justice, serving as its chairman and remaining active in it into her 70s and 80s.