Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

May 16, 2013

Virginia Cole honoree recalls 'mentor'

By Dustin Luca

---- — Tina Girdwood has always credited town philanthropist and legendary volunteer Victoria Cole for motivating her decades of service to the town, including her initial run for School Committee in 1995.

So it’s no surprise that when Girdwood received the Virginia Cole Community Service Award at Town Meeting last week, all she could shake out was that Cole “was a very close friend” before she lost her composure.

Girdwood — the president of the Andover Coalition for Education who has contributed decades of volunteer service to the town including three terms on the School Committee — was one of three Andover residents recognized for their civic work.

Dick Collins, a 54-year veteran of the Andover school system, and Police Chief Brian Pattullo, who will soon retire after 32 years of service to the town, were both honored as well.

In presenting Girdwood’s award, School Committee Chairwoman Paula Colby-Clements said she first started collaborating with the honoree through her work with the Andona Society and its support of educational programs at Andover High School.

“I was immediately struck by her commitment to and passion for supporting educational initiatives in her schools,” Colby-Clements said.

Girdwood “embodies every trait a community could hope for in a citizen,” Colby-Clements continued. “She’s engaged, caring, patient and persistent, but always gracious.”

When asked to describe how receiving the award named after her late friend felt, Girdwood said she was left “virtually unable to say much, which is always a bit undoing when you’re surprised like that.”

“I worked alongside (Cole) on many of my town involvements, going way back to the ‘70s,” Girdwood said. “She was a real mentor to me, and once I was on the School Committee, I found that she was a wise sage, always somebody who was helpful to talk to and share experiences.”

But with work still left to do, Girdwood isn’t focusing on what she has accomplished.

“It’s not about me. It’s about ideas and things where a need has been identified in the community, whether it was recycling several years ago or a nonprofit group to help fund initiatives,” she said. “You’re not only contributing to some initiatives, but you’re also enjoying it and making great friends. What more could you ask for?”