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Meet Your Neighbor: Mel Webster

Mel Webster is an active community member who loves sports and music.

Name: Mel Webster 

Family: Married to Kathleen Sullivan for 30 years. Two children, Elisabeth, a sophomore at Emerson College, and Thomas, a junior at The Governor's Academy. 

Why North Reading?: We have lived in North Reading for nearly 30 years and I love the town. My wife and I grew up in Haverhill and when we were looking for someplace closer to Boston, North Reading seemed like the perfect place. I love volunteering and have been involved in many school and town activities over the past 20 years. The only way a town thrives is for its residents to participate.

Industry: Marketing and Communications.

Occupation: Principal at Aquarius Advisers, a boutique communications firm with several clients from the technology industry. I have been in PR/Communications for more than 30 years and have worked with some of the largest tech companies in the world, including IBM and Hewlett-Packard, as well as some of the hottest startup companies. Prior to Aquarius, I was one of the founders of a technology PR firm that became one of the largest in the country. 

School: University of Massachusetts, BA in English/Journalism 

Hobbies: My main hobbies are watching and coaching sports and listening to music, both live and recorded. I am a Boston Celtics season ticket holder and one of the biggest thrills of my life was seeing the Celtics beat the Lakers in 2008 to win the NBA championship. I also follow UMass sports closely, especially the basketball, hockey, football and lacrosse teams. I have coached youth sports for close to a dozen years, beginning with my daughter's youth soccer team when she was seven-years-old and running all the way through coaching my son's U18 soccer team this year. I also have coached basketball and lacrosse in town. 

Favorite Music: Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello. They have all delivered tremendous shows nearly every time I have seen them. Recently, I have seen Coldplay twice and they rank near the top of all of the concerts I have seen. Two shows I recently thought were great were Arcade Fire and Death Cab for Cutie.

Other Interests: Public education and the challenge of preparing our kids for an economy and world that in many cases we can only imagine. This is why I am serving my third term on the North Reading School Committee and why I was actively involved with the school system in other capacities prior to running for a school committee seat. I am fascinated by what technology may be able to do to help teach and prepare our children for the future, but it will never be a replacement for great teachers. 

Faborite Movie:  Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and It's a Wonderful Life. The former is the funniest movie I have ever seen and the latter is the most touching and heartfelt movie ever made. 

Favorite book: House, by Tracy Kidder. 

Favorite Restaurant: I have to stay local and go with the . Great barbecue and always a great meal. Also need to give a shout out to my friends at the for their great subs and pizza.  

Fun Facts:

  • Born in Haverhill, Mass., which at one time was known as the "Queen shoe city of the world," due to the large number of womens' shoe manufacturers in the city. 
  • As a newspaper reporter, right out of college, got to interview George H.W. Bush during the republican primaries in 1979-80, and follow him around during a campaign tour, which included a tee shirt company in Plaistow, NH.  
  • Played pinball with Elvis Costello in 1978 in the bowels of the University of Massachusettts student union building. 
Barry February 06, 2012 at 04:03 AM
Mr. Webster is interested in public education, yet this article indicates that his son attends a private high school. What message does it send to the community when a three term member of the School Committee sends his child to a private school instead of North Reading High?
Mel Webster February 06, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Barry -- I can tell you the following: For 15 years, including seven plus on the school committee, I have worked to make North Reading's schools better. From helping raise more than $60,000 to purchase new books when there was no money in the budget, to serving on the school committee finance subcommittee to volunteering in the classroom, I have always been there for the schools. My wife has volunteered in the schools for more than a dozen years, from the Little School library to helping the NRHS Masquers prepare for various shows, and she continues helping to this day. She has found her experience to be rewarding and enjoys giving back to the schools. Both of my children began school in the North Reading pre-school at the Little School. My daughter graduated from NRHS in 2010 and was well-prepared for college life and the world beyond that. My son attended North Reading schools through grade 8. He had the opportunity to attend The Governor's Academy and as a family, we made a decision that it was the right thing to do for him. The decision to send our son to a private school is in no way a reflection on the quality of the North Reading public schools, which I believe are some of the best in the state. And, in terms of bang for the buck, I don't think you will find much better. I care greatly about public education and will continue to commit time to making our schools better. Oh, one last thing -- I am a product of 16 years of public education -- Go, UMass!
Mary B February 06, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Barry I tend to agree with you! I too question the message a School Committee member opting to send his child to a "prestigious" private high school is sending to the rest of the town. NRPS were good enough for my three children. All got an excellent education that prepared them for college and life after college. An education, whether public or private is as good as the individual makes of it. My children also had the opportunity to attend a prestigious private school, as a firm believer, my children remain at NRHS. I supplemented their learning with opportunities throughout the summer and school vacations. Now that my children are in their 30's and I look back at their cohorts both public and privately educated and where they are today, from my very small sample the private high school students did no better in the college acceptances and future earning power. The question is not how much money one raises, or how much time one volunteers. However, actions always speak louder that words,so the action of a school committee member sending a child to a prestigious private school leaves me questioning, what is missing from NRHS?
Mel Webster February 06, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Mary B., nothing is missing from North Reading's public schools, and I want to make that perfectly clear. We as a family chose to send our son to private high school for a variety of reasons. If the citizens of North Reading feel that this issue makes me unqualified to serve as a school committee member, then they have every right to vote me out in the next election if I choose to run for a fourth term. Unfortunately, very few residents seem to want to commit the time to run for the committee since there has not been a contested election in 9 years. My record of support for and commitment to our schools stands and I won't spend any more time defending it.
Charlie Smith February 06, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Barry and Mary B, I see a citizen volunteer his time, duly elected by the town's voters. How do you volunteer you time toward the betterment of the town, beside these anonymous rants you both leave on the 'Patch'?
Mary B February 06, 2012 at 06:55 PM
I take my right of free speech as a citizen quite seriously and I am expressing my right to free speech in this forum and I certianly hope you are not trying to silence me. As a 40+ year resident of North Reading, I have spent countless hours volunteering in various aspects for this town, from PTO's, Girl Scouts, youth sports, town meetings, and proudly voting in favor of every single school override starting back in the mid 1980's. Even thoug I no longer have school aged children, I am full support the current proposal for the new Middle/High School and will once again be performing my civic duty by attending Town Meeting and voting in favor at the upcoming Special Election. I am not an individual that looks for only what directly benefits me, but what benefits our entire community. It as my civic duty to support the NR school system and pay taxes so that future generations can benefit from what was started in Massachusetts many many years ago - Free Public Education. For the record, I have never questioned Mr. Webster's volunteer record - It is clear he does volunteer - and Mr. Webster is correct, in this current environment few people take the time to volunteer. As a free citizen it is his choice where he sends his children to school. However, as a voter, I look to vote for individuals that not just state the"correct" views, but also "live" the correct views. That is the point of my so called "rant"!
Ben Aiello February 06, 2012 at 10:19 PM
You certainly have the right to free speech, I'll back you up on that one. However, this was a 'meet you neighbor article', not a political advertisement. I question the appropriateness of the personal comments about his school choice you made in regards to this article. Is this how you treat all your 'neighbors'? My Mother always taught me to speak my mind, but reminded me there is a time and place for everything. From some of your other comments you seem otherwise reasonable, but again I am not sure what they have to do with this article. This was suppose to be a light and fun series that allows readers to meet some of the folks in town, not a platform to rattle someone's cage
Barry February 07, 2012 at 03:12 AM
With respect, this represents the kind of rank hypocrisy that has made the public so cynical about elected officials and government in general. You state that you believe that North Reading public schools “are some of the best in the state”. They are apparently not, however, good enough for your son. I’m sure there are plenty of parents who, if presented with the “opportunity” to have their children attend private school instead of North Reading public schools, would take advantage of that opportunity. However, the $36,000 yearly tuition at a school such as Governor’s is out of reach for most. Those parents don’t have a choice; their children must attend public schools. There are also plenty of parents who could afford to send their children to private schools but nevertheless choose to send their children to North Reading public schools, because they truly believe in public schools and they believe in the quality of North Reading’s public schools. You claim that your decision to send your son to a private school “is in no in no way a reflection on the quality of the North Reading public schools”. Actions speak louder than words, and your actions belie your claim.
Mel Webster February 07, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Barry -- I guess I won't expect your vote if I decide to run again :)
Mel Webster February 07, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Thanks, Ben. If I had known i was going to be opening myself up to shots across the bow I probably would not have decided to participate in this feature. I have a pretty strong back however, and you know what they say, "sticks and stones........."
Kathleen February 07, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Well said Ben. There is a time and place for everything and I don't think the "Meet Your Neighbor" column should be a forum for this type of discussion. Our choice to send our son to a private high school does not send a message of any type to this community. This wonderful community could be made better if more people would particate in a more positive way, instead of spreading this negativity.
Maureen Vacca February 07, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Wow...I can't believe that anyone would attack Mel for allowing his son to attend a private school. If my kid wanted that experience, and I could afford it, and they got in, then certainly I would support their choice. That is what parents do!! What if his son went to The Voke...? Mel, you not only have my vote every time you run but I hope you continue to serve our school system, you are doing an excellent job. I also encourage more parents to consider running for SC and get involved! Maureen Vacca
Rick Quarti February 07, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Good one!
Marci Bailey February 07, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Thank you for your service, Mel. You have given much to the School Committee, town, and students of North Reading. I thank you and your wife for your spirit of volunteerism and your dedicaiton.

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