In Westport, 'Hometown' boy makes good

Westport's John Bullard writes an ode to New Bedford, politics and life and service along the South Coast

By Ted Hayes
Posted 5/26/23

John Bullard sits down on a battered stool at the Hix Bridge Landing dock, clicks open a ballpoint pen and starts jotting notes in a spiral bound notebook. He's alone apart from a fisherman going …

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In Westport, 'Hometown' boy makes good

Westport's John Bullard writes an ode to New Bedford, politics and life and service along the South Coast

Posted

John Bullard sits down on a battered stool at the Hix Bridge Landing dock, clicks open a ballpoint pen and starts jotting notes in a spiral bound notebook. He's alone apart from a fisherman going after scup off the bridge behind him.

"Seventeen degrees," he says as he writes. "Celsius, centigrade, decimals, the language of science."

This quiet Friday morning, Bullard is measuring water temperature (cool) and clarity (low) around the landing for the Buzzards Bay Coalition, a volunteer job he's been doing for years. The Westport resident and former mayor of New Bedford, whose long career in government and fisheries management brought him to the Clinton White House, esteemed educational institutions and countless foreign countries, still loves getting his hands dirty.

What Bullard recently found much harder was writing "Hometown," his first book, which details the many roads he's taken over his 75 years. It will be officially launched at the New Bedford Whaling Museum on Thursday, June 1.

"I always had a high regard for real writers," said Bullard. "But I never realized how bloody difficult it is. Politics is all about, 'How do I get my whole campaign message down to a bumper sticker?' Real writing? I'm just an amateur."

"Hometown" is an ode to New Bedford, and details Bullard's long career of service to the scrappy old fishing village and the way of life along the region's beloved coast and farmlands. He begins with an acknowledgement that while he is aware that he was born into privileges most never have, he has strived to use his advantages for the greater good. It's a principle that has guided his long career and carries over to the present day, taking and testing water samples along the East Branch.

"I consider myself very fortunate," said Bullard, happily married with three kids and five grandchildren. "I had two parents who believed in education (and) I had a privileged upbringing. So I am very aware of the fact that 99 percent of the people, or more, in the world don't get the same advantages that I got. What I've tried to do is honor that or pay it back, whatever you want to call it. I lost elections, I got turned down for jobs, I had defeats along the way. I've had angry fishermen yell at me, but I tried my best."

"What I feel absolutely best about is I started this (career) by trying to figure out, how do I try to save the world? It's idealistic, but it's a great goal to have."

In Bullard's case, saving the world meant thinking local.

Drawn to politics from a young age, he served six years as mayor of New Bedford, bringing the city into compliance with the Clean Water Act by building a secondary wastewater treatment plant at Fort Rodman and paving the way for offshore wind to be located at the former Standard-Times Field.

Later, he joined the Clinton Administration, establishing the first federal office of Sustainable Development at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and later serving as Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries in the northeast.

Alongside many twists and turns, he co-founded the Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership, the SouthCoast Learning Network and the New Bedford Light, an online daily newspaper.

Today, he serves as chairman of the New Bedford Ocean Cluster and the Westport Community Resilience Committee, and serves on the Westport Planning Board and on the board of the Buzzards Bay Coalition.

Credit where due

Though he jokes that one of the goals behind the book was to recount his memories "while my brain still works a little bit," another major goal was to highlight the work done by many of his colleagues and friends over the years.

Context is everything, he said, and "I find there's a tendency for some people to think that history starts with their arrival. And so I want to make sure that people know" that that's not the case.

To that end, the book is filled with anecdotes of people famous and unheralded who he's known and worked with, from the late Grateful Dead lyricist, libertarian and Internet pioneer John Perry Barlow to Ted Kennedy to Sarah Delano, a long-time champion of historic preservation in New Bedford's historic district.

"I could take a master class in leadership from this elderly superwoman," he said of Delano. "And so I want to make sure that people know what she (and many others) did."

Whether or not he was effective in his writing is another thing — "I don't know, because that's really up to the readers," he said. But he joked that while his friend, noted author Nathaniel Philbrick, told him it was a good read, another friend at the Boston Globe was, jokingly, less kind.

"I'll be interested to see" how it's received, he said.

Note: While the release party is sold out, those interested in attending can register for any openings that might become available. You can register/RSVP here.

 

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