Peter Kirwin - A bit of Falmouth's Soul

 

Having spent most of my adult life in public service, I have had the opportunity to meet thousands of people.  I have had the good fortune to call many of them friends.  I have had the gift to consider a few of them dear friends.  Fewer still have made a profound impact on my life.  Peter Kirwin was such a person.  He was not simply a department head during my twelve years as a Selectman, he became a trusted confidant and counselor. At times in my life when the daily undulations of my time here seemed like tidal waves, Peter's calm and caring helped me through.  He made a difference in some of the greatest challenges of my life.  With his passing last week, Falmouth lost a bit of its soul, and I lost a cherished friend.

When Peter retired less than two years ago, I penned the following column to share the thanks of a town and the gratitude of a community.  The words ring ever true today.  The only difference is now he is making footprints in Heaven.

"Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same."  This inspirational phrase, heard and seen by many of us countless times, usually reminds me of a dear friend lost long ago. This week, though, I thought of that phrase over and over again when thinking of the impact that a dear friend of us all, Peter Kirwin, has had on the greater Falmouth community.

His footprints are one our hearts, his fingerprints are on our policies of understanding and compassion, and his heart print is on the soul of our town.

Peter retired from his position as Falmouth's Director of Human Services last week after more than 25 years leading the local agency that is charged, as it says in its mission, with "Enhancing the quality of life of all Falmouth residents by ensuring the availability of a comprehensive range of health and human services."

This mission seems simple enough, but Peter knows better.  Enhancing the quality of life of all Falmouth residents truly means that no adult or child is left behind. There have been no empty slogans on Peter's watch, just important, life-changing programs available to all residents regardless of their ability to pay.

When Peter Kirwin came to the Town of Falmouth to begin this life's work, there was no manual for enhancing every life in town.  He wrote it.  Peter pioneered the concept of locally-based programs designed to make a difference in the human condition and now communities throughout the Commonwealth are following his lead and realizing the benefit - the human benefit - of having a local safety net to help citizens face the challenges of everyday life and having friends and neighbors holding it.

I had the honor to work with Peter for nearly half his time with the Town of Falmouth and learned early on that the modest amount of money spent in his department pays incalculable dividends in the lives of our citizens - from those who went to Yale to those who went to jail. The tentacles of suffering reach so far in today's society, therefore so too must the relief.  Peter saw this important angle and has overseen the expansion of support from the Town to many outside organizations also providing much-needed support, from the Cape Cod Free Clinic, to the Independence House for battered women and their children, to Gosnold's work with those suffering from substance abuse. Few programs exist on the Upper Cape that do not bear Peter's mark of community-based compassion. 

So thank you, Peter, for making everyone's lives part of yours. Thank you for understanding that it may not take a village to raise a child, but a little help - real humanity based help - from Town Hall sure helps. Thank you for keeping the faith and speaking up sternly but respectfully when well-intentioned but uniformed fiscal reformers tried to slice and slash the monies that directly benefit those most in need. Most of all, thank you for being a friend - to me, to your colleagues in Town Hall, and to every human you have ever met. Your footprints on our hearts will never wear away.

When he attended the Selectmen's meeting last week, Peter spoke regretfully of a week of lasts.  He was attending his last meeting of the Selectmen.  He was attending his last meeting of the Human Services Committee (also a pioneer thanks to Peter), and was presiding over his last staff meeting as Falmouth's Chief compassion officer. Selectman Kevin Murphy got it right.  He noted that Peter is now embarking on a journey of wonderful firsts. Among these firsts will be the ability to continue to touch lives and help others for the first time as citizen Peter Kirwin. He has footprints yet to make. "

This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.

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