Sylvio Dupuis has led Manchester, CMC
MANCHESTER - When the Palace Theatre nearly became a victim of urban renewal in 1974, then-Mayor Sylvio Dupuis needed to stall the wrecking ball for 90 days so sufficient funds could be raised to save the cherished venue.
"I called in department heads. I said, 'This looks like a real challenging project. If you take down part of the building, you've got (load) bearing walls ... you're going to have pipes under the street, all kinds of things, so be very careful about issuing permits,'?" Dupuis recalled recently.
The mayor's underlings understood his unspoken message.
"We bought the time, but that never became a public story," he said.
Those twin roles - public servant and cultural ambassador - have earned him one of this year's Granite State Legacy Awards, presented by the New Hampshire Union Leader and sponsored by Centrix Bank.
"I don't admire anyone more than I admire Syl Dupuis' public service and his passionate commitment to the city," said former Mayor Bob Baines, who served on the school board when Dupuis was mayor in the 1970s.
"I always admired his approach to leadership. He was a strong consensus builder. He always conducted himself with the highest possible integrity. He's a man of great wisdom and strength and commitment."
Kimon Zachos, senior partner at Sheehan, Phinney, Bass and Green, a Manchester law firm, said people could count on Dupuis to come through on various civic and nonprofit endeavors.
"I think Syl has been a singular force in the community and is someone any number of institutions can call on him if they need help," said Zachos, who served together with Dupuis on a few nonprofit boards, including the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. "He's always willing to help you."
Dupuis, a West Side optometrist, credits his three years as mayor for opening other doors with the public and private sectors.
"It was like getting a Ph.D. without getting a Ph.D. because no optometrist that I know of ever would have been asked to be president of Catholic Medical Center," Dupuis said. "Not because he was an optometrist, but because they wouldn't think he had the background. No optometrist would have been picked out of his practice on Hevey Street to be the commissioner of Health and Human Services or to be the insurance commissioner."
Even while a student at St. Marie High School in Manchester, he had his sights on the mayor's office, winning a citywide election in 1952 to be mayor for a day alongside the city's longest serving mayor, Josaphat T. Benoit.
"I always felt that you had to do more than just go to school or do one thing," Dupuis said. "You had to be active, and you had to be involved in the community."
In 1971, Dupuis won his first term by 264 votes and secured reelection with 89 percent of the vote.
He resigned during his second term to become the first president of Catholic Medical Center, helping merge two hospitals, a project he compared to "Noah's Ark."
"They really needed, I called it sort of glue, is you needed someone who would be outside in the community and who knew all the different communities and could be more the ambassador of why this was a good thing and why it would be good for the city," Dupuis said.
Two separate Republican governors later appointed the Democrat to be commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services in the 1980s and the state Department of Insurance in the 1990s.
Even at age 79 (today is his birthday), Dupuis leads a busy life. One recent day he attended breakfast and lunch meetings, a newspaper interview and a late-afternoon board meeting involving the Palace Theatre. He remains involved in the state's health care matters, among other things advising the president of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, which has a Manchester campus.
Even with receiving awards, Dupuis is only too eager to spread the credit.
"It's an honor shared with every organization that you've worked with because it isn't the president that does it. He may direct or he may lead, but when you are successful, it's because when you look over your shoulder, there are 10 or 20 or 100 or sometimes at the state 3,000 people who are working to carry out the mission," Dupuis said.