Before leaving us, Peter Spaulding came down the aisle, fair to both sides

COURTESY—

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor columnist

Published: 03-02-2024 12:00 PM

Back in the 1970s, Peter Spaulding and other like-minded Republicans met at the old Brick Tower bar in Concord regularly to consider the direction of their party.

There, Spaulding, Steve Duprey, Jim Cleveland and a small group of young GOP members, moderates in the mold of former governor Walter Peterson, met to discuss what they saw as a country moving too far right. They named their group the Do the Right Thing Committee, and the name represented Spaulding’s vision through his decades of public service.

Before he died at age 80 two weeks ago from pancreatic cancer, Spaulding preached compromise, fairness and unity, foreign concepts in today’s political climate. His affiliation with a committee such as Do the Right Thing and his pledge to follow those aims with passion surprised no one.

“It was right after (former Gov.) Mel Thomson came to power,” said Duprey, considered a Republican leader in state politics, referring to Thomson’s ultra-conservative policies. “This was an informal group that was concerned with the modern Republican Party and Mel’s ideas.”

Added Peter’s widow, Beth Spaulding, “Walter (Peterson) was a great statesman and he was Peter’s model. Persons from both sides voted for him. He always reached across the aisle and wondered what was right to do. I heard him on the phone and he could cut through red tape and bring people together.”

Born in New London, Peter Spaulding was a Merrimack County Commissioner before serving 24 years on New Hampshire’s Executive Council. He and Duprey played large roles campaigning for John McCain in the Granite State primary, helping the late war hero win here in 2000 and 2008.

Beth was not at a loss for words despite the sadness that’s surrounded her since Peter died on Feb. 12, following a brave four-year battle against a disease that normally gives you less than half that time.

Instead, her memories came in rapid-fire fashion, one after another, with few breaks, leading Beth to apologize that her mind was racing in so many directions.

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“It’s been a little hard here recently,” she said.

They were married for 40 years and lived in Hopkinton. Peter loved spy novels, cooking for friends at Christmas, defending the Granite State’s First-in-the-Nation primary, volunteering for the Community Action Program, fishing and, of course, trying to bridge the gap between the two major political parties.

Democrat Tara Reardon, a Merrimack County Commissioner, served with Spaulding for six years, until his retirement in 2022. She said Spaulding’s attention to detail acted as an insurance policy, ensuring that all variables were considered.

“He kept track to make sure we were going to get the best price we could,” Reardon said.

Reardon also mentioned Spaulding’s effort to be fair, a reflection of his old committee, the one about doing the right thing.

“He had a goal and a vision that had nothing to do with whether you were a Democrat or a Republican,” Reardon said. “I can not recall any vote where he was partisan.”

And according to Duprey, Spaulding also repaired cracks that surfaced within the GOP foundation. Duprey and Spaulding ran in a crowded six-person race for the U.S. House in the 1992 primary. Spaulding knew early that he had no chance. Duprey was in the hunt until the end, called at dawn the next morning.

Near midnight, Duprey got an unexpected boost from a rival when Spaulding paid a visit to the Comfort Inn, Duprey’s headquarters for the long night.

“I don’t know many people who are in a hard-fought congressional campaign, and we were not close, and when he sees he’s not going to win he decides to come to our gathering,” Duprey said. “That bonded and cemented a good friendship that night.”

Politics could be a dirty game back then as well. Beth said she received recorded calls that accused her husband of being a child killer and named in lawsuits.

Yet there was Spaulding at the end of the campaign trail, at the post-election unification breakfast, smiling and caring. Sometimes, Beth stayed home.

“As the wife of a candidate, I was magnanimous about it all night before the election,” Beth said. “He would go (to the breakfast) and he would invite me and I had had enough by then.”

Spaulding’s issue-by-issue sense of politics, his ability to ignore ideology, aligned well with John McCain’s independent streak. McCain and his wife, Cindy, routinely cited Spaulding during the New Hampshire primary.

“John and Cindy thought very highly of him,” Duprey said.

Spaulding’s work in public service included a 24-year ride on New Hampshire’s Executive Council. He retired as Merrimack County Commissioner only two years ago.

He endured three years of chemotherapy, after doctors had told him he might live six more months. He felt so good in recent months, in fact, that he and Beth went to their house in Cape Coral, Fla., where Peter dug the holes each year and Beth did the planting.

“The cancer progressed quickly,” Beth said.

They flew home on a Sunday and Peter died the next day, Feb. 12. Beth appreciated the borrowed time she and her husband received.

“The doctors said this was atypical,” Beth said. “We had a long time, ... We chose to create great memories and we had holidays here and everyone came.”

Cards from strangers, those who worked with Peter in CAP, have flooded their home since his death. After the funeral, Peter and Beth’s house was packed with their children’s friends, mourners who grew close with the affable adult through the years.

That was no surprise. His quick decline, though, came from nowhere. Duprey had lunch with Peter shortly before he and Beth left for Florida. Spaulding gave Duprey a carved wooden Lake Sunapee trout, a decoy from Peter’s homemade collection.

“Too precious to use,” Duprey said. “A very meaningful gift.”

The two old friends expected to see each other in the spring, when Peter and Beth would return home.

“He did well for a number of years,” Duprey said. “He handled it with great grace. We will miss him. New Hampshire will miss him, too.”