NORTHBRIDGE ---Thomas Mattson, a newspaperman for nearly 40 years in Central Massachusetts and California, died peacefully Tuesday June 8th at Rose Monahan Hospice House in Worcester, MA at the age of 86.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, he was educated at St. Paul Academy and was an honor graduate of Harvard University. He studied theology as a graduate student for two years at Union Theological Seminary in New York and English and History for two years at the University of Minnesota. Coming from a golf family, he was an assistant pro briefly in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
After college, he visited 14 countries in a six-month odyssey through Europe that took him as far as Istanbul. During his travels, he once slept in a steam shovel and at another time voluntarily in a jail. In Norway, he wondered why it took him all day to walk on hairpin mountain roads before reaching a hotel on the horizon. It turned out the map he used listed distances in seven-mile units so that what he assumed was five miles was in fact 35.
While hitchhiking in Germany, he was falsely accused by German and American military police as having gone AWOL. One of the criteria for the assumption was that the vagrant was said to speak fluent German. Although that was hardly true, Mattson found it edifying. Later, he was captured in Yugoslavia as a possible spy, and was interrogated for half a day by a local Communist commandant. In Istanbul he taught briefly at the English High School. He spent a week in an Italian hospital after an accident in which he broke his jaw and received other injuries.
After a stint as a substitute teacher in Minnesota schools. He entered seminary, where he studied Old Testament theology and other related subjects. He once wrote a perhaps overly ambitious paper that sought to reinterpret prophetic authority. He worked for two years as a fieldwork assistant at a church in the Bronx.
He then joined the staff at a daily newspaper in Long Beach, California. After that, he enrolled in the graduate English Department of the University of Minnesota, where he studied under poet-critic Allen Tate. At Harvard, he was a member of Archibald MacLeish’s advanced writing class of a dozen students.
At Union, he especially relished the teaching of the Old Testament scholar Samuel Terrien. Other favorites were theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and Isaiah James Muilenburg. He often expressed his gratitude for the New York school's key role in his development.
After his marriage to the former late Hedy Fishbach of Cincinnati, Mattson located in the Blackstone Valley, where he worked as a newsman, bureau chief, columnist and photographer for some 36 years. The couple had two sons --- Christopher and Geoffrey ---born on the mid-1960’s.
In the 1970’s he remarried, to the former Sharron Nolette. The couple had three daughters ---Leah, Erica and Jennifer. Mr. Mattson had 10 grandchildren.
He was editor of a Worcester ecumenical journal --- “Doing Theology” --distributed nationally.
He was working on a 600-page novel, “The Lonely Golfer’s Link to Metaphysics” and has previously published a trilogy about the people and history of the Blackstone Valley ---” Small Town,” “Bell Tower,” and “Orchard Voices.” While working at Westborough State Hospital, he edited and was the major writer and photographer for a book about the then 100-year-old institution --- “Renascence of a Hospital: The Westborough Story.”
In 1999, Mattson received an award from the Massachusetts Planners Association. A journalist with the Blackstone Valley Tribune of the Stonebridge Press Group, he represented the states smaller newspapers. At the awards dinner in Providence, he sat at the same table as the recipients of the large newspaper planning award ---The Boston Globe Spotlight Team. His articles on the history of Armenian faith were published worldwide in the communication organ of the Armenian Apostolic Church. One of Mattson’s pleasant duties at the Telegram was serving for a dozen years on a panel of colleagues who annually selected the Central Massachusetts Super Football Team. He was one of only two panelists who had seen a 6-4, 190-pound Milford High junior play football. The boy’s name was Howie Long, and he wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Another experience a bit out of the ordinary was playing the 10 toughest golf holes in Central Massachusetts as selected by a panel of experts, then writing a series of stories about it for “Feature Parade.”
He wrote a weekly column for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette “Valley Views” for 10 years.
When asked how he felt about migrating to a place far removed from the limelight, Mattson often reflected that, had he succeeded in his own primary choices, things might not have worked out as well. He never felt he was writing down to the reader. If he had to look up a word, he thought it would not hurt the reader to do the same.
Some friends saw him as a stalwart sort, but others vouched for the presence of an array of fears ---elevators, caves (he once had to cut short his tour of the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and dreaded the Holland Tunnel in New York). Although he was somewhat squeamish, at Harvard he volunteered once a week at the emergency ward of Massachusetts General Hospital. He wore a white coat and was sometimes taken for a young M.D., which delighted him.
He wrote a weekly column, “Musings,” for the Tribune from 1996 to 2010.
He often credited the people of the Blackstone Valley for vastly enriching his life. He felt blessed by both his children and grandchildren. The latter include Amber Fortier, Joseph Fortier, Deven Crews, Juliana Mattson, Aidan Mattson, Amber Friend, Ashley Friend and Cameron Friend, Soren Mattson and Sophie Mattson.
Mr. Mattson was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, the son of the late Leonard and Olga (Hansen) Mattson and brother to the late Joyce McCahey of South St. Paul. He leaves behind his children; Christopher Mattson of Marlborough, Geoffrey Mattson and his significant other Dr. Jiali Li of California, Leah Zych Mattson and spouse Patryk Zych of Boston, Erica Friend and spouse Daniel Friend of Auburn and Jennifer Mattson of Webster. In addition, he leaves his grandchildren, Amber and Joseph Fortier, Juliana Mattson, Deven Crews, Aidan Mattson, Amber, Ashley and Cameron Friend, Soren and Sophie. He further leaves, Thomas McCahey, a nephew and his daughter Katie (McCahey) Budd; Mark McCahey and spouse Mary McCahey, and nieces Lori McCahey and Jean McCahey, all in Minnesota.
Our family would like to extend deep gratitude to all the staff at Boston Medical Center and Rose Monahan Hospice House for the wonderful care received during his final days.
Calling hours are Thursday, June 17, from 5-7PM. A Funeral Service, in the funeral home, will be at 10AM, Friday, June 18. Inurnment will follow in Pine Grove Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Rose Monahan Hospice Home, 10 Judith Rd., Worcester, MA 01602..
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