Thaddeus Buczko was sitting at home in Salem one September evening in 1964 when the phone rang, according to an account of the conversation that followed.
Francis X. Bellotti, then the lieutenant governor, was calling to discuss a possible successor to state Auditor Thomas Buckley, who had died of a heart attack the day before the primary election. Bellotti began by asking: “Ted, what are you doing?”
“I’m watching ‘Gunsmoke’ on TV,” replied Mr. Buczko, who had served as a Salem city councilor and a state representative before becoming Salem’s postmaster.
Edward J. McCormack Jr., a top Democrat who thought Mr. Buczko would be the party’s best candidate for auditor, related the rest of the exchange in a 1996 Globe interview:
" ‘How’d you like to be the next auditor,’ says Frank. ‘Can I think about it?’ Buczko says. ‘Yeah, but we need an answer; I’ll call you in 10 minutes,’ which he does, and Buczko says yes.”
That brief conversation launched one of the longest tenures in the state’s executive branch. Appointed to the post several days later, Mr. Buczko went on to win the general election by nearly 380,000 votes and serve as auditor until 1980.
After his state auditor tenure, Mr. Buczko was appointed to the Essex County Probate and Family Court bench, where retired as first justice upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
In 2017, the courthouse in Salem was renamed the Thaddeus Buczko Building to honor his decades of public service.
Mr. Buczko was also one of the state’s most prominent Polish-Americans, even arranging for a lobster dinner for then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla when the future pope visited Boston in 1969.
Mr. Buczko “was a modest legend,” state Auditor Suzanne M. Bump tweeted, adding that he was a “mentor to many, myself included.”
At Norwich University, his alma mater in Vermont, he launched the Buczko Family Scholarship and the Judge Thaddeus Buczko ’47 Scholarship to help students in financial need.
The university’s Mack Hall’s Cybersecurity War Room was named for him in 2018.
“Ted has embodied the Norwich guiding value of service before self,” Richard W. Schneider, who was then the university’s president, said when the room was dedicated.
A longtime member of the military, Mr. Buczko served in the Navy during World War II, assigned at first to the USS Bearss destroyer and then to the USS Midway aircraft carrier.
He had begun attending Norwich University before the war and returned to finish a bachelor’s degree in government, graduating with honors in 1947.
Mr. Buczko subsequently was commissioned in the Army and served during the Korean War as a unit tank commander, according to the university’s tribute, and for years afterward he was in the Army Reserve, retiring in 1979 as a colonel.
“The Army awarded him a Meritorious Service Medal in 1975 and a Legion of Merit in 1979,” the university said in its tribute.
Born in Salem on Feb. 23, 1926, Mr. Buczko was the middle child among seven siblings.
His parents, Ignacy and Veronica (Brzozowska) Buczko, had been farmers in Poland and moved to the United States to find work in Salem’s mills, his father as a leather worker.
The couple lived on Ward Street, in the community’s Polish neighborhood, until the Great Salem Fire in 1914, according to the family’s information on the website of O’Donnell Funeral Home in Salem. After living in tents and temporary housing while the neighborhoods were being rebuilt, the Buczkos returned to Ward Street, where Mr. Buczko grew up.
He graduated from Salem High School in 1943 before heading to Northfield, Vt., to attend Norwich University.
In 1951, he graduated from Boston University School of Law and joined a Salem law firm before he was elected to serve on the Salem City Council and subsequently to a state representative seat.
Mr. Buczko ran the Essex County operation for Edward M. Kennedy’s US Senate campaign in 1962, and with Kennedy’s support, he was appointed postmaster in Salem the following year.
When Democratic Party officials were choosing an auditor candidate, after Buckley died in 1964, Mr. Buczko’s family background made him an attractive addition to the statewide ticket, as did his political and administrative experience.
While conferring with Bellotti and Kevin White — the future Boston mayor who was then secretary of state — McCormack noted that including a Polish-American candidate would extend the appeal of an otherwise Irish-American “green” ticket.
Mr. Buczko handily won each reelection campaign as auditor and more than once was the state’s top vote-getter.
In 1980, Governor Edward J. King appointed him to be an associate justice at Essex County Probate and Family Court. Mr. Buczko became first justice in 1986 and retired a decade later.
Along with his years as a judge and serving in elective offices, Mr. Buczko supported each of his alma maters and was active in civic, philanthropic, and Polish-American organizations, such as the New York City-based Kosciuszko Foundation, which promotes cultural and educational exchanges between the United States and Poland.
After he died, his friend and biographer Bonnie Hurd Smith recalled in a letter to The Salem News that Mr. Buczko had encouraged everyone to “live a little for others,” in his own 1970 letter to the editor.
“Seek out those less fortunate and lend a helping hand,” he wrote. “A kind word of encouragement to one, an interest in the problems of another may bring you more happiness than given. A little service here and there makes a barren life less bare.”
In a tribute on the funeral home website, his family recalled that Mr. Buczko “adored the extensive and ever-expanding Buczko clan, delighting in their company and their achievements. And they adored him.”
A funeral Mass has been said for Mr. Buczko, who leaves two sisters, Alfreida Hunt and Irene Shea, and a brother, Albert, all of Salem.
Burial is in Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.
In 1969, Cardinal Wojtyla — who later became Pope John Paul II — visited the United States. He toured institutions of the Boston Archdiocese, and Mr. Buczko was asked to arrange a lunch with local leaders.
Choosing Jimmy’s Harborside, Mr. Buczko found himself sitting next to the cardinal, for whom he set up entree choices of beef or baked stuffed lobster. The future pope picked the latter and the two spoke together in Polish and English during their meal.
As lunch came to a close, Wojtyla spoke to the gathering, thanking Mr. Buczko for his efforts and predicting that the state auditor might someday be elected governor, US senator, or president.
Mr. Buczko then rose to offer closing words and said of his dining companion, “someday Cardinal Wojtyla may actually become pope.”
“It was all in good fun,” Mr. Buczko recalled in a Globe interview of his prediction, which came true nine years after that lunch.
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.