After he was sworn in by Governor Edward J. King as clerk magistrate of the Woburn District Court in 1980, Arthur Paleologos told the audience at the State House that “district courts are the people’s courts.”
Appointed by governors, clerk magistrates manage the Commonwealth’s district courts, and a savvy clerk magistrate can offer citizens assistance with “a legal problem, no matter what it is,” Mr. Paleologos said that day.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you I’m the most knowledgeable clerk in the system,” he said, adding, “but I promise that I will conduct myself with a profound sense of integrity, with compassion and a sense of fair play for the people who come before our court seeking justice.”
Mr. Paleologos, a clerk in the Woburn court system for more than two decades, died of heart failure April 9 in Woodbriar of Wilmington nursing and rehabilitation center after living in Woburn most of his adult life. He was 88.
Paul Burke, a former colleague who is now director of court operations for the state Housing Court Department, called Mr. Paleologos “very compassionate” and recalled that he was “a great listener, with a very even temperament.”
“We used to deal with difficult situations, people who came in who were upset with the system,” Burke said. “Arthur would always listen to them, and maybe take them into a private office so they could calm down and he could ask them what he could do to help.”
Ordinarily, clerk magistrates are not sworn in at the State House, but an exception was made for Mr. Paleologos because at the time his son Nick of Lowell was serving in the House of Representatives.
During the swearing-in ceremony in 1980, King said Mr. Paleologos was chosen after the search committee considered his “education, practices, his work habits, his family, his integrity, and his judicial temperament.’’
“As an attorney with years of experience in the court, we feel that Arthur Paleologos fits every one of these in fine fashion,” he said.
Arthur A. Paleologos was born in Lowell to Greek immigrants and spoke only Greek when he began elementary school. Nevertheless, he was so intelligent that teachers recommended he skip the second and fourth grades, his son Nick said.
Mr. Paleologos was 15 and a junior at Lowell High School when he used his older brother’s name to get a job working nights in a textile mill. After a teacher caught him sleeping in chemistry class, Mr. Paleologos said he had been working eight-hour shifts each night, then coming home to wash up and eat breakfast before school.
Since he’d already earned the credits he needed to graduate, the school released him early and mailed him his diploma.
Mr. Paleologos enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and served in Europe and on a PT boat in the Pacific until World War II ended.
He attended Northeastern University on the GI Bill and met Janet Paicopolos at a dance in Lowell. They married in 1952.
Years later, when he was sworn in as clerk magistrate, Mr. Paleologos said she was “more than a wife and a mother, she’s been a good friend, partner, and over the past 28 years a great inspiration for me.’’
The couple settled in Woburn, and Mr. Paleologos took night classes at Suffolk University Law School while working days as an orderly at what is now the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford.
He graduated in 1956 and took a job selling insurance. While applying for a car loan at a credit union in Woburn, he met the organization’s president, who hired him as a lawyer on the spot, his son Nick said.
Mr. Paleologos represented many clients in cases at Woburn District Court before he was hired as assistant magistrate in 1970.
His son David of Lynnfield said Mr. Paleologos encouraged his children to pursue their interests and goals.
As a teenager, David started following the stock market, and Mr. Paleologos opened a custodial account so his son could practice trading, with minimal investments.
When a minority stockholders’ suit was brought against a company in which David owned shares, his father urged him to join the suit and even sent him to a Boston courthouse with a lawyer.
“Here I am, a 14- or 15-year-old kid with all these Wall Street types,” David recalled. “But my dad said that you don’t need to own 10 million shares to have a voice. He taught me how to fight for a cause.”
Mr. Paleologos devoted much time to the Woburn community that he loved, his family said, and in his spare time enjoyed playing golf and spending time by the pool with family.
Though firm, Mr. Paleologos didn’t pressure his children.
“He always let us go at our own pace,” said his son Jonathan of Methuen. “He let us blossom on our own.”
Nick became a Tony-award winning producer and head of the Massachusetts Film Office, Jonathan is a housing specialist in the Lawrence District Court, and David is head of the Suffolk University Political Research Center and a nationally recognized pollster.
Mr. Paleologos was proud of his sons’ careers and made clear during his swearing-in ceremony that family was his first priority.
“I’ve been blessed with riches beyond description,” he said, “and they are all deposited in the balcony to my left, my family.”
A service has been held for Mr. Paleologos, who in addition to his wife and three sons leaves five grandchildren.
“It was never about him; it was always about us,” Jonathan said.
Kathleen McKenna can be reached at email@example.com.