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Monte Basbas, 92; a mayor, judge

Monte G. Basbas served three terms as mayor of Newton, starting in 1965.

1965 globe file

Monte G. Basbas served three terms as mayor of Newton, starting in 1965.

Monte G. Basbas did not tell his father when he launched his 1965 campaign to be mayor of Newton.

“My father hated politicians,” Mr. Basbas recalled in a 2008 interview for the Wayland High School History Project.

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But a neighbor mentioned the mayor’s race to George Basbas, who had emigrated from Greece and ran a grocery in New Hampshire during the Great Depression. He called his son to express his annoyance.

“‘You’re going to go into politics? Why, why? I sent you to college to send you to law school to become a practicing lawyer. I don’t want you to be a politician,’” Mr. Basbas said his father told him.

“But it turned out to be a great field because Newton was very honorable, you know?” Mr. Basbas told the students conducting the interview.

Mr. Basbas, who was elected to three terms as mayor before he was appointed a District Court judge in 1972, died May 25. He was 92 and lived in Concord, after residing in Wayland, Sudbury, and Newton.

His friend Mark A. White, an attorney who represented clients in his court and also was a former Newton alderman, said Mr. Basbas was “a law-and-order type of judge.”

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“You started off with the presumption the cop was telling the truth,” White said.

White recalled feeling anxious one day when Mr. Basbas started a proceeding by asking him to approach the bench. White had just written a column about politics for a local paper.

“He said, “Mark, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your column,’” White said. “That was Monte. He was a character. Some people had problems with him, but I never had problems with him.”

Mr. Basbas’s style on the bench drew the ire of some in his court, and an investigation by the state Judicial Conduct Commission became more public than usual in January 1990. Although the proceedings were confidential, Mr. Basbas decided to issue a seven-page statement and release the hearing officer’s 76-page report to counter what he called “an avalanche of adverse, erroneous, and one-sided media coverage.”

Although the commission found that his comments to two lawyers amounted to misconduct, it dismissed charges. The commission found that Mr. Basbas’s actions did not “constitute a pattern” and added that he “has been chastened and educated by the formal proceedings themselves.”

A couple of weeks later, Mr. Basbas sent a letter to Governor Michael S. Dukakis saying he would retire from the bench in April 1990.

Born in Manchester, N.H., Mr. Basbas was one of six siblings. He was a football lineman at Manchester Central High School and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1998. Mr. Basbas also went to Kimball Union Academy, a private preparatory school in Meriden, N.H., before going to Dartmouth College.

He said during the Wayland High School History Project interview that his parents ran a grocery store and that his father also worked in a shoe factory.

Mr. Basbas said his first job was at a post office.

“I was putting mail in the boxes,” he told the Wayland students. “And they didn’t pay a lot of money, but it was enough. . . . It gave me enough money that I could go to the cowboy shows on Saturday mornings.”

During World War II, he set aside his studies at Dartmouth to join what was then the Army Air Forces, for which he flew fighter planes in the Pacific and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His family said he flew more than 62 missions.

The Manchester, N.H., newspaper ran a photograph of Mr. Basbas in 1944 when he became the third and youngest of his brothers to become an officer.

Frederick V. Gilgun, a friend and retired judge, recalled that Mr. Basbas was a tall, former football lineman, adding that he always tried to picture him wedged into a P-38 fighter plane while enemy flak pounded the wings.

“He never claimed to be a hero of anything,” Gilgun said. “He just always said how lucky he was to be where he was. He really felt he had a great experience in life, and he did.”

Gilgun, who appeared as a witness for Mr. Basbas before the Judicial Conduct Commission, said that “we didn’t always agree but he was never disagreeable.”

“What impressed me as a young judge was that Monte always made time to share with the younger members of the bar,” Gilgun said. “He was confident in his positions and he could reach out and explain why he did things, which is a little unusual for judges to do.”

Mr. Basbas graduated from Boston University School of Law in 1949 and started work as an assistant in the Newton City Clerk’s office.

He served as city clerk from 1951 until he was elected mayor in 1965, campaigning on a platform promising to hire more police officers and build a new high school.

Mr. Basbas also took pride in presiding over the awarding of air rights for development over the Massachusetts Turnpike for what is now a Shaw’s supermarket, according to his family.

Governor Francis W. Sargent, a Republican, appointed Mr. Basbas in 1972 to be a District Court judge in Newton.

In 1948, Mr. Basbas married Audrey Vagiates, who died in 2011 at 84.

Mr. Basbas leaves two sons, John of Framingham and Monte Jr. of Maynard; a daughter, Audrey Ann of Great Barrington; and five grandchildren.

Throughout his life, Mr. Basbas enjoyed boating, fishing, hunting, photography, and car trips to all lower 48 states, his family wrote in a tribute.

“He was, to his 50 family members, the ‘go to’ patriarch for decades,” his family wrote. “He had a strong unspoken belief that each of one’s personal actions has a lasting influence on those who are yet to occupy our space. He truly believed in the future and acted in a manner to see that current endeavors created a better future for those to come.”

J.M. Lawrence can be reached at jmlawrence@me.com.

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