Outspoken and determined, Alba Thompson was the first woman elected to the Plymouth Board of Selectmen, decisively winning a March 1986 special election to fill the unfinished term of a selectman who resigned from the board.
“This is my hometown,” she told the Globe in 1986 when asked after the election why she had run. “I love this town, and it has a lot of problems that need to be attacked. . . . We need long-range planning, greater efficiency, and more independence of thought in our boards and commissions.”
Though she went on to serve as chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, and long championed veterans’ issues in town, Mrs. Thompson made no secret that there was one part of the political process she did not like.
“I hated campaigning,” she told the Globe in 2003. “I hated all of that. I did not do it easily. I really wanted to crawl under the bed until the whole thing was over.”
Mrs. Thompson, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War who rose to the rank of major before being discharged from the Army Reserve when she was pregnant with her first child, died Jan. 2 in the Life Care Center of Plymouth. She was 94.
“She cared deeply about her community, her family, and the people she served,” said Ken Tavares, a friend who has served the Board of Selectmen for many years.
Mrs. Thompson’s son Loren Jr. of McLean, Va., said she “was an unstoppable force. She would invest months of time on projects that she thought were important.”
‘She didn’t have a hidden agenda. She wanted to do things for the right reasons.’Ken Tavares, Plymouth selectman
Those projects included a lengthy effort to bring to Plymouth an outpatient clinic for veterans, which opened last fall.
“She was tireless and wanted to get things done right,” Tavares said. “She didn’t have a hidden agenda. She wanted to do things for the right reasons. When she put her mind to it she really got things accomplished.”
But for all that Mrs. Thompson accomplished, her son said, “she didn’t really like politics.”
She was an advocate for more women seeking public office, telling the Globe in 2003 that “there are plenty of talented women who are holding positions in business and no lack of women who have plenty of drive and ability and creativity.”
Women bring a different perspective to public service, Mrs. Thompson said.
“I think women are not as tough and therefore not as mean as men are,” she said in the 2003 Globe interview. “Maybe it’s our role. That helps us to see the problems of the world in terms of both people and children. There is a distinct need for that kind of thinking and person. It brings another necessary dimension at any level.”
Alba C. Martinelli was the fifth of six children of Italian immigrants and the first born in the United States.
Having grown up in Plymouth during the Great Depression, “she counted every penny,” said her son Tony of Plymouth.
She graduated from what is now Bridgewater State University and taught for a few years before serving in the military during World War II.
In 1942, her family said, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and the Women’s Army Corps.
She told the Globe in 1986 that she was assigned to General Douglas MacArthur’s staff, and also served as a civil affairs officer in Japan, Korea, and China.
“He was great to work for,” she said of MacArthur. “He demanded efficiency and got it.”
She met Loren B. Thompson, an Army colonel, while they were deployed in the Far East, her sons said. After they married and were expecting their first child, Mrs. Thompson was discharged from the Army Reserve in the early 1950s because she was pregnant.
Fighting the decision all the way to the US Senate, her case drew newspaper headlines such as: “Ex-Wac, Fired as Mom, Tells US Facts of Life,” Linda Witt wrote in her 2005 book “A Defense Weapon Known to be of Value: Servicewomen of the Korean War Era.”
The Senate approved a bill that would have forbidden dismissal of women from the armed forces reserves because they became mothers, but the bill died in the US House, Witt wrote.
“It was an interesting turning point in my mother’s life,” her son Loren said.
Staying home to raise her two sons in New Jersey was out of character for Mrs. Thompson, Loren said, adding that “I’m sure it was frustrating because this was a woman who did everything and went everywhere up until that point.”
While her sons were in school, Mrs. Thompson served on the Board of Education in Livingston, N.J., including a stint as board president, Loren said, and also taught for a few years.
Her husband, who died in 1977, was a telephone company executive in New Jersey. In 1969, after he retired, the family moved to Plymouth. Mrs. Thompson taught at Plymouth-Carver High School and retired in 1987, Tony said.
She spoke several languages, among them Japanese, Korean, Italian, and French, Tony said.
Among the many issues Mrs. Thompson championed in Plymouth was the 20-year campaign to persuade the federal government to open a clinic for veterans in town, family and friends said.
“She chaired the cause very highly,” said Roxanne Lee Whitbeck, a Navy veteran and the first female director of veteran services for the town, who worked closely with Mrs. Thompson.
“She was a great advocate for veterans,” Whitbeck said. “I was honored to be able to work with her … and be able to pass on the knowledge she shared with us.”
Services were private for Mrs. Thompson, who in addition to her two sons leaves her sister, Marie Fehlow of Plymouth; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Tavares said one of Mrs. Thompson’s favorite events in Plymouth was the Fourth of July parade, in which she marched each year in full uniform.
One year, Tavares said, she was honored as the grand marshal, and even though she was about 5 feet tall, she always stood out.
He said that as the parade passed through the streets, onlookers would call out: “Alba, Alba, you’re looking good.”
“She could run circles around people half her age, both mentally and physically,” Tavares said. “She didn’t sit back on the porch watching the world go by.”Alli Knothe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.