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The man behind the cackle Thursday, May 15, 2008
Rob Haneisen 508-626-3882 Framingham Tab
Framingham -- Every town has one.

The local gadfly. The political crank. The frustrated politico. The forever also-ran. The hothead. A podium hogger.

At first glance, some might have put Mal Schulze in one of those categories, but to do so would shortchange his contribution to Framingham and pigeon-hole the accomplishments of any good dissenter.

Schulze, a former Town Meeting member, veterans' advocate and conservative Republican living in traditional liberal Democrat-land, died last week of colon cancer.

Mal will be equally missed by those who disagreed and fought against him, and those who called him an ally. That's a testament to his ability to pursue a cause without malice, something dreadfully lacking in town politics now. While people hiding behind pseudonyms bicker rudely online about the Redmen team name in Natick, Brazilians in Framingham and the SMOC lawsuit, they devolve the level of debate to name-calling personal attacks.

Mal did his business in person and he stuck to principles not personals. He could argue and fight with plenty of spirit (he did plenty of that with me) but you never once doubted his allegiance to the town and his value on community.

That's not to say that Mal never wanted some of the spotlight for himself. His boisterous -- almost mischievous -- cackle of a laugh echoed in the room and through the phone. He drew attention to himself for his actions and mannerisms. He was never shy and did not back down.

Though Mal was often on the losing side (he was a Republican in Framingham, after all), that's not to say he didn't mind losing. He wanted to win.

The most dejected I ever saw Mal was in March 2002 after he lost in a preliminary race for Board of Selectmen. Though he ran an energetic campaign and really thought he was going to win, he finished sixth out of seven candidates on the ballot.

"I may not be an out-front political figure anymore," he told me shortly after. "Framingham is evidently not interested in hearing my voice, and if this is what I get, my voice may become silent."

It was the bitter sting of that defeat that was talking but Mal didn't stay silent -- he just stayed off the ballot.

Mal was misunderstood to be polarizing and one quote about the Northside vs. Southside debate from that 2002 campaign supports this.

"Like in any community, most people want to see the entire community lifted up. I think that better things are happening."

And when he spoke about revitalizing downtown, Mal wanted creative ideas but conceded in true, blunt fashion, "We might need a bulldozer."

Mal's good friend, Doug Freeman, gave the eulogy at the funeral on Friday.

"Mal was the kind of person who created space, he never occupied it," Freeman wrote. "Mal valued truth, loyalty and friendship above all else."

A recent friend for Mal was Colin Kelly, the pint-sized patriot who took on the Edgell Grove Cemetery trustees two years ago when he wanted to plant flowers on the graves of soldiers. The trustees said no but Colin, then only 10 years old, fought the ruling and Mal helped him. Colin planted his flowers and Mal had a new friend.

An old friend for Mal remembers a gentle and caring soul.

Ten years ago, Mal worked for five years as a teacher's aide for Matthew Williams while he was in sixth-grade through middle school in Framingham. Mal assisted Williams, who has severe speech and physical disabilities, with daily class work as well as helping him with personal care and eating.

"There was a whole other side of him, and when somebody is with you five years you get to know them," Williams said, with the help of his mother, Irene Titus. "Mal was very driven in some areas but he also had a really big heart. He was a nice person."

Williams remembers one occasion when Mal was running for office. Williams wanted to help so he went to a polling location with a sign, not knowing the law banning campaign material within 150 feet of the polls. A police officer on duty warned Williams he could be arrested. The next day when Williams told Schulze of his run-in, he laughed (Mal was a poll worker and knew the laws) and said he'd get to the bottom of the misunderstanding.

"Mal came back to him with an apology the next day from the chief of police," Titus said. "I think that illustrates how dedicated and gentle Mal was and didn't want anything to happen to Matthew."

When issues become divisive, there is a line between heated debate and meanness. There's a moment where differences of opinion plummet to personal attacks. Schulze showed how to be a voice of dissent without crossing those lines.

Send comments to: hjw2001@gmail.com