By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- Fran Dillon used to hunker down in front of a TV set at home every other Monday night with a notepad and a pen in his hands.
Watching the live broadcast of the selectmen's meeting, Dillon would scribble down information on the town's financial health and other issues facing the community so he could share his thoughts with others.
"When he retired from the Board of Selectmen, his heart stayed with it," said Janet Dillon, his wife of 53 years.
Dillon would find plenty of eager listeners. Selectmen Chairman Peter Cunningham would even drop in to Dillon's Kemp Street home unannounced every now and then on his way to biking on nearby trails and seek advice from the former selectman. That's because Dillon would spend many hours researching subjects in an effort to form unbiased opinions.
"His work ethic was just incredible," Thomas Hartnett, former selectmen chairman, said of his childhood friend, Dillon.
"He was one of those people you thought would always be there and a part of the community," Cunningham said. "To think he is gone is really hard."
After devoting himself to giving back to his hometown for years, George F. "Fran" Dillon, Jr., a Groton native and former selectman of nine years, died Saturday at Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer following a 2 1/2 year battle with medullary thyroid cancer. He was 77.
In addition to his wife, Dillon leaves behind their two sons, Chris and Brian Dillon of Billerica and Milford respectively, daughter Kerry Flanagan of Groton, nine grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
Dillon, whom many trusted as a statesman, was born on Oct. 6, 1936, in Groton and grew up in the Kemp Street house where he lived until his death last weekend. After graduating from Lowell Technological Institute, Dillon, who was in the Air Force Reserves, was called to active duty. He served a total of 26 years in the Reserves before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
As an engineer, he built his career in the paper-manufacturing industry, working for Fitchburg Paper and Litton Industries of Fitchburg before moving to Valentine Paper Company in Lockport, La., constantly traveling between there and Groton. He retired from the company in 2001 as its president.
An exceptionally hard worker, Dillon already earned his friends' respect in high school, serving as the class president for four years, said Hartnett, Dillon's former classmate. Dillon was named as "the most likely person to succeed" in the senior yearbook, Hartnett said.
Dillon regarded Groton, particularly West Groton, as a "warm and welcoming community" where neighbors look out for each other, Janet Dillon said.
With a knack for financial matters, Dillon served on the Groton Finance Committee for a short while during the 1970s and liked it and wanted to contribute to the town even more, Hartnett said. Dillon finally got that chance after his retirement as he was elected to the Board of Selectmen in 2003. He would work tirelessly on issues, always picking up agenda packages before anyone else on the board, Hartnett said.
Selectman Anna Eliot remembered Dillon on Tuesday for the way he handled himself. He would check on all the facts surrounding an issue, she said.
"He was someone you could rely on," Eliot said, calling Dillon as an inspiration for her and as a person who had a unifying effect on the board.
Selectman Stuart Schulman said Dillon could focus on a big picture and details at the same time. And he always had the best interests of the town in mind, Schulman said.
"To me, Fran was a model for what you should be as a selectman," Schulman said.
Schulman also remembered Dillon for his "extremely dry" sense of humor and his ability to keep an "incredibly straight face" while joking.
Many locals who chatted with Dillon at his daily hangout, Clover Farm General Store in West Groton Square, remember that side of him. He would quiz people about town affairs, making sure "we stayed on our toes," said store owner Janet Shea, who has known Dillon for 45 years.
Dillon's daily trip to the store stopped last summer when he began feeling more ill and spent most of the time in the family cottage in York, Maine.
But no matter how bad his day might be, his 13-month-old great granddaughter, Nola Ann, could always bring a smile to his face. Dillon was a good husband and father and adored his grandchildren, Janet Dillon said.
"Fran was one of the most wonderful people I have ever met," Selectman Joshua Degen said. "He is truly going to be missed by me as well as many people in the town government and people all around the town who really loved Fran."
Hartnett said Dillon served his country, community and family well.
"He did everything right," Hartnett said.
"He was a good guy," Shea said of Dillon. "(I will miss) his quiet sense of humor and total honesty. That was Fran."
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Community Children's Fund at 173 Main Street, Groton, MA 01450; Groton Community Foundation P.O. Box 515, Groton, MA 01450 (note on memo line, Blood Farm Emergency Assistance Fund) or to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, 450 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02215.