By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- In the early 1930s, Roland Hamilton went to live with his aunt just down the street from his parents' house in Arlington.
It had become too difficult for the family to feed the six children. Even 9-year-old Hamilton could understand what the Great Depression meant.
College education was out of reach. Yet, years later, the self-taught Hamilton would find himself working on intercontinental ballistic-missile systems as a senior design engineer for Raytheon. His life experience compelled him to help Groton and its surrounding towns create Nashoba Valley Technical High School and spend 17 years on the NVTHS and the Groton school committees, said Hamilton's oldest daughter, Marcia Buckingham, who, as a child, often saw him come home from late-night committee meetings.
"He was just very passionate about making sure public school was there for children to receive education, whether they were in poverty or not," Buckingham said.
"He was very dedicated to the mission of the School Committee," said retired Rep. Bob Hargraves, who served on the Nashoba Valley Technical High School Committee as one of its founding members.
Hamilton, a Pepperell resident who was known to many as a prolific advocate for public education, died Dec. 26 at Apple Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Ayer due to complications from a recent fall. He was 89.
Hamilton and his wife, Thelma, who died in August 2011, had lived in Groton since 1954 before moving to Pepperell in 1985.
Hamilton leaves behind six children, Marcia Buckingham and her husband Kim of Townsend; Roland Hamilton of Waukesha, Wisc.; Susan Roberts and her husband Nick of Groton; Jeff Hamilton and his wife Pam of Mesa, Ariz.; James Hamilton and his wife Denise of Tyngsboro and Christine Griffin and her husband Joseph of Holden as well as 16 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.
Born on Oct. 19, 1923, Hamilton grew up in Arlington and Lexington and graduated from Lexington High School in 1942. While building his 30-year career at Raytheon, Hamilton became a founding member of the Nashoba Tech School Committee in 1964, helping the district hire its first superintendent, according to Hargraves. Hamilton also led major initiatives for the local district, pushing for the construction of the former Groton High School building on Main Street, which now houses the middle school, and the regionalization of the Groton district with Dunstable in 1975.
He was the last chairman of the Groton School Committee and first chairman of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee, according to his family. Hamilton served on those committees from 1960 to 1969 and from 1972 to 1978, according to Hargraves.
Hargraves remembered Hamilton presenting school budgets to the residents and speaking passionately about various issues. Toni Bond of Groton, whose late husband, Fred Bond, served on the School Committee, said the high-school construction project first failed Town Meeting, but Hamilton did not give up until it garnered enough votes at a second try later that night. Hamilton won every election in which he ran, said Buckingham's sister, Susan Roberts of Groton.
"That's how much people liked him. There was so much honor and so much integrity (in what he did)," Roberts said. "He left quite a legacy."
Elliot Blood, who was a friend of the Hamiltons, called Hamilton as a "kind gentleman," while Bond described him a "very good family man." As an accomplished woodworker who used to run Calico Cat, a store that carried area craftspeople's handiwork in Pepperell, Hamilton would make toys, cradles, dollhouses and wheelbarrows for his children and grandchildren, Buckingham said.
"None of us can walk into our homes and not see something my father built," said Buckingham, who has a stereo cabinet Hamilton built for her and her husband as a wedding gift.
"He was always there for us no matter what we needed," Buckingham said, adding that her father was a joker but was always calm. "He was very slow to get angry," she said.
"He was fair. He was never judgmental," Roberts said.
Roberts said her parents made sure all of their children knew they were loved deeply and equally. Hamilton also welcomed their children's friends into their home.
"His door was always open to anybody who needed something," Roberts said. "He was the best dad you could hope for."