WESTFORD — The way Al Buckley tells it, back in 1990, someone tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Hey, Al, you might be good for this.”
Thus started a 29-year stint as a Pepperell representative to the Nashoba Valley Technical High School Committee.
It wasn’t the first tap on his shoulder either. That’s how he came to serve on the Pepperell Conservation Commission and Board of Health, as well.
But it’s at Nashoba Tech that Buckley made his mark. He retired from the committee in March, and last November, during the Massachusetts Association of School Committee’s annual conference, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I don’t think I missed five meetings in my 29 years,” he says.
Buckley started as an alternate to the board but became a full-fledged member in 1993. Though he has served on every subcommittee — from Budget & Finance to Policy, from Personnel & Negotiations to Curriculum — and as chairman of most, his background as a plumbing and heating contractor came in especially handy whenever the school underwent a construction project.
He has served on every Building Subcommittee created since 1990, including for the roof replacement, the field improvements and the granddaddy of them all — the two-year, $25 million renovation and expansion of the campus in 2003-2005.
As Buckley puts it, “I can walk into a room and tell you what’s wrong with it.”
Nashoba Tech Superintendent Denise Pigeon can attest to that. When the school was experiencing boiler problems last year, she relied on Buckley’s expertise in that area, learning more about boilers than she ever cared to know.
“I was very fortunate that when I became superintendent in 2016, Al was chairman of the committee, and that allowed me to be very successful,” said Pigeon, who was principal of the school before assuming the top job. “He’s done an amazing job acting as a conduit between the school and the town of Pepperell. He was always keeping the channels of communication open. Every Town Meeting in Pepperell for the 12 years I’ve been with the school, whenever there was a question about Nashoba Tech, he’d pop out of his seat and answer it.”
Buckley is small in stature but makes up for that in personality. He laughingly calls himself a 5-footer, but he may actually stand 5-foot-2. Sit with him for a few minutes, and talk will eventually turn to his time in the U.S. Navy, serving his country in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam in the 1960s, most of which he remembers fondly.
Not as fondly, though, as his 29 years serving Nashoba Tech. He is Nashoba Tech through and through. Three of his and his wife Susan’s 10 children graduated from the school, and a grandson is preparing to enter in the fall. Buckley was inducted into the Viking Hall of Fame five years ago.
“I had tears in my eyes,” he says of that moment. “I just do things without expecting anything.”
He enjoys visiting the school and talking to the students, telling them there isn’t anything they can’t do. He can’t say enough about the students who choose to attend Nashoba Tech instead of going the safer route of their town high school.
“Between when I started at Nashoba Tech and now,” he says, “the school has made tremendous strides in increasing the educational opportunities for the young men and women — I don’t call them kids, I call them young men and young women because that’s what they are. You know, the first major decision they make in their lives is to choose this school and the path in life that they’re going to follow. Everyone who chooses this school is a go-getter.”
Speaking of go-getters, that pretty much describes how Buckley has lived his life. His stint in Vietnam came at the expense of his high-school graduation — he left Lowell High to enlist in the Navy. Five decades later, he decided he didn’t want that little fact to reflect poorly on Nashoba Tech, so he went back and received his diploma in 2016.
And at 72, he still does plumbing part time, and he and his wife are planning to spend more time at their second home in Canaan, Vermont.