Surgical technician with Army Air Corps in WWII; retired publisher of Villager and Transcript newspapers
NORTH READING — Albert E. Sylvia, retired owner and publisher of the North Reading Transcript, died peacefully at the age of 91 on Friday, January 23, 2015 at Woodbriar of Wilmington.
Born at home in Oak Bluffs on January 29, 1923 to Albert E. Sylvia, Sr. and Celia (Swartz) Sylvia, he graduated in 1940 from the Oak Bluffs School, High School Division.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 and was a veteran of World War II, serving for three years in the Western Pacific and Philippines as a surgical technician assigned to the 830th Medical Evacuation Squadron. Mr. Sylvia declined the Army’s offer to further his education in medical school and was discharged as a staff sergeant in 1945.
Mr. Sylvia returned to Martha’s Vineyard where he met his future wife, Frances Finnerty, a “city girl” from Lowell who was a business education teacher at the Oak Bluffs School. Despite taking Frances on their first date to shoot rats at the town dump, the couple stayed together and was married on Thanksgiving Day in 1948.
Mr. Sylvia continued his education at the former Wilson School in Boston where he completed the medical laboratory and x-ray technology course. He was employed as a bacteriologist by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for 35 years.
Mr. Sylvia was first employed by the state as chief of the laboratory at the former North Reading State Sanatorium, a hospital for children with tuberculosis. For 26 years until his retirement in 1987 he was employed at the Lawrence Experiment Station where he focused on developing methods of drinking water testing and purification and the treatment of wastewater. Mr. Sylvia was honored by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as State Scientist of the Year in 1975.
Mr. Sylvia was a long time resident of North Reading. After living with his family on the grounds of the state hospital, he built in his spare time the family home on Francis Street where he lived for over 50 years.
Mr. Sylvia and his wife, Frances, were the parents of two young children when they decided the growing community of North Reading needed its own newspaper. While working his state job, they launched the North Reading Transcript in 1956, using a borrowed typewriter with a broken key, a second-hand composing machine, cardboard display type and a pot of rubber cement. The Transcript became the first sustained newspaper North Reading could call its own.
A staunch advocate of the public’s right to know and a champion of the Open Meeting Law, Mr. Sylvia quickly earned a reputation as an editor and publisher of high ethical standards who demanded accountability from public officials and encouraged his readers to participate in the political process. He also began its sister publication, the Lynnfield Villager, in 1973. Mr. Sylvia’s two children also followed their parents into the newspaper business. After retiring from the state, Mr. Sylvia worked at his newspaper seven days a week until finally hanging up his apron at the age of 85. Over the years he was a mentor to numerous journalism students who began their careers at the Transcript through Northeastern University’s work study program.
He was a member of many town committees and organizations and was named North Reading’s Citizen of the Year in 1997 and was an honorary Memorial Day Parade Marshal. Mr. Sylvia was extremely patriotic and for many years erected the American flags along “Constitution Way” on the town common for holidays such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veterans’ Day.
Mr. Sylvia was one of the first members of North Reading’s Historic District Commission, a member of the Bicentennial Celebration Commission in 1976, served on the town bylaw revision committee and was an original member of North Reading’s first chapter of the Citizens’ Scholarship Foundation. Through the Transcript Mr. Sylvia promoted the Christian Community Service Christmas fund which raised thousands of dollars every year for North Reading’s needy families.
He was very interested and well versed in the town’s history and often people were surprised to learn that he was not a native of North Reading. Mr. Sylvia was also a member of several professional organizations, served as president of the Massachusetts Press Association and was the recipient of numerous awards from the New England and Massachusetts Press Associations. He was further honored by being named to the New England Press Association Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2006.
Mr. Sylvia was a devout Catholic and was a member of St. Theresa’s Parish. He was a very talented handyman and enjoyed puttering around his home and in his yard. In his younger days, he enjoyed golfing and was a member of the Thomson Country Club for many years. Mr. Sylvia and his wife traveled extensively and particularly enjoyed cruising. He also relished in the achievements of his grandchildren and took pleasure in attending their school and sporting events. He also had a talent for painting and singing and was always humming a tune. Mr. Sylvia was also an avid reader of American history books.
The husband of the late Frances R. (Finnerty) Sylvia, who died in November 2013, he is survived by a son, Albert E. Sylvia and his wife, Christine of Lynnfield; a daughter, Kathleen M. Correale and her husband Sandy of Wolfeboro, N.H.; three grandchildren, Danielle F. Sylvia, Sean P. O’Brien and Hilary P. O’Brien; a brother, Robert Sylvia and his wife Pearl of E. Falmouth and a sister, Eileen White and her husband George of Oak Bluffs. He was also the father of the late David J. Sylvia, who died in infancy, and was the brother of the late Dorothy Riley and Betty Rose.
His funeral will be held from the Croswell Funeral Home, 19 Bow St., North Reading on Thursday, January 29 at 10:15 a.m., followed by an 11:30 a.m. funeral Mass at St. Theresa’s Church, 63 Winter St. (Rt. 62), North Reading. Calling hours were held on Monday, January 26 from 4 to 8 p.m. Burial will be in Riverside Cemetery, North Reading. In lieu of flowers memorial donations may be made in his memory to: Alzheimer’s Association, 480 Pleasant St., Watertown, MA 02472.