Tom Coots is a trusted name in Charlestown these days—captain of the local militia company, president of the local historical society, the list goes on and on. But 17 years ago, he was nothing more than the new manager at the Charlestown Cooperative Bank, knocking on doors and getting nowhere.
“Charlestown has always been to me a bit of a quintessential place that you’d read about in stories. Now, depending on the story you read, it’s a gangster novel; others, the little town where everyone knows everyone’s name. But when I came to Charlestown, I found that they were a very close-knit group of individuals. And being a person from outside the Town, I was looked upon with a little bit of quizzical curiosity, as to: Why are you here and who are you?
I tried really hard to get involved in the community and I was basically knocking on front doors. I did what I could, and then one day at a function that I was helping out with, a local parish priest, Father Mahoney, in front of a group of people, came up and said, ‘Tom, my boy.’ He says, ‘You may not have been born in this town, but you have the heart of a Townie, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s good enough for me.’
Within the next two months, I had three or four offers on different boards and committees. Businesses that I tried to get to bank with us, who wouldn’t even answer my phone calls, suddenly said, ‘Hey, I have a date that just opened up. Would you like to meet and we can have some coffee?’ And basically, it’s just like over in Ireland or in Scotland, where the parish priest or the local minister holds as much control and political power that political figures and business figures have—even more so, in many cases. I’ve heard many people say, ‘Well, if Father Dan (Mahoney) says it’s okay, then it’s okay.’ And that’s the way it was. Once Father Mahoney made me an honorary Townie, things changed quite a bit.
I love Charlestown’s history. This, of course, is where Paul Revere began his ride; this is where the first men marched off to Lexington and Concord; this is the hill that the British wanted to take to control all of Boston. So Charlestown is very strong in its roots.
And that’s one of the things that, after I came here, kept me here. The job was great. The job still is great. But the history of the town is just so phenomenal. And a lot of it gets overlooked and sometimes not even told.
(When I first came to Charlestown), I just felt that someone should tell the story. And I kept looking for somebody in the Town to tell the story. And every place I went, they said, ‘Well, why don’t you tell the story?’ And I said, ‘But I’m an outsider. It needs to come from an insider.’
But someone said, ‘It becomes more important when outsiders tell our story, because it’s not just one sided.’ So I tell the story wherever I go.
I’ve actually had people who’ve been sent down by the National Parks (officials). They’ve asked some questions about the battle of Bunker Hill that (the National Parks officials) didn’t know and they’ve said, ‘Well, if you’re taking a walking tour, and you’re heading down to where the Warren Tavern is, stop by The Cooperative Bank and speak to the manager—he might know.’
And every so often, I’d see a couple that you clearly knew were tourists—he’d be wearing sandals and have a camera around his neck, and she would usually have a big bag over her arm and sunglasses, and I’d say, ‘Can I help you?’
‘Are you the manager?’
And I’d say yes.
‘We were sent down by the National Parks because we had a question that they couldn’t answer.’
Working at a community bank is an amazing thing, because unlike most banks, where you go in and you do your personal business and leave, this becomes the center of the community many times. I’ve seen more individuals who have come in to just socialize than to do any real banking business.
In the old days, we had a sofa in the lobby that we actually got rid of, because people would just come in with their coffee and sit on that sofa. And I’d say, ‘Can I help you?’ ‘Nope, we’re good.’ I’ve even had people ask, ‘Can I use the conference room for a couple of minutes?’ for I don’t know what, hopefully nothing illegal, but they’ve had their meetings in here. I’ll even get people: ‘Hey Tom, I’m looking for Joe so-and-so, have you seen him today? Has he been by?’
One of the things I’ve seen that’s very interesting is that, with new technology, you can do all your banking online, you can open your account online, you can do direct deposit, you pay all your bills online, you don’t need to come into the bank. And I’ve had customers who have come by just to say hi, because they don’t get an opportunity to come in every day, or twice a week, like they used to. I think that’s really great.
I have one lady, God rest her soul, she’s passed on, she called me up about four years ago and asked me if I was going to be in, she needed to ask me some questions. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll put some time aside.’ She came in and she said, ‘Honey, over the weekend, I got a flat tire, and the lovely state trooper took a donut out of my trunk and put it on my car.’
I said, ‘Yes.’
‘But now I need to get my tire fixed.’
I said, ‘Yeah.’
She said, ‘Can you give me the name of a place where I can get the tire fixed?’
And that’s what she wanted to ask me. She needed to do it in person. And she said, ‘If I would trust anyone’s judgment, it would be my banker.’ So I gave her the name of a couple of places she could go. And she said, ‘Can I give them your name?’
And I said, ‘Sure.’
In addition to being bank manager and President of the Charlestown Historical Society, Tom is also Treasurer of the Bunker Hill Monument Association, President of the Charlestown Militia Company Incorporated (also Captain), and Member of the Parade Committee, among other things.
He was interviewed and photographed by story ambassador Kathy Whitehouse. The interview was then transcribed and edited for length, clarity and flow by Cara Solomon, founder of Everyday Boston, in partnership with Kathy. Cara wrote the intro text.