Peter Muise died last week.
Peter was an unusual guy. He gave bankers a good name.
Peter was the president and CEO of First Citizens Federal Credit Union.
But that’s not what anybody around town really knew him for.
What you knew Peter Muise for was his dogged work on behalf of the homeless in New Bedford or maybe his most recent effort to help create a sustainable system of affordable housing in the city. Or maybe you knew him because a few years ago you heard about his determination to bridge the gap between the teachers’ union and school administration on issues like charter schools. Or maybe it was the work he did on the Workforce Investment Board and its efforts to bring better-paying jobs to the city.
Peter Muise seemed to be involved in just about everything around New Bedford.
He was famous for his breakfast clubs. He’d gather a group of what might be called key players, and he’d have breakfast with them once a month. But Peter’s breakfast clubs weren’t some Chamber of Commerce wake-up, back-slapping session. No, he had these breakfasts to talk about how to solve real problems. Like the fact that former teachers’ union president Lou St. John wasn’t talking to the press. So there was Peter with Lou, former S-T editor Beth Perdue and Rev. David Lima having regular breakfasts and trying to bridge that gap in a group that came to be known as The Band.
Peter was a big player in something called the Regeneration Committee, a Mayor Mitchell-created group whose aim is to solve city problems and move New Bedford toward a more successful future. But Peter Muise wasn’t just any old member of the Regeneration Committee, he was the duck who quacked a lot, pushing it to take tougher stances on things like housing and education. He was the do-gooder constantly saying we could do better.
The last time I saw Peter Muise was at a breakfast club meeting on the affordable housing crisis with Josh Amaral and Rev. Lima. I had written something about rents and mortgages rapidly escalating in the city, and Peter was right on it. He hauled me down to Tia Maria’s to go over facts and figures he had compiled about something called affordable housing trusts.
Peter said he had worked on the issue at the Housing Assistance Corporation on Cape Cod (the list of stuff Peter Muise had involved himself in is endless). He excitedly explained that government-supported grants had been successfully used to purchase decaying multi-family properties, which the low-income earner could then pay off through rents. Done properly, the program could be self-sustainable, both he and Josh Amaral told me. Amaral, by the way, is now heading up the nonprofit agency PACE’s effort to create exactly this kind of affordable housing trust with the use of some of New Bedford’s share of the American Rescue Plan funds.
I remember Peter ordering the biggest breakfast of anyone that morning at Tia Maria’s, but he just picked at it. He was too busy selling me the issue at hand after I had expressed skepticism that any local government program would really attack the housing crisis at the systemic level.
While we tried to solve the problem of New Bedford housing, I tried to solve the problem of Peter Muise’s heroism to my own satisfaction. I had heard he was getting ready to have his third bone marrow transplant and I was worried about him. I asked him how he was doing.
If it’s possible to be both upbeat and blase at the same time, Peter’s attitude encompassed all of that. Yeah, he said he was getting ready for the third transplant but he was feeling mostly good. He paused and added, you know, every time you have a transplant, it’s a shorter time before you go into remission. And his last remission had only been about a year.
But Peter wasn’t the least bit dramatic about it. Yeah, they had found a match and he was going to do it. Then he went back to talking about housing.
True to my own apprehensive nature, I was often skeptical about Peter Muise. I remember when he first joined The Standard-Times editorial board for a six-month stint and he and I smiled while we eyed each other warily.
I was worried he might be another bank president looking for his picture in the paper while he made token charitable efforts to address intractable problems. I suspected he was worried I was some sort of dreamy-eyed leftist without a realistic understanding of how business and the economy works.
We spent the editorial boards debating various aspects of urban education and helping the homeless. He sometimes told me he thought I was fair-minded and I appreciated that.
He wasn’t very much like I feared. As Josh Amaral put it, Peter Muise was the opposite of the typical community banker. “His heart was more with community organization and that work.”
After this column, I’m going to list some of the accomplishments of Peter Muise’s 67 years on earth and you can judge for yourself what kind of a man he was. Safe to say he was both a very good and very prolific man. His wife Robin, long the coordinator of volunteers at the Sister Rose House homeless shelter and overseer of its vegetable garden, is cut from the same cloth as him.
As Peter’s health declined for the final time these last few months, Robin traveled every day to be with him at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and lovingly documented for family and friends his struggles on the website CaringBridge. Over Fourth of July weekend, he finally had declined so poorly that he had no fight left in him, and she prayed on the site for his ability to die.
So we are sad this week at the thought that Peter Muise will no longer be scheduling New Bedford breakfast clubs, no longer sizing up the city’s problems, no longer rolling up his sleeves and looking for ways to move us all forward. But Peter left a great example to this city of the proper role for the model citizen, the successful businessman who places his energies and abilities into every effort to make things better for everyone.
Rest in peace, Peter Muise.
Email Jack Spillane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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