The 85th-birthday luncheon for Tom Kershaw held Nov. 29 at the Hampshire House brought a major announcement that the Friends of the Public Garden intends to honor the venerable Beacon Hill businessman and philanthropist this spring with the installation of a plaque in the Public Garden acknowledging Kershaw’s contributions to the city’s parks over the years.
The plaque will be a gift from the nonprofit Friends group, which works in partnership with the Boston Parks and Recreation Department to care for and maintain the Public Garden and the Common, as well as the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The plaque will be installed in the Public Garden sometime this spring with the permission of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, and it will be emblazoned with an inscription reading: ‘Cheers to our good Friend Tom Kershaw In celebration of all you do for our parks and our city.”
In 1969, Kershaw, who now serves as chairman of the Hampshire House Corporation restaurant group, and Jack Vesey, a fellow recent Harvard Business School grad and Kershaw’s business partner at the time, purchased the Hampshire House at 84 Beacon St., located just across the street from the Public Garden. (The Hampshire House’s basement pub, originally called The Bull & Finch Pub, would go on to inspire the classic, long-running sitcom, ‘Cheers.’)
“Quite frankly, the Public Garden is my front yard,” said Kershaw. “Even as a young man who had newly acquired 84 Beacon St., I looked out this window and saw this beautiful park.”
A year later in 1970, Henry Lee was launching the Friends of the Public Garden and asked Kershaw to get involved.
Kershaw readily complied, going on to serve on the group’s board of directors and pitching in where he could with the Friends’ myriad campaigns over the years.
In 1980, Henry Lee broached Kershaw with the idea of trying to raise money to decorate the Common with lights for the holiday season. Kershaw agreed and began selling “Light a Light” buttons for $1 each, bringing in 87 cents-a-piece profit and going on to raise around $35,000 for the cause, which was enough money to illuminate most of the Common. He would continue to help spearhead this effort for approximately the next 15 years.
“I kept moving from that and kept my eyes on the parks,” said Kershaw, “and when I could contribute, I did, and I think that is the key.”
Around 40 years ago, Kershaw also started People Power for the Public Garden to help maintain the park, paving the way the Rose Brigade, which continues to care for the Public Garden’s four rose beds under the leadership of former People Power member China Altman.
On the Common, Kershaw’s lasting influence is evident in the Frog Pond skating rink and the nearby carousel.
Around 1993, Kershaw visited Aspen, Colo., on a skiing trip and was immediately impressed with the town’s outdoor skating rink. Kershaw wanted to bring the concept back to Boston, so he successfully pitched the idea to then-Mayor Thomas Menino as a year-round facility. Using capital funds, the city opened the Frog Pond Skating Rink on the Boston Common in January of 1997. Besides skating in the winter, the facility also serves as a spray pool in the summer and a reflecting pool in the spring and fall. Kershaw operated and maintained the rink for its first 14 years, installing a skate rental amenity, new restrooms, a snack bar and garage for the Zamboni.
. At Kershaw’s suggestion, the Boston Common Frog Pond Carousel also opened nearby, which continues to be a popular draw and today helps The Skating Club of Boston offset the operating costs for the skating rink. (The Skating Club of Boston manages and operates both the skating rink and the carousel.)
Liz Vizza, president of the Friends group ,who, together with Lee, presented Kershaw with the plaque during the Nov. 29 event at the Hampshire House, said: “Our parks and our community would not be what they are today without the generosity and vision of Tom Kershaw. He was an early advocate for, and supporter of the potential of the Common, Garden, and Mall, recognizing how critical these greenspaces are to the health of the city and everyone who enjoys them, visitors and residents alike. Tom has been steadfast in his commitment to these beloved parks, and we, the downtown parks, and the community as a whole, are so much the better for it.”
Likewise, Ryan Woods, commissioner of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said: “Tom Kershaw’s unwavering commitment to the Public Garden, Boston Common, and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall has been transformative. His instrumental role in bringing the Frog Pond to life and his dedicated efforts in raising funds for lighting installations are not merely acts of philanthropy; they are pillars of his vision for activating our parks. Tom’s contributions extend beyond beautification; they testify to his understanding of the pivotal role parks play in ensuring economic vitality, promoting tourism, and enhancing safety in the downtown area.”