Community Leaders Remembered: John Lawrence Forbes, Longtime Director of the East Boston Social Centers, at 91

John Lawrence Forbes,who was a mentor to thousands of East Boston youth during his 15 year tenure as director of the East Boston Social Centers, has died.

Forbes, whose family name would become synonymous with youth activities and youth development in the neighborhood, died on Tuesday, November 24 surrounded by his loving family. He was 91 years old.

John “Jack” Forbes, longtime former EBSC Director, died on Nov. 24.

Forbes grew up in Quincy, the son of the late John J. and Ethel Forbes, and after graduating high school was drafted into the US Army. He served during the Korean War in the Philippines in Army Intelligence and was a lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans.

Forbes was discharged from the service and graduated from the University of Missouri. Around this time he met a family member and priest who suggested that he come and volunteer at the Boy’s Guidance Center in Boston.

“Dad said yes and this opportunity changed the course of his life,” said his eldest son, John Forbes during his eulogy for his father. “It inspired him to pursue a career as a social worker and he soon applied to the Boston University School of Social Work (where he received his Master’s Degree). From an early age Dad loved to help people and loved being a Social Worker. He was proud of the profession and what it meant to society.”

While at Boston University  Forbes met a young Martin Luther King Jr. who was working on his PhD in Theology. After graduating from the University, Mr. Forbes went to work at the Denison House in Dorchester as a Group Worker. There he crossed paths with another Civil Rights leader, Malcolm X, who helped Forbes and the Denison House do community work in Dorchester.

“His calm demeanor, confident leadership style, and strong belief in others helped him to be promoted to Executive Director after a few short years,” said his son, John. “During his tenure there he established a great reputation in both Dorchester and the city’s social work community.”

He served as director there from 1959 to 1965.

After a brief stint working at the United Community Services South Area Planning Division in Quincy, Forbes was appointed Director of the East Boston Social Centers in 1968.

Forbes was 36 years old at the time, a father of nine children and the husband of Nora Theresa Forbes.

As director of the Social Centers, Forbes, or ‘Jack’ as he was affectionately known in Eastie, oversaw the agency’s largest period of expansion.  Forbes was responsible for expanding the Social Centers’ programs to include the Maverick Neighborhood Center as well as the Orient Heights Center.  The new Jeffries Point Center also opened during his tenure.

East Boston Social Centers also became one of the first agencies to provide community-based services to youth through the Department of Youth Services, and Forbes was Executive  Director at the time that program was put into place.

Other Social Center programs that began during his tenure included an afterschool day care, an elderly lunch program and Great Expectations, which was a tremendous youth leadership program.

“All of these improvements were instituted while still delivering the traditional recreational and counselling services to the community,” said John. “He also created a very nurturing environment where everyone was treated like family. As a result he mentored countless individuals. Many of them went on to have successful careers in politics, education, human services, business, law enforcement and countless other careers  where Jack’s influence can still be felt today.”

Former Boston School Committee President and Boston City Councilor John Nucci said Forbes inspired him to choose a career in public service.

“Jack Forbes was truly one of a kind,” said Nucci, who worked under Forbes at the Social Centers for six years. “He cared deeply about each and every person who stepped through the doors at the Social Center. He never sought credit. He never looked for glory. He just affected hundreds of people’s lives in so many ways. We will never fill the void he left behind. I consider him one of my greatest mentors.”

However, it was the Social Centers’s East Boston Camps in Westford, that  Forbes truly cherished during his tenure. Many who attended camp and were mentored by Forbes went on to careers in youth development, social work and public service.

“The favorite part of Dad’s job was camp,” said John “When he was offered the job in East Boston I believe that the summer camping program sealed the deal for him. Almost 50 years later we still hear stories about how dad changed the course of people’s lives through what he and his staff taught them at East Boston Camps.”

Robert ‘Junior’ Lewis, who went on to a successful career in youth development called Forbes ‘an icon’.

“Jack Forbes was a visionary, compassionate and incredible leader,” said Lewis. “He always saw the greatness and potential of East Boston and its people. I am fortunate to be one of his disciples. He was truly an East Boston Icon.”

Former Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina, who was raised by a single mother, said Forbes was like a ‘father figure’ during his years at camp–first as a camper and later as a counselor.

“Jack Forbes was the Patriarch of East Boston Camps,” said LaMattina. “He was a father figure for hundreds of kids in East Boston. I know for me personally he was very influential in my life. He has always made a point to reach out to those kids that he knew that needed a little more attention. As Executive Director of the East Boston Social Centers he worked to improve the lives of many in our neighborhood by providing services to our seniors and youth. Jack was an incredible man, father,husband,grandpa and leader. East Boston is a better place because of his service to our community.”

Debbie White, who had a long career in Social Work and Education, credited Mr. Forbes’s influence on her chosen path in life.

“What to say about Jack Forbes? Incomparable comes to mind,” said White. “Strong,compassionate, unassuming, leader, helper supporter. He saw the best in all of us and helped keep us focused on that.  We will never know how many people he touched over the years because he never wanted or looked for accolades .On a more personal note he was my boss, teacher, mentor, friend and a Papa or Dad to not only his family but to all of us for over 50 years.  He always let me know I was important to him–better yet he always made me feel I was important to him,  Being in his presence was like being wrapped in a forever hug. I will miss him tremendously.”

Mr. Forbes resigned from his position at the Social Centers in 1983 and ended his working career as a lead investigator for The Massachusetts Treasury, Abandoned Property Division. 

“All nine of his children and our mother were blessed by the fact that we were able to work with him in East Boston,” said John. “He taught us good values and more importantly how to be loyal and treat people well. As a result we have all been in some kind of community work since. Any career success that we had can be traced back to the Social Centers and what we learned from him and his co-workers. I was so fortunate to spend quite a bit of time during my formative years with him at the Social Centers and got to witness how he treated people. I was so proud walking in Central Square with him hearing kids yelling, “Hey Big Jack!. Everyone who knew him loved him.”

Forbes was the beloved husband of the late Nora Theresa Forbes.  Son of the late John J. and Ethel Forbes.  Devoted father of John and wife Cindy of East Boston, William and wife Susan of Methuen, Peter and wife Kathleen of Braintree, Ann Sullivan and husband Duane, Mary Gallotto and husband Mario, Paul and wife Susie, Joan Dunn and husband Jim, Terry Free and husband Mark, all of Quincy, and Michael of East Boston.  Brother of the late Joan Logue and husband Joe of Orono, ME and brother in law of Peggy and Sally Donohoe.  Mr. Forbes also survived by 34 grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren, many loving nieces, nephews, and friends.

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