WOONSOCKET – Neil Lanctot is coming home to give a talk about baseball great Roy Campanella at the Museum of Work & Culture on Sunday. But he won’t be thinking just about the major leagues or his work as a published author.
Lanctot, son of the late Mayor Francis L. and Claire Lanctot, will also be thinking about his native city and how growing up here gave him interests that led to his success as both a college professor and writer.
The presentation will begin at 1:30 p.m. and will be followed by a reception with refreshments.
Lanctot’s home life — with his father serving as a longtime member of the City Council and Mayor for three two-year terms beginning in 1989 — was politically active and filled with creative ideas.
When reached at home in West Chester, Pa. about his upcoming appearance as a guest speaker in the Museum’s popular Ranger Talk Series, Lanctot attributed his interest in writing biographies and history-based works on baseball to the encouragement he received from both of his parents.
“My father was a pretty good stylist and good at writing his speeches and expressing himself,” Lanctot said. “He liked my writing and he was always very proud of everything that we did.”
His father worked for the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. before devoting himself to his role as Mayor of Woonsocket and he and Claire were able to send their six children, Cathy, Carol, Nancy, Marc, Diane and Neil, to good colleges and universities in part because of their success in school.
Neil Lanctot’s late sister, Carol, worked as an editor for the Lowell Sun, and his brother, Marc, is an editor at the Boston Globe.
Lanctot himself, a 1984 graduate of Woonsocket High School, pursued English and history studies when he was attending the University of Pennsylvania and went on to earn his master’s degree in American History from Temple University and his doctorate from the University of Delaware. He is currently a professor of history at both the UPenn and the University of Delaware and is now the author of three books on African Americans in baseball.
His first book, “Fair Dealing and Clean Playing: The Hilldale Club and the Development of Black Professional Baseball, 1910-1932,” was published in 1994; and his second, “Negro League Baseball - The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution,” in 2004, helped set the stage for his work on Roy Campanella, “Campy, the Two Lives of Roy Campanella,” published in 2011.
Baseball was always a topic in the Lanctot home, and even Lanctot’s mother, Claire, was an ardent follower of the sport and fan of the Boston Red Sox.
Lanctot started researching the Negro League and its players after finding it to be a somewhat overlooked aspect of baseball’s national story. And when he took on his biography of Campanella, a contemporary of Jackie Robinson who had transitioned from the Negro League to the majors just behind the first African American to break the color barrier, Lanctot found connections in his work to the folks back home in Woonsocket.
“My father put me in touch with Gus Galipeau and interviewed him during the first month of the project in 2006,” Lanctot said. Galipeau had been a minor league player with the Brooklyn Dodgers and had known Campanella and other members of the Dodgers’ “Boys of Summer” team that won the World Series in 1955 like another city native and Dodgers’ pitcher, the late Clem Labine.
A catcher like Campanella, Galipeau played for the Dodgers’ minor league affiliate and was the roommate of another African American arrival on the Dodgers team, Don Newcomb, while they were with the New England League in Nashua, N.H. Galipeau would return home to become a longtime member of the Woonsocket Police Department.
During his talk, Lanctot will be offering a comparison of the way Campanella, who joined the majors in 1948, and Robinson, who made history with his arrival in the majors in 1947, handled the racial bias and hatred they encountered while setting their milestones.
“Both were members of the Dodgers organization and both were very different individuals,” Lanctot said.
Campanella was a player who tried to get along with everyone as a way to put racism aside, while Robinson was more fiery and willing to confront it head-on, he offered. “He felt he could say want he wanted and didn’t have to be a politician at all,” Lanctot said of Robinson.
His book on Campanella details the player’s leading role and success in baseball but also the failings of his personnel life.
“I think my book is very honest about Campanella and Robinson,” he said while noting the extensive research he put in over the almost-five years it took him to publish it.
Lanctot’s father died in October of 2009 before the Campanella book’s publishing, and his mother, Claire, died in February after a long battle with cancer.
Lanctot said he had been looking forward to giving his talk in Woonsocket so that his mother could hear him make such a presentation; he will certainly have that in mind on Sunday when he gives the talk in her absence.
But it will be good to be back in Woonsocket at the Museum among friends, Lanctot said, and at one of the highlights of a city his father was always very proud to call his home.
The Museum and the city’s preserved historic Stadium Theatre, another of the former Mayor’s places of pride, show what can be done when you work hard to accomplish it, according to Lanctot.
“My father encouraged us to pursue our passions just as he did as mayor when he worked to save the Stadium Theatre,” Lanctot said.
The Museum’ s co-manager, Raymond H. Bacon, said he is looking forward to Lanctot offering the concluding edition of this year’s Ranger Talks series and added that the author will be bringing along copies of his book for those who would like to purchase one.
Bacon was once Lanctot’s Little League coach and is not surprised he has made a name for himself as a historian of baseball.
“I’m sure it will be very well attended. There are a lot of local Dodger fans who will want to hear what he has to say,” Bacon said.