REAL MEN: TOM MCKAY

Every gentleman I write about is special for one reason or another. 

They are all in my Hall of Fame of Human Beings. 

All for different and unique reasons. 

This chapter is about, perhaps, the funniest.  My late friend, Tom McKay.

Yes, I certainly considered Tom a ‘friend’ as I aged into adulthood but he was truly a member of my late father’s “Rat Pack”. 

Tom, Dad and a whole other consortium of sordid characters spent decades having fun and laughs.  They had an incredible group of old school dudes that simply had a ball; led by Mr. McKay.  If their crew was the Rat Pack, Tom McKay was Frank Sinatra. 

Tom was the most electric, dare I say iconic, person you could imagine.

Tom could have you dangling on a string listening to his stories.

Tom could make a story about the DMV funny.

Tom could make anything funny.

The most devilish laugh you could envision, Tom always made your day better. 

And here is the best part, Tom’s life was dedicated to showing us all a good time.  A saloon owner for many years then evolved into the city’s ultimate party planner as the head of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. Tom was the guy you looked to when you needed some fun in your life. 

Tom brought musical acts, comedians, and legends of stage and screen to the Mill City. 

Tom brought Sesame Street to Lowell for Christ Sake! 

Tom flirted with Dolly Parton and teased Bill Cosby (ya know, before we knew what a giant sicko he was {Cosby, not Tom}!).

Tom made the Golden Gloves feel like a heavy weight championship bout in Las Vegas.

Whether it was a Broadway show or just a private conversation, Tom made everything an event.  Tom made everyone that graced his presence feel special and loved.

Kind, generous, and absolutely hilarious. 

I loved Tom.

Real Man.

Below is the tribute I wrote to Tom just after he passed away.  No prouder words written.

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LIGHTS IN LOWELL A LOT DIMMER

2.10.2014

The City of Lowell is a darker place today. This week we say goodbye to one of its brightest stars, Tom McKay. Tom McKay was one of the most recognizable, active and socially responsible citizens in this city’s history. I could write a whole lot of words outlining all of Tom’s professional accolades as a businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist over the past 50 years, but I want to tell you about the man.

If you did not know Tom, I honestly feel bad for you. Tom was one of the most electric personalities you could ever meet. When Tom McKay walked in to a room, you knew it. He lit it up. I am not sure whether it was his big Irish smile, his always dapper appearance or that unmistakable voice? I am not sure it was any of those things. Tom just had “presence”. And when you had the great fortune of being in Tom’s presence, you knew you were about to be entertained.

Tom had an uncanny ability to make everyone around him feel welcomed. As one of my family’s closest and oldest friends, I had the luxury of being around Tom my entire life and I can say with conviction; it was always an ‘event’.

“How ah ya, buddy?” was one of Tom’s signature greetings when he reached to shake your hand. Many have joked that Tom called everyone ‘Buddy’ because he could not remember your name. The irony is Tom McKay was everybody’s buddy. He really was. Tom lured followers and friends like the Pied Piper. Perhaps the greatest story teller I have ever known, Tom’s charisma was captivating and you did not want to miss one minute of his wit and banter. Tom had a story (some may have been exaggerated) for every occasion and every audience. All of them were priceless. If stories can be considered gifts, then Tom was Santa Claus.

A devout Catholic, Tom was always one to give his time, energy and resources to those in need. When it came to charity and giving, Tom never said the word ‘no’. Both personally and professionally, Tom gave to any worthy cause that crossed his path.

While Tom led a very busy professional life, he was a family man to the core and they were always his first priority. His devotion and affection for his wife Lori and daughters Jennifer and Meredith were unwavering and always obvious. Tom was blessed with two beautiful granddaughters and in his last days another blessing came in to Tom’s world; his first grandson, James THOMAS. Oh the stories you will hear, Little “T”.

Yes, the city of Lowell and beyond is a darker place, but the Kingdom of Heaven is surely brighter with Tom in it.

Rest easy, Buddy, we all loved ya.

REAL MEN: UNCLE BRAD

Like nearly all of the stories you will read in this series, I am terribly biased to the subject at hand.  No more than this one about my uncle, Brad Martin.

Uncle Brad is the epitomy of what it means to be a kind and decent human.  Quiet, calm, unassuming, hard working and loyal.

Born the son of World War II veteran and wonderful loving mother, Brad grew up in somewhat of a typical baby-boomer life. In his early adult years, he was a classic ‘free spirit’ of the mid and late 1960s.  Long hair-having, motorcycle-riding and (perhaps, on occasion) doobie-smoking cool dude you could find ride-or-die-ing from Lowell to Hampton Beach.  But that motorcycle was soon stopped in its tracks when he met Lillian Healy (sister to my Mom). 

For better or worse (ok, definitely for the better) Brad’s carefree, Rocking in the Free World, Love the One You are With outlook quickly turned to the love of his life; and has been steady for nearly 50 years.

Brad and Lil were married in 1972, spawn two awesome sons and built a wonderful life. 

Brad worked for more that 20 years in the men’s clothing industry selling high end threads to the businessmen of the 1970s and 80s.  Spent the second half of his career in the security systems business building a massive portfolio of loyal customers and friends.  A true workhorse, Brad just retired last year.

OK, now you have the ‘block and tackle’ facts on Uncle Brad’s life, let me tell you why he is such an incredible person and why he means so much to me.

Growing up very close to my cousins, I spent an enormous amount of time with the Martins.  From after school hangs to camping outings to trips to York Beach (Uncle Brad’s favorite place in the world) I was the shadow of the Martin family.

What Uncle Brad brought to the table for me were things I did not quite experience with my own Dad; like patience and level-headedness.  For those that know me, you understand how much I loved my father, but he was not…exactly “balanced” at times, especially when raising his only son through the wonder years. 

See, Frank was an Irish madman.  He loved to yell and holler.  He loved to punish me (probably well deserved) and, frankly, scared me at times.  From the time I was very little until I was long (considered) an adult, I ran to Uncle Brad when I feared the wrath of Big Frank at home.  Quite often, when I would habitually do something stupid and knew I was in for a tongue lashing and a 2 week grounding, Uncle Brad would put my mind at ease.  He delivered sound and soothing advice to how I should manage my most recent dilemma.

The examples are endless, but let me share my all time favorite.

Fall of 1990.  A typical Friday night in the Mill City.  My friends and I seeking some type of neighborhood mischief.  Hanging out on the private grounds of a local golf club with twenty or thirty co-delinquents, we were just doing typical teenage“stuff”. Trying to impress girls, sneak a few warm, backpack beers someone smuggled out of their parents’ house. 

No biggie.

Until….

The herd of pubescent pinheads heard a noise.  Sounded like a car?  What was it?  Then we saw headlights of some sorts raging across the 3rd fairway of this Staples Street staple.  Uh oh.  It was the groundskeeper.  And he was coming at us fast.  He was coming at us angry.  He was coming for all of us to break up this little gathering of hormone-filled hang-arounders.

Naturally, this brave, mature and moric band of adolescents did the wise thing; ran like hell into the woods.  Off we scattered. Every boy, girl and child for themselves.  Like they say “When running from a bear, you don’t have to be the fastest, just the second slowest”.  And while I was always in the conversation for dumbest, I was pretty quick in those days.

I go barreling into the dark, wooded unknown with one goal in mind; do NOT get caught by Groundskeeper Willie (or Jackie in this case).  (Did I forget to mention that my pursuer was also a friend of Dads? This would not end well for me if captured.)

Flying through the echoes and shadows, I saw a glimmer of light in my path.  What I did not see was the murky marsh I was about to run right in to in 3, 2….splash.  Yup, waist deep in a muddy mess like Woodstock, minus the nudity and acid.

Oh, s#!+….this isn’t good at all.  Untangle myself from the soily-earth-bath and keep trudging toward the light to catch up with my co-conspirators.  Greeted with insane laughter, I would surely need a plan.  Cousin Brad, who lived a few short blocks from our landing point offered counsel.

Dude, you cant go home to Uncle Frank like this.  He will lose his mind and you will be locked down until Christmas.  Letsgo to my house and figure it out.

Smart advice. 

Upon arrival, Uncle Brad greeted Junior and his Swamp Man Nephew with a head scratch, but not anger.

“What the hell happened to you?,” he uttered and started to giggle.

Uncle Brad, listen, I swear that…, “ I nervously scrambled.

“Relax.  I don’t even want to know.  But you can’t go home.  Stay here tonight.  I’ll call your parents.  Aunt Lil will wash your clothes.  No one needs to know.”

My man.

And while that’s a funny example, it is just one far too many times Uncle Brad took very good care of me, treated me like a 3rd son and had my best interests in mind. Always.

Brad treated everyone he encountered with an open mind, a welcoming smile and a gentle kindness that you can not manufacture or feign. 

He is a just a good and decent man.

A family man.

Real Man.

P.S. Happy 72nd Birthday, buddy (published January 15, 2021)

Uncle Brad

REAL MEN: MY FRIEND PETER

An addendum to a chapter I so proudly wrote several years ago.  Peter Martin. 

Peter was simply an amazing, loyal, generous, kind friend and father figure to me.  When he passed several years back, I wrote these words to attempt to encapsulate his character and, moreso, his meaning to me.  Not sure I did that any justice.

Thank you, Peter.  Think of you often.

Real Men.

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My Friend Peter

We lost our friend Peter.

I never really knew Peter until about 10 years ago when he was hired at my company.  I knew his family.  I knew who he was.  But I did not “know” him.  At first I was a bit intimidated by Peter.  He was a seasoned executive.  Confident, calm and certain of himself, Peter was a serious businessman and I was not sure how we would mesh?

Very quickly I discovered this man would become much more than a co-worker, but one of the best men I have ever known.

During this period, my family was going through a very difficult time and I was distracted personally to say the least.  As I attempted to separate work from home, Peter was the person I was spending most of my time with and, naturally, he learned all about my life.  What Peter did not know was that he was quickly becoming my soundboard whether he liked it or not.  What I did not know, but quickly learned, was the incredible character and compassion that this ‘stranger’ possessed and just how much he would help me during these tough times.  I can only pray he knew that?

While too young to be my father and too old to be my brother, Peter and I shared a special bond.  Our friendship was extremely unique.  He could give me smart advice like my Dad, but also make an inappropriate joke like a best buddy.  Our friendship was perfect.

Also, during these early days with Peter, I uncovered his incredible generosity.  Peter’s generous and giving spirit was on display each day I was with him.  Peter was generous in every sense of the word; generous with his kindness, generous with time, generous with his knowledge, and certainly generous with his wallet.  As a very proud father of four himself, Peter knew I was being challenged at that time and needed a lot of help to get through it, and treated me like a son.

As we grew closer and spent many great times together, it was clear that Peter loved talking about one subject more than any other; his family.  Not just his wife of more than 30 years and their incredible children, but his brothers, sisters, his Mom and Dad.  I often would mock him when he would start to tell a story I had already heard by cutting him off and finishing it for him.  He loved the ribbing.

Many may not realize but Peter was a sentimental and emotional guy too.  Despite the macho, ‘team-Captain’ persona he gave off, he was a softy deep down.  After a bad day or a difficult situation I would frequently receive an encouraging note or text always ending with…

“Luv ya, P.”

Those little reassurances let me know he was in my corner no matter what, and I will never forget that.

Over the coming days (weeks, months and years) I am confident you will hear similar stories and memories of Peter.  I sincerely hope his legacy lives on with these stories because if Peter knew about anything in this world, it was how to be loyal.  Loyal husband, dad, son, brother and friend.

I just hope he knew I was always in his corner too?

Thank you for everything, my friend.

Rest easy.

‘Luv ya’ too buddy

REAL MEN: BUBBA

I first met Joe Bianculli on July 4th 1997. It was a scalding hot summer afternoon at Joe’s do-not-miss-cookout at his home in Milton, Massachusetts.

It was an intimidating day.

The youngest of Joe’s three sons, Matt, and I were dating sisters. Matt and I had met months prior and this was my first introduction to the Bianculli family (and by “family” I mean more like the Gambinos or the Sopranos). As I rolled up on this magnanimous Italian summer feast, I quickly understood this was a hard core family, lead by “Bubba”, a term his future grandchildren would deem.

A product of the Savin Hill section of Dorchester, Joe is the middle child with two incredible sisters bookending him and keeping him in line. His Dad, Dominic, a Boston political legend and mother Martha (dubbed Charlotte Cha-Cha), the Bs were a tight knit brood. Joe grew up in the glory days of Beantown. And lucky for Joe, he courted and married his wife, Christine, of nearly 50 years, he has lead an admirable life.

As I walked in to that first cookout, I smelled the intensity of this man (ormaybe it was the onions and peppers?). Fire and passion.

Matt proudly grabbed me for in introduction.

“Dad, this is Fra….”

“Frankie Baby!” he yelled, cutting off Matt’s intro. A huge hug to follow at our first-minute-ever spent. Yup, I dig this dude.

“How you doing, pal? Good to meet ya! How about a Pearl? (a classic sausage/hot dog kind if thing he always had for his guests).

Deep breathe exhaled.

“Sounds great . Thank you, Mr Bianculli!”

“Joe! I’m Joe. Cut that Mr. Biancull bullsh#% out”.

Joe was a wild and energetic soul. Fun, loud, anxious and excited. I knew from Day 1, I liked this guy. Reminding me very much of my own Dad, Joe was a screwball.

Temper of a demon, heart of an angel.

And so, years wore on and I got more insights on Bubba. I heard a lot of stories. Stories of a guy that would road rage to the point of a Wild West gun fight. Stories of a guy that would chase a hockey referee in to the stands to challenge after a questionable off sides call. Stories of a madman I had never met.

Turns out, I never did get to meet “that” Joe Bianculli.

Not sure if that was good fortune or not? But I have had the pleasure to spend the last 20+ years around the only Joe I ever met; a complete softy. The Joe Bianculli I have spent my adult years around is a perfect husband, father and gentleman. And, not to keep you in suspense, he is freakin’ awesome.

You know when you see that person that you know will deliver the greatest hug ever? That’s Bubba.

Need a compliment when you aren’t feeling so great about life? Look, there’s Bubba.

Need a kick in the ass to get your world together? Also, Bubba.

As years passed, as they tend to do, Bubba became as much a friend to me as a father figure. We have waxed poetic about life and the world. We have tried to figure it out. And it always started and ended with a hug and a kiss. (Real men don’t mind giving a hug and a kiss; just so you know.)

My own father, very similar to Joe, fell ill a few years back. Joe never EVER failed to stay in touch with me through it all. He, and his beyond wonderful wife Chrissy, always reached out to me with love and prayers.

Joe made me feel like the 4th Bianculli son ( the really pale brother that could not skate or fight like the others).

Joe called me often. Simply to say hello. Ask about my Dad. Sent his prayers and love. Always. When my Dad did finally succumb to his cancer, Joe was one of the first in line to just offer his condolences and love.

Joe will always be an influence on me. He’s the best. I love this guy.

Real Men.

REAL MEN: Mr. Manager

If Cambridge Massachusetts was a man, he would be a homeless, hippie, double-MBA from Harvard grad, stepping down as CEO from Biogen to run for City Council as a Liberatarian while simultaneously writing the next War and Peace as he is being arrested for urinating in the Charles River.

How’s that imagery? 

Cambridge is the one of the epicenters of intellect, imagination and ingenuity.  It is also the birthplace of my mother and her family. However, Cambridge is not the epicenter of this story, just the backdrop.

My mother’s oldest brother, Robert “Bob” Healy was the City Manager of Cambridge for more than thirty years.  With the gentle-est of Iron Fists, Bob turned this once downtrodden municipalities into an economic iconoclasts envied by others in his post across the nation.

Below is the very first column I ever penned and put “out there” for public consumption.  Thankfully this article was well received, not because of my powerful prose but because of the substance of the man I was writing about.

Bob was a humble legend.  A yeoman-level workaholic, Bob was always a simple but not-to-be-fooled-with leader.  Bob could be on the phone with the Governor while he was ordering a hot dog from the cart next to City Hall (he was on a first name basis with both of those guys, by the way).

The oldest of six children and the son of a Cambridge bus driver, Bob epitomized “self-made”.  I was always impressed by him, but not because of his status, title, or power.  I was impressed by him because he was such a kind, compassionate, genuine man.  

A great leader but, moreso, a great husband, a great father, a great friend (and pretty great uncle too).

Real Man.

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Standing the Test of Time

Lowell Sun

February 3, 2009

I wanted to take this opportunity to recognize one of Lowell’s finest leaders – Bob Healy.

Who, you ask? True, Bob has not been part of Lowell city government in 30 years, but itis where he got his start. If you don’t already know, Bob has served as the City Manager of Cambridge, Massachusetts for nearly 30 years and has been a resident of Lowell for over 40. In an age when we see our public officials come and go as nearly as fast as our professional sports heroes, Bob has stood the test of time in his post. How has he done so? Quite simple. Honest, hard work and the ability to get along with those around him no matter the circumstances or varying personalities.

This brings me to my next point – diversity. No sure how much you know about Cambridge, but it may very well be the most diverse and liberal major city in America. Cambridge is the home to, arguably, the nation’s most prestigious universities in Harvard and MIT, and some of our country’s most cutting edge bio-tech companies, but you are never more than a stones throw from a homeless person or low income housing. Bob, himself, has joked many times, “If it were not forCambridge and Berkeley, CA the country would tip over!” (referring the extreme levels of racial and economic diversity in each city)

Its FY 2007 residential property tax rate was rated one of the lowest in Massachusetts.Cambridge enjoys the highest possible bond credit rating, AAA, with all three WallStreet rating agencies.

Not bad.

To know Bob in private life, as I do, you would never know he is the leader of a major metropolis. Quiet, shy and extremely unassuming. But, turn on cable access on Monday nights in Cambridge and you will see a very different Bob Healy. Eloquent, confident,calm. Calm to the point of nauseum even with an upset citizen or disgruntled city councilmember screaming from the hilltops. It is perhaps this quality – calmness in the face of adversity or hard times- that above all has allowed for his longevity and separated him from the pack. (Bob is the longest serving city manager in Cambridge history) Bob is a fully ’vested’ state employee – and by that I mean his has reached his maximum lifetime pension requirement in regards to years served– yet he continues to work. Work REALLY hard. Rarely a day goes by when Bob is not the first person at Cambridge City Hall. It is not uncommon to see his car pull out of his driveway on Raven Road in Lowell heading for the People’s Republic of Cambridge (as it has been dubbed by it’s citizens for it’s extreme liberal nature) at 4:30AM. And when it starts to snow…forget it! Bob is racing the snow plows down Route 3 in the middle of the night to get to his ”command post” at city hall to ensure ”his” streets are safely plowed! So, why does he continue to work so very hard for virtually pennies on the dollar related to his retirement package? No one really knows but Bob. My guess is because that is all he knows how to do – and when you are really good at something, as Bob is, it is hard to give that up.

This coming Saturday, February 7th, the City of Cambridge will honor Bob by unveiling the new ‘Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility’, which will include a state-of-the-art Police Headquarters and Emergency Communications Center.

Bob will probably make a few very brief and humble remarks and rush back to his office.I hope he takes at least a few minutes to reflect on all he has achieved.

If this reads as somewhat biased, it should – I am Bob’s nephew.

-Frank McCabe, Jr.

REAL MEN: TIGHE-ger TRACKS

So, finally ready to start the book I have had in my mind, for years, titled “REAL MEN

Decided to get it started and my first entry is about one of my favorite families; the Tighes. Hope you enjoy. If you have a tale of a Real Man; father, brother, son…worth telling, send me a note and we can include a chapter.

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Philomena“Philly” Tighe died of cancer at a young age. A lovely Irish lady, Philly left behind her husband, John, and their five young sons to figure the world out (don’t worry, they all did a wonderful job of that).  My father’s family were the next door neighbors to the Tighes and they grieved with them. As years passed, my dad and mom always shared some fun and funny tales of their years living next to the Tighes on Moore Street in Lowell.

When I was 4 years old my parents packed up to build their first home. As the house was being constructed, a chimney needed to be built and bricklayer “Old”  John Tighe was the only man ever considered for the job. John was a cool, calm badass of a man and I became infatuated with his mason craft. Cigar hanging out of his mouth, John carried layer upon layer of bricks up and down a ladder, all day. I was mesmerized. So much so, I attempted to carry bricks around the yard, following John. At first, I grabbed one. Then two. Soon I thought I could carry as many bricks as my mortar-l idol, John .  And…hernia. Pain, surgery, scrotal-area scar…whatever.

It was worth it, Mr. Tighe

Flash forward 36 years.

My annual boys golf trip. Gratuitously titled “The Green Jacket“, a tradition unlike any other. Twenty-five aging married men with children drinking for a weekend and a round of golf might have accidentally broken out. October in the Live Free or Die state for 48 hours. Epic event that lasted nearly two decades. Personally, my last G.J. was 2014 as I just turned the page in to my fourth decade.

Here is why it was my last.

On the first day of our cherished tradition I had a bit of an “accident”.

Rather, another Tighe sent me to the emergency room.

This time the culprit was the youngest of their clan, my old buddy Marty. At a table set for 25 inebriated men we were having a bit of a Craic. Marty, at the head of this banquet table like a Dean Martin Roast, and I to his right, were laughing like the audience of court jesters. Then it took an unexpected turn. A playful slap on my arm from Marty quickly devolved into a more jovial tackle.

Boom.

Ass-over-tea-kettle, my noggin smashed off the nearly 100 year old hotel radiator. As I sat back up in my chair, still belly laughing, I observed the looks of despair on my mates’ faces. My cousin, Kevin, directly across from me, says in his best Boston accent, “Ah, dude, that’s gonna need stitches.”

He was right. Ambulance whisks me of to “We Almost Went to Medical School General Hospital” in East Nowhere, NH for nine badboy sutures just west of my left eye. Dr. Quinn, Almost Medicine Woman, asked me if I had been drinking to which I eloquently responded, “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA”

No local anesthetic needed, Doc.

It was worth it, Marty.

And so, Tighe men, thank you.
Two lifelong scars but two better lifelong memories.

Real men.