REAL MEN: Roger

The men described in this series all possess similar traits; loyalty, character, humor, humility, grit, compassion, “bad-ass-ness” but most, kindness.

This guy embodies that last trait.

Roger Landry.

In keeping with the common thread, Roger is a dear and old friend of my late father and the entire McCabe family. Roger is a true friend.

As a lifelong educator and principal, Roger will appreciate the math that accompanies this chapter.

Roger grew up in the Acre section of Lowell, 2nd oldest to a brood of 8. Six sisters and a brother. The Landrys are”breeders”. Roger’s two daughters represent just a couple of their 28 first cousins. The latest generation producing upwards of 63 offspring (footnote to Ancestry.com).

Jesus, folks, don’t you have Netflx? Bon jour, ya animals.

You need a formal organizational chart to keep track of these people. Make note, if you are doing business, eating dinner, having coffee, sitting, standing, driving, golfing, voting or breathing there is 73% chance you are in the presence of a Landry. Amazingly, I know approximately 81% of them and they are all simply good, decent, hard working human beings. That can’t be said about most.

Back to Rog.

With a glorious quaff of snow white lettuce covering his dome, Roger was a lifetime educator and principal. Began his career as a 6th grade teacher but spent the lion’s share of his professional years as a Principal in Lowell Public Schools. The very first Principal of the Murkland Elementary School, constructed just steps from his childhood home in the Acre, Roger had the perfect affect and effect on so many young students. My mother had the privilege to work in the library of the Murkland under Roger’s direction, and I would frequently visit. I witnessed first hand the firm but gentle hand Roger lead this school. Many of the students came from poor and broken homes and Roger served as a leader, role model and father figure to so many. Regardless of what condition these children entered that place, I can guarantee they came out better students and people when they left. Roger was truly born for this mission and good work.

Away from those classrooms and hallways, Roger was a very fun and social guy. Never would shy away from a card game, a sporting event or just a “night with the boys”.

More math you request? You got it.

Roger has been to Las Vegas 51 times. 51! The only people that have been to Sin City more than Roger are Frank Sinatra, Sigfried and Roy. Sammy Davis Jr. was only there 46 times, based on my non-research.

While always a gentleman, Roger is no softy, especially when it comes to common courtesy and politeness. A great tale of Roger from way back. Dad was working late, Mom was at some type of event tagging along with the Landrys and other friends. Allegedly, a fellow guest of this party was being a bit inappropriate toward Mom. Legend has it Roger had him pinned against the wall quicker than you can say “Get to the Principal’s office“. Thanks buddy.

A family man to the core, Roger has lead a wonderfully humble and great life; just ask wife Margie and daughters Carolyn and Patti.

A gentleman, a scholar and a friend.

100%

Real Man.

REAL MEN: Big Joe

F.I.L.: (noun) an acronym for FATHER-IN-LAW.

Example: You know Big Joe? Yeah, he is my FIL and scares the bejesus out of me.

I’m kidding…kinda.

Joseph Edward Kelleher, a proud product of Canton Massachusetts, has the distinct pleasure of being the father-in-law to his oldest child’s husband. Lucky guy. As I reflect on my nearly 50 years on this big blue ball, I realized I have known Joe for more than half of that time. As a 20 year old wiseass kid from Lowell I wanted to date his daughter and I would need to get this guy on my side.

Easier said than done.

A firm handshake and hardened gaze into my fearful eyes when we met, I quickly understood I best not mess around with this cat. While certainly kind and polite to me, I realized that his respect would need to be earned if I would be a part of his clan.

After a few years dating his baby girl, he warmed up to me; I want to say the temperature of a 2 hour old cup of coffee. Nonetheless, progress! The day finally came when I decided I would like to get married to his pride and joy. And while I was excited to make that leap of faith, I also knew I would need to get blessing from The Stone Wall of Silence. Yikes.

A cold, early winter evening, I was visiting their home of almost 30 years at the time and decided this was the day. I stalled. I hemmed. I hawed.

“You gotta do this buddy. Man up. Right thing to do. And if you don’t, this guy will bury you in the deep woods of his backyard,” my inner monologue screamed as I stared into the mirror of their bathroom seeking courage (or maybe a bottle of Jameson).

OK. The thought of the task is worse than the task. Right?

Created a diversion for my hopeful-future-wife and future MIL (Mother In Law, if you aren’t paying attention), I found myself alone with Big Joe in his man cave as he was watching Bruins’ action.

Here it goes.

Squeakily I began my plea.

“Um, Mr. Kelleher….”

A slow and deliberate turn of the head indicating to me, he was watching the game and what could I possibly want right now?

“I, uh, well….I really, um, well would like to ask Amy to marry me.

Joe sat up in his cozy recliner (that I still don’t think I have ever had the courage to sit in to this day?) and pondered my inquiry for what seemed to be 7 years. After this eternal silence he finally deemed his verdict.

Well, I guess you wouldn’t be the worst son in law?”

Sweet! Ringing endorsement. Good enough!

Great. Thank you sir.”

Awkward, brief handshake/man-hug followed and I raced upstairs to look for Xanax.

The rest of that story is long history.

Bottom line, Joe is simply the strong, silent type and I have always respected that about him.

John Wayne is a bumbling, blabber-mouth compared to Joe. Joe is the REAL Quiet Man.

Humble, firm, fair; that’s my FIL.

Hard working, honest, loyal; that’s my FIL.

(Handsome SOB too! (you know what that acronym means, right?)

Over the last quarter century, our once slightly awkward relationship has evolved in to a true bond and friendship. Joe has always been there for me and, of course, his daughter and our children.

Joe is the guy that drives 40 minutes to fix…well anything, since his SIL (Son In Law, if you aren’t paying attention) is the most inept homeowner since The Money Pit.

Joe is the guy that offers sage advice and council during our darkest hours.

Cool, calm and collected. Always.

If actions speak louder than words than Joe is really loud.

To quote a classic movie line, “Would you rather be loved or feared?

Well, Big Man, you have both of those emotions from your (favorite) son in law.

Love ya, FIL!

REAL MAN.

P.S. Joe’s other son-in-law asked for his blessing in some weird Men’s Hockey League locker room…nude. Real classy, Matty!

REAL MEN: LEO

There are REAL MEN, and then there is this next entry.

Leo Richard Creegan.

Next level “REAL”.

Next level husband, father, father-in-law, brother, grandfather, uncle and friend.

I am scared typing these words because Leo is a very private kind of gentleman and will probably not be pleased that I am telling a small portion of his life’s story but, I have to do such.

Strong, tough, cool and composed.

Let me explain.

Like most of the men in this series, Leo has been a part of my life since I was very young. As a kid, he was an impressive figure. With a white beard (and I think he was like 35 years old, but anyway) and predictable stone cold expression on his countenance, Leo was a bit, shall we say, intimidating. However, that demeanor was backed up by an incredible, patient sensitivity.

Leo was a teacher, coach and school principal in the first chapter of his life. With an iron fist, Leo made hundreds of Lowell kids better students, athletes and humans for many, many years. He knew how to discipline, but he also knew how to build young people up with praise when needed and deserved. Truly a gift.

I played Little League baseball for Leo and recall simply wanting to play hard and make him proud. Not sure there is a bigger compliment I can pay him.

Leo’s wife, Judy, and their four children built a wonderful life on Surrey Lane. Growing up with the Creegan brood, they were always fun and kind neighbors. Their only son, Ricky (yes, refuse to call him by his adult name, “Leo Jr.”) was an older kid I looked up to. Their older daughters, Elizabeth and Stephanie, babysat my sister and I. They witnessed my first embarrassing attempts to impress girls as an 8 year old when I would get to hang around them and their cool friends (hey there Tina, Sophia, Kerry, Martha and the rest).

Their youngest child, Colleen, was my age. Colleen was my true friend. Tragically, the Creegans lost Colleen when she was just 16 years old. Horrific. Not surprising, given her roots, Colleen was an incredibly beloved person and so many wept with the Creegans through this unfair suffering.

While managing incomparable sadness and pain, the Creegans stuck together and moved on to great things.

Lead by Leo.

Leo kindly ushered his sister, May Jane, through a lengthy battle with cancer. Never wavering in his unconditional love and support. What a brother he was to her.

Leo has always carried on and has continued to live an incredible, meaningful and full life. Often found with a neck-breaking-sized cigar dangling from his chops, Leo is one of the greats to be around. Story telling legend, Leo is a fun Teddy Bear of a guy if you can break past that faux-tough guy exterior.

One of my late father’s best friends, Leo stepped up from the moment I had to deliver the devastating news of my Dad’s passing. Never missing a beat, he checks in with me all the time. Joking he has become somewhat of my “new Dad”, Leo and I meet regularly for a coffee or cocktail to just catch up.

Offering direct and deliberate advice, Leo’s words always resonate with me. Always.

I am very blessed to have Leo keeping an eye on me. I certainly need it. Thank you, “Mr. Creegan”

Real Man.

P.S. Oddly, I never met a bad guy named Leo (Creegan, Shaughnessy, Mendez, McNeil, Sheridan, Flynn). Weird.

REAL MEN: Schindler

June 2000

I was about to accept the first job I was ever excited about, it was my final interview. I was scheduled for a full day “on the road” with my future boss to get a feel of the routine of what my professional life would be like. Soon-to-be-boss had a full day planned touring me around the future sales territory and the very first stop was to meet his best and favorite customer, George Schindler.

We walked into a dark warehouse in Woburn and I was feeling out of my usual element. As we meandered around the dark, busy industrial building seeking George, I was very curious about this introduction.

And then he appeared.

A Santa Claus like build and a snow white cascade of glorious hair flow, this was a guy you could never mistake or forget. (over the years I often joked he looked like Barbara Bush’s twin brothersee pic below)

George, this is Frankie McCabe. He is hopefully joining our company in a few weeks,” new boss exclaimed.

With a devilish smile and an extended hand, our first conversation involved an off color Irish joke that immediately assured me, I LIKE this guy.

And that was the start. The start of now a twenty-plus year friendship but an automatic lifetime bond from my kneejerk perspective at that moment in time.

Interesting to our friendship, George is 25 years my senior. In fact, born just 13 days apart from my own father, George would become another great figure like many of the others I have described in these REAL MEN readings.

Funny, kind, loyal, hard working, George is simply an awesome human to be around to enjoy his company, wit and banter.

After that first meeting, George and I have had many adventures over the years. Mostly connected through our professional lives, he and I quickly became great friends, confidants and traveling buddies. We often were on the road for mutual business meetings, conferences and events. We co-chaired a local industry association and spent many nights of hilarity, all around the country.

George was the father figure that you shared stories and adventures with that you could not share with your actual father. It was the best. Dinners, golf, cigars and maybe an occasional libation or two and maybe a little bit of WERC (inside joke, not a typo).

Bonnie and Clyde.

Thelma and Louis.

Smith and Wesson.

We were a unique, dynamic combo and we have created many great memories over the years.

Raised in Mattapan, proud Vietnam Veteran (via the Naval Air Force), protective oldest brother to six, wonderful father of four, fun grandfather to five, and lucky husband to one, his wife Deb, for more than 30 years.

George has lead a life well lived….and keeps on going and keeping those around him smiling.

REAL MAN.

Keep making us all laughing, pal.

REAL MEN: MCCABE

When my Dad passed last year I, almost immediately, had this REAL MEN project in mind.  Stories of men that helped mold me. 

Men of resolve and grit.  Men like my father, my grandfather and his brothers and their sons.

The most daunting task was writing this chapter about the most powerful group of men in my world; The McCabes

The paternal side of my family tree makes me smile. 

The McCabe men make me very proud. 

Here is why…

The first McCabe man, Patrick, stepped foot on America’s soil in 1903 (thanks Jamie for the evidence).  A proud and outlandish “Paddy”, Patrick was a railroad worker doing his very best for his children.  Six boys and a girl (God bless you, Mary) fighting their way through the new world. 

Great grandfather Patrick (who apparently went by “Pete”. Huh?) was, naturally a God-fearing and Protestant-hating Catholic.  Apparently “Pete” would roam home on Friday nights after a long day and, with such built up anti-English anger, and punch out the pickets of his British neighbor’s fence.  Of course, the other half of being a good Catholic is always feeling guilty, so Pat/Pete would wake up on Saturday morning with a slight hangover and insist his brood of boys fix the mistake he made just hours earlier.

The best part is…he performed this act of lunacy weekly.

Flash forward and the McCabe boys were off and running in America.

Firemen, clergy and funeral directors, the McCabe boys were making their mark in Lowell Massachusetts.  Loyal Catholics and devout maniacs, these men were here to stay.

Eddie, my grandfather, was a certifiable whacko and the local undertaker.  Kind to his core, Ed would fight the wind if he thought it blew in the wrong direction. When he wasn’t burying parishioners, you could find him yelling at my Dad or fishing. Good man. Scared me to death (see what I did there?)

Patrick, the baby of the clan, and the eventual deputy chief of the Lowell Fire Department was the true bad ass of the boys.  The youngest, Pat was a wild man with the biggest heart and a bigger temper.  Father of eight, Pat was the poster boy for the Irish American dream.

As for the rest, I hardly knew them.  Priests and crazies I am told, but the McCabes had arrived by the middle of the 20th century.

Flash forward to our generation and I simply feel like a weakling in comparison.  The OG McCabes, the off-the-boat McCabes…they were truly real men.

Legend has it my great grandfather punched out a horse on a $10 bet from the same English guy I referenced above.  Really? I got a splinter a few weeks back and called in sick.

It doesn’t matter because, to be very candid, these type of men are extinct and just make me very proud be a part of their legacy. 

They were not welcomed in this country. 

They needed to forge their way and their future, like all immigrants.

“NO IRISH NEED APPLY”

Remember?

Today, more than 100 years since the first McCabe arrived in this nation, I am so very proud to be a part of this lineage. 

I am proud to be an Irish American. 

I am proud of this family.

I am proud to be a McCabe.

REAL MEN.

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.

———————————————————————————————-

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.