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. John Wayne-ish kind of vibe…Leo is the actual ‘Quiet Man‘.

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 had a life well lived….and keeps on going and keeping those around him smiling.

REAL MAN.

Keep making us all laugh, 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 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.

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.

————————————————————————————————————————-

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.