REAL MEN: CHICKY

Like many of the other men I have described in this project, I have known them my entire life. This gentleman is in that class. And “class” is probably the best word to describe Kevin J. Ahern Sr.

My earliest memories of, at the time, “Mr. Ahern” were when we were neighbors. My family just moved into a new neighborhood and the Ahern family was about 6 doors down the street. As a shy young kid, I was feeling my way around the new ‘hood and quickly found out that Ahern Compound was the place to be.

Mrs. Ahern“, a.k.a. Jenny, was the local Super Mom and babysat nearly half of the town during the day.

After a few timid walk bys I meandered into the Ahern yard to see what all the excitement was about.

I was immediately greeted with open arms and, if memory serves me, one of Jenny’s infamous chocolate chip cookies. Whether is was the warmth I was welcomed with or that cookie, the Ahern family had the hook in me; and I am still thankful for it.

Within a few days my after school routine was race home, throw on the “play clothes” (as we called them in the 1980s) and race up to the Ahern Backyard Carnival. Kids from ages 3-13 barreling around the Ahern grounds playing tag, hide and seek, basketball…it was a party every afternoon.

Some days, I never even saw Big Kevin as he was sleeping. Not cause he was some lazy ass but because he needed to get some rest before his night ahead at the printing company he worked at for many many years. However, most days he would emerge to the yard to join the fray and that is when I was first exposed to his amazing character.

Kevin would push open the backdoor of their Glenwood Street home and join the kids for some fun. Always with a giant smile and a couple of jokes, Kevin made you feel like one of his own children.

Big Kevin…alright, at this point I should delineate the Kevins for clarity.

Kevin Senior had a million monikers throughout his life including “Grease“, “Monk” and, later, the one that stuck, “Chicky” in reference to famed Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hern. (Kevin Jr, only had one nickname, “Razor” which has also stuck for more than 40 years)

We clear now?

Welcome to Lowell. The Land of Nicknames.

Now that I have cleared that up, back to Chicky. Chicky would usually grab the round ball and meet up with any takers in their oil stained driveway (if you didn’t go home smelling like Quaker State, you weren’t doing it right) in a friendly game of hoops. Nearly a professional basketball player in his heyday (true story), Chicky had game. Even in his 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, Chicky could shoot a basketball.

Swishes, bank shots, trick shots Chicky was impressive…especially to an 8 year old kid just learning the game. Chicky loved to teach us all to play. The basics of the game. How to shoot, dribble, pass and compete. He taught me everything about the game that I fell in love with as a youngster. Years later, Chicky was the coach of our CYO squad and it was the funnest sports team I was ever a part. I could wax poetic about those times alone but I want to teach you about what Chicky has meant to me.

He taught me that you didn’t need to swear to be cool. Legend has it as a young man, Kevin was a curser of the worser until someone simply set him straight and said it wasn’t what a gentleman needs to do to be heard. That lesson stuck with Kevin as I have never heard a foul word leave his mouth. (I’d like to say the same for myself, Chick, but thanks for trying.)

Kevin taught me a lot of little one line, often comical, lessons through my upbringing that I never forgot.

One time I wandered up the street on a hot summer Sunday afternoon to find Chicky in a lawn chair, shirtless, watching a small black and white TV he rigged to the yard. Puffing a tiny cigar, sipping a cold beer and watching the Celtics play the Lakers in the NBA Championship. I slowly creeped up and Chicky, per usual, politely greeted me with a smile.

Hey Frankie. Come on over. Have some potato chips, it will put hair on your chest.”

Not only did I accept his offer, I later went home and crushed about 3 bags of Lays hoping he was speaking truth.

When Chicky was my coach and I would start to take the game a little too seriously, he reminded to me “Just smile” during a time out.

Never forgot that one and so many more.

Chicky taught me a lot. His wife, children, son-in-laws, daughter-in-law and grandchildren have been a huge part of not only my life but my family’s life.

As the best tribute I can pay him, I was honored to have Kevin help usher my Dad through his funeral services when he passed away last year as a Pallbearer.

Chicky, you’re the man.

REAL MAN.

P.S. Thank you for teaching me the jump shot that never measured up to yours.

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.