Eulogy for My Brother, Jackie Burke

October 16, 2014

Delivered by Thomas Burke at funeral mass, Saint John the Evangelist Church, October 16, 2014

John V. Burke

John V. Burke

On behalf of Jackie’s son Patrick and all of Jackie’s brothers and sisters, I thank you all for being with us this morning. Your presence here and your thoughtfulness during recent weeks has meant a great deal to everyone.

Our lives are but a brief moment in time between two vast eternities. Jackie’s moment is ended, and he has entered the eternity that follows. But however brief was his life, however brief is anyone’s life, that doesn’t mean it cannot be filled with wonderful and happy memories. And as Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey reminds us, “The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end, that’s all there is.”

So let’s share some of those memories of my brother. I’m sure you all have many favorite ones, as do I. Jackie is with us now in spirit, his pain is gone, and he wants us to smile when we think of him today.

Childhood. Jackie was born ten years after I was. That decade’s age difference let me be the big brother in ways that Peter and Jimmy weren’t able to. I delivered newspapers all through grammar school, and my bike was equipped with a special, extra-large, industrial strength wire basket on the front. It was ideal for carrying 75 Boston Globes or one two-year old boy.

When I was taking care of Jackie, I used to love riding about the town with him in that basket. We’d go to the parks, the playgrounds, the beaches. Every time down at Winthrop Beach, he would point out “the balls.” Those giant golf-ball domes atop the Fort Heath radar towers.

It’s so much fun showing new and wondrous things to little ones. And for me, on those rides around town, I got to show him off to all the friends I’d meet. Especially to the girls. How I loved to do that.

I was so proud of my baby brother.

Adolescence. That meant hockey memories. They begin with all those years of my mother and Catherine McDonald driving Jackie and the McDonald boys here, there and everywhere. They all became very good hockey players, and when they got to high school they played together on the “Irish Line.” Jackie was the right wing, Bobby the center and Joe the left wing. They were the highest scoring high school Division One line in the state in 75-76. They won the East Coast Aero Tech Trophy for that. They’re in the Winthrop High Hall of Fame.

Jackie did pick up one edgy little habit along the way. When he scored a goal, sometimes he’d rub it in by turning his stick around and pretending he was shooting the goalie with the Ugly Gun. The Danvers athletic director complained to Jim Evans, and he put a stop to it.

I was there for those state tournament games at the Garden. That third overtime against Norwood – after midnight – Jackie stealing the pass in the Winthrop zone and going in alone for the winning goal, 4-3. Then again in the Eastern Mass final against Braintree, he got the game winner.

I made it into the locker room after the Braintree game. Reporters were all over the place, and I happened to catch a glimpse of one guy’s notepad after he interviewed Jackie. By that time, word had gotten out that he was the nephew of the late Walter Brown, and Jackie told the reporter that he used to come in to the Garden and practice with the Bruins. Well, Jackie was five when Walter died in 1964. He never knew his uncle Walter, and he certainly never practiced with the Bruins. I tapped the reporter on the shoulder and asked him not to include that tall tale that Jackie concocted in the flush of victory.

Sorry, Jack. I’ve never told anyone about that. But I think I saved you a little embarrassment. Not that your uncle wasn’t pleased to see what you’d done, watching from the Second Balcony. He coached the first American World championship hockey team, he ran the Garden from 1937 to 1964, he was president of the Bruins, and he never had a hockey thrill like that from any family member.
Those were great times. I knew that I’d never see a performance like that again.

I was so proud of my younger brother.

When the cancer came, it was horrible. It’s an angry, diabolical disease. Neither surgery nor intense radiation could slow it down. But Jackie fought it all the way. He got excellent support from his nurses, especially Colleen Kilbride, and from Patrick, a trooper during that battle just as he had been for his country, when he served in the US Marines in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Jackie’s friends rallied to put on a nice benefit evening for him – Charlotte Macrillo Flynn, Owen Gillis, Sharon McCarthy and their committee. Jackie was fighting a lonely battle but he wasn’t alone.

The last day I saw Jackie was on October 7. I was with him for a couple of hours at his apartment. He was in a lot of pain and had difficulty talking. We knew how hard it was for him to take care of himself. When he and I were alone together I asked him to consider going to hospice care. He wrote me a note on his note pad that said “No. If I go there, that means I’m giving up. I’m not giving up. I’m going to fight this.”

That wasn’t what I’d hoped to hear at the time. And eventually he relented. Patrick brought him to the hospice in Danvers to next day. The following morning, Jackie was asleep when Peter stopped by to visit. I was getting ready to leave and go up there later in the day when Peter called. Jackie had not awakened, but had died that afternoon.

So the last time I saw Jackie, he was still fighting, still battling against odds that had become impossible. But maybe that’s just what we should expect of a hockey player.

I was so proud – I am still so proud – of my brother.

Jackie, now it is time to say goodbye. You’re back with Mom and Dad. You’ve probably already been in on some pickup hockey games. And if they designed it properly, hockey players’ heaven is the old Boston Garden, that House of Magic where you had your greatest triumph. It’s jammed with 13,909 souls. And Mom, Dad, Uncle Walter, and all the rest are cheering you on from Section 34, Rows C and D.

Please give them our love. Your brothers and sisters, and all of us here today, will be along to join you by and by.

Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

And forever, brother, hail and farewell.

Student-Athletes: They’re All Around Us

October 8, 2014

The athletes who grab the headlines, unfortunately, are often the ones whose behavior on and off the field is less than admirable. You know who they are, and you know the college and professional teams that tolerate them.

I’ve long maintained that the bad actors in college sports are a very small minority who get a disproportionate share of the attention. Over the years, I’ve met and written about hundreds of admirable, talented, well-rounded people whose stories should be told again. Their excellence in sport is just the beginning.

Bob Dirks, Boston College ’09, is one such student-athlete. The story below is my profile of Bob for her induction to the BC Hall of Fame on October 17, 2014.

Bob Dirks, BC Field Hockey Star from Malden, the Netherlands

Bob Dirks, BC Field Hockey Star from Malden, the Netherlands

Bob Dirks ‘09
Field Hockey

By Tom Burke

Final examinations had not yet concluded for the graduating students of Stedelijk Gymnasium in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, when the thick binder arrived at the home of Bob Dirks. A field hockey prodigy, perennial East Holland All-Star and member of the national champion squad, she had accepted a scholarship to play at Boston College under new coach Ainslee Lamb.

Bob, the youngest of four children in the athletic Dirks family, opened her mail that day and immediately thought she’d made a huge mistake.

“Here I was, 18 years old, about to move to another country, where I don’t speak the language, and I get this workout package. Ten weeks. Weight lifting, running seven miles, running 45 minutes straight. I threw it into the corner of my room. ‘There’s no way I can do this.’”

The day she finished finals, Bob telephoned the BC coach and told her “I don’t think I can run even one mile. If these are the prerequisites, I’m sure that I can’t go there.”

“Just do what you always do in the summer to get fit,” Lamb assured her frazzled prize recruit. “We’ll see what you can do when you get here.”

Reassured by her long-time youth coach Frank Stofneel, who’d spent a year in America, Bob went off to the store with her mother and bought a pair of running shoes. As it turned out, there would be plenty that Bob could do, and did, during freshman year at Boston College.

It was the Eagles’ first year in the ACC. Bob scored 11 goals and five assists for 27 points and earned Regional All-America honors. Her first goal came in a 3-2 win over Kent State. Bob had been ready to enroll there until the Kent State coach, Kerry DeVries, told her “You are my number one recruit and as I coach I want you here. But as a mother of three children, I know what is best for you, and it is Boston College.”

But the transition was not easy. Phone calls home to parents Mariette and Noud were frequent. Weight lifting and endless rounds of physical conditioning were completely new. So was the sporting culture.

“The sports mentality is something that is unknown in Europe. If you look at the American World Cup team, they may not be the most skilled, but they never give up. They’re always supporting each other. In the Netherlands, I played on skill. In America there is much more emphasis on fitness. By the end of four years, I’d had no idea that I could ever have run so much,” said Bob.

“The first word that comes to mind when I think about Bob is ‘dominant,’” said Lamb. “She came here at a very transitional time. She was an impact player right away and she helped elevate our program to be able to compete with the best in the country.

Bob's speed, skill, and adept use of the backhand kept the defenders off balance

Bob’s speed, skill, and adept use of the backhand kept the defenders off balance

“For Bob, the demands were higher physically. It was an aggressive game with more contact. Her strength on the ball had to improve a little bit. But she never lost the foundation she had with her Dutch hockey and was always willing to learn.”

Bob was an accomplished scorer when she arrived in college. Her possession skills and defensive game quickly blossomed. She was masterful and difficult to defend against with her passing, shooting, and flicking the ball from the reverse side of her stick. Classmate Christine Almendrales said,

“Bob was very good at deception, drawing the defender out and then being able to pass. She hung onto the ball a little longer than most players. She could retain the ball and score. With her dribbling skills she could change direction and not get tackled by the defender’s stick.”

Lamb also said that, as the center forward, Dirks would determine the team’s press, or defensive tactics. Her moves, as she pursued the ball when the opponent was in control, dictated the defensive responses by the rest of the BC team.

Things only got better for Bob after freshman year. For the next three seasons she was named a First Team All-American. Her 62 goals and 150 career points are tops on the Eagles’ all-time list, and she is fourth in career assists with 26. She was a superb student in the Carroll School of Management, posting a 3.385 GPA in her double major of finance and management leadership. She won Eagle of the Year as a senior, and earned an ACC postgraduate scholarship.

There was one other thing that Bob brought to America from home: her devotion to community service. By age 12, she was instructing younger kids in field hockey. At age 17 she began coaching physically disabled children. During recruiting talks with Coach Lamb, she learned that a small group of athletes were involved in community outreach through the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).

Bob, Almendrales, and Lauren Gilooly of the sailing team all pitched into expand SAAC, initiating or building up programs that included visits to Franciscan Children’s Hospital, the Pen Pal Picnic, and service trips to New Orleans and Vietnam. Bob was SAAC vice president as a senior.

Bob’s preferred volunteer activity was Moe Maloney’s HEAR program, in which student-athletes visit local elementary schools and tell life lessons. As a foreigner, and bearing an American boy’s name, Bob was a star of those visits. She liked to tell kids what it was to be different. Her favorite stop was the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Allston.

Bob returned to the Netherlands after graduation and earned a master’s degree in business, then took a year off for foreign travel. After two years of management consulting, she came to work full time at Akzo Nobel, a global paint and chemical company with some 50,000 employees in more than 80 countries. Bob is Akzo Nobel’s Project and Change Manager. Her current assignment is the reorganization of the information technology department, making it work more efficiently and effectively throughout the world. She still plays field hockey, three times a week.

Autumn Leaves, and Ladies of Autumn: Two of My Favorite Things

September 8, 2014

reds2Maria von Trapp had cream colored ponies and girls in white dresses. I’ve got flame colored tree leaves and girls with grey tresses.

These are two of my favorite things: the reds and golds and yellows of autumn in New England, and the company of women of my generation. It’s almost that time of year when I encounter the former. Any time of the year will do for encountering the latter. They’re two of life’s greatest pleasures.

The blazing hues of fall carry along with them all that’s gone before: the snow blankets of winter, the grudging thaws of mud time, the hopeful green shoots and buds of early spring, the winds and showers and storms and happy days of summer…they’re all wrapped up and glowing through the glad symphony of September glory.

gold2The greying hairs and the crinkly countenances of the ladies bear with them all that’s gone before as well: the pangs of childbirth as they brought forth humanity’s next generation; the illness and distresses of their little ones; the ripening and blossoming of youths they nurtured; the kisses and embraces of loved ones; the laughter and the tears of shared joy and sorrow…they’re all wrapped up and retold in the whispers and smiles and sparkling eyes of mature womanhood.

I love to walk the woods and parkland trails, early of an autumn morning or in the full of day or in the cool of evening. I am grateful for all that the winter, spring, and summer stored up the beauty I see at this time of riotous color. Here in New England, in the season that is just about to begin, there’s magnificence that nowhere else on earth can match.

In like manner, I love to meet and talk with old friends. There’s no friend like a friend of my youth. Especially if that friend is a woman who, like me, is in the September of her years.

yellow2Her crown of hair might be full grey or just silver-streaked, but her life story is anything but grey. It rings forth with the color and variety of the autumn woods. Her laugh lines are like the tiny creases in the leaves that flutter down to my outstretched hands on breezy fall days. Those lines may have been born in times of merriment, like a warm and tranquil month of summer. Or they may have furrowed her brow in times of stress and care, as a blustery March blast once shook the strong green leaves.

Each woman’s life story is unique, but it’s always a story of love. I am grateful for that story, and I never tire of hearing it. Woman’s strength is God’s greatest gift to man.

I cannot understand men of my age who insist on the company of women who are fifteen or twenty or more years their junior. I feel sorry for them. It’s rather like he who, on the first cool night of fall, boards a plane for Florida and leaves New England’s harvest banquet hall right before the feast begins. All such men are missing out on the Lord’s plenty.

Give me New England in autumn. Give me women my own age. Two of my favorite things.

College Student-Athletes: A Modest Proposal

August 29, 2014

Every championship tournament of the National Collegiate Athletic Association shall consist of:

1) On-field competition in the respective sports. They will be organized and seeded in the usual ways and will proceed through as many rounds as necessary to determine the national champion.

2) In-studio competition among all of the teams that have qualified for the on-field competition. The in-studio competition will be in the format of the “College Bowl” television shows. Initial matchups will be identical to those in the on-field competition. The teams will proceed through as many rounds as necessary to determine the national champion.

Paul Bryant and Allen Ludden, giants of the gridiron and television studio, respectively. The Bryant-Ludden Trophy, emblem of student-athlete superiority, will be named in their honor.

Paul Bryant and Allen Ludden, giants of the gridiron and television studio, respectively. The Bryant-Ludden Trophy, emblem of student-athlete superiority, will be named in their honor.

Special Rules:

All competitions will be televised and broadcast over as many media outlets as possible so as to maximize available revenues.

All funds and rights fees from the tournaments, including revenue from the sale of souvenirs, t-shirts, software packages, etc. will be pooled.

Each time a team in either field wins a match, it will gain a “victory point.” The more victory points an institution receives, the higher its share of the winnings.

After all competitions are complete, and the champions in both sectors determined, the money will be distributed to the schools and to the competing athletes. Fifty percent of each institution’s winnings will go to the school to use as it sees fit. The other fifty percent will be paid directly to the student-athletes.

The members of the in-studio teams must be selected from the playing rosters of the on-field teams. They must be letter-winners in their respective sports, not nonparticipating bench-warmers.

The team captain of the on-field team must be one of the members of the studio team. However, it is not mandated that he or she also be designated as captain of the studio team.

The team that scores the most victory points in a given academic year, and therefore wins the most money, will receive the coveted Bryant-Ludden Trophy, the new emblem of the highest level of student-athlete achievement in America.

Now let’s let the games begin!

History I Never Knew: Lip Pike, Baseball’s First Professional

August 27, 2014
Lipman E. Pike (1845-1893) America's First Pro Baseball Player

Lipman E. Pike
(1845-1893)
America’s First Pro Baseball Player

Logan Mankins, late of the New England Patriots, will hereafter be cashing his generous paychecks in Florida, just his second professional sporting home. As you ponder that news, consider how far we’ve come since the days of America’s first documented professional athlete, the peripatetic Lipman Emanuel “Lip” Pike.

Lip Pike was the first American to be revealed as a professional athlete. He was also the first Jewish baseball player. And he was a good one. Known as the “Iron Batter,” he first appeared in a box score one week after his bar mitzvah in 1864. He joined the Philadelphia Athletics in 1866, and he was paid $20 a week under the table.

Two other guys were also reportedly getting money from the A’s, and a hullabaloo ensued. The National Association of Base Ball Players set up a hearing on the matter, but nobody showed up and the whole thing was dropped.

By 1869, however, the façade of amateurism in baseball had fallen away, and the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first openly professional baseball team. So Lip Pike was a Jackie Robinson of sorts – he broke a barrier and paved the way for others. What he did was first deemed unacceptable. Society eventually got around to embracing it, but I bet nobody every thanked Lip Pike.

Pike also endured prejudice, but of a different sort than that felt by Robinson or by Pike’s Jewish brethren. Yes, Lip was a powerful hitter and speedy runner – he once hit six homers in a game that the Athletics won 67-25. But the A’s dropped him from the team in 1867. Why? Because he was a “foreigner,” as far as the team’s fans were concerned. He was from New York. They couldn’t have that, in the City of Brotherly Love.

Pike wasn’t finished. He had a lengthy career, playing for teams like the New York Mutuals, Brooklyn Atlantics, Troy Haymakers, Providence Grays, Baltimore Canaries, Hartford Dark Blues, St. Louis Brown Stockings, Worcester Ruby Legs, and New York Metropolitans. He was always on the move. Harry “Suitcase” Simpson had nothing on Lip Pike.

August, 1886 Media Coverage of Lip Pike and His Baseball Exploits. Newspaper Price: One Cent.

August, 1886 Media Coverage of Lip Pike and His Baseball Exploits. Newspaper Price: One Cent.

In 1869 Pike batted .610 for the Atlantics. He was their second baseman in 1870 when they beat Cincinnati and ended the Red Stockings’ 93-game winning streak.

Pike also used his speed and skill to make money in other ways. On August 16, 1873, he raced a trotting horse named Clarence in a 100-yard sprint at Newington Park in Baltimore. Lip won by four yards with a time of 10 seconds flat, earning a nice little prize of $250.

The superb writer Mordecai Richler points out that the Encyclopedia of Jews in Sports reports that most baseball players of the 19th century were gamblers and drunkards, or thought to be. But Richler states that “Pike was an exception. Throughout his career, contemporary journals commented on his sobriety, intelligence, wit, and industry.”

After retiring, Pike went back to the family business; his father, a Dutch immigrant to Brooklyn, owned a haberdashery. Lip died rather young, succumbing to a heart attack at the age of 48. According to the Brooklyn Eagle, “Many wealthy Hebrews and men high in political and old time baseball circles attended the funeral service.”

Of course, Lip Pike is enshrined in the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. In 1936, according to Wikipedia, he got one vote for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

As far as I’m concerned, Lip Pike belongs in Cooperstown too.

Olympic Ideals, and the Ideal Olympics

August 23, 2014

Spiridon Louis, the Greek shepherd boy who won the marathon race at the 1896 Athens Olympics, leads the Greek team into stadium at Berlin in 1936.

Spiridon Louis, the Greek shepherd boy who won the marathon race at the 1896 Athens Olympics.

Full disclosure: I still get goosebumps when I read the old stories of Spiridon Louis (1896 marathon winner, shown here at the Berlin games), Jim Thorpe, Ray Ewry, Johnny Weissmuller, and all the rest. I cherish the photos that I have of my grandfather officiating in Los Angeles in 1932, and posing aboard the S.S. Manhattan in 1936 with Johnny Kelley the Elder and Jesse Owens.

I loved the idealism of Baron de Coubertin and I think the Olympic ideal is cool. A part of me would love to see Boston as host city for the 2024 Summer Games, as some of our civic leaders have proposed.

But only a part of me. I know that the Olympic Ideal is all fluff and chiffon for those who organize, televise, and perform in the games.. “The name of the game is bucks,” as my radio professor Dan Viamonte kept reminding us.

My city, or any city, should not have to mortgage its future and put up those bucks to build a gigantic new athletic stadium. My city should not have to erect tens of thousands of new, luxury housing units that will be used for two weeks and then abandoned. No bucks from us for the privilege of hosting the Games. Rather, we think it will be a privilege for athletes from around the world to compete for their countries here, in the Cradle of Liberty.

So, International Olympic Committee, here’s what we’ll do. You can have your games in and around Boston. They will take place in August. We will arrange for our august (small “a”) institutions of higher learning to delay their openings for a few weeks. We’ll have them all pitch in and host the athletes from one or more countries.

The Japanese can stay at Showa Institute. The Israelis can live at Brandeis. The Irish will be housed at Boston College. Athletes from Communist countries can stay anywhere they want in Cambridge. And so on. Each national team can pay market rent for its housing arrangements. There’s plenty to be found, but no freebies. If you play, you pay.

Harvard Stadium

Harvard Stadium

We’ve got all the venues. We’ll have swimming at Harvard, sailing at Marblehead, equestrian at Myopia, all the other events at existing stadia and arenas.

Of course, the marathon will be from Hopkinton to Boston, the setting for the world’s premier road race. The opening and closing ceremonies will be at Harvard Stadium. What better atmosphere for them than America’s version of the Roman Coliseum?

TV money foots all the bills. Not a penny from taxpayers. We’ll work as volunteers during the games, and we’ll put up with the traffic and inconvenience. We’ll be glad to have you. But you’ve got to show us that you appreciate our hospitality.

Yes, Citius, Altius, Fortius. “Swifter, Higher, Stronger.”

sealBut Sicut Patribus, Sit Deus Nobis as well. “God be with us as He was with Our Fathers.’

That’s tradition. That’s a Boston Olympic ideal. Keep that in mind and let the games begin.

Best of the Best: Boston College’s New Hall of Famers

July 30, 2014

One Coach and Nine Student-Athletes Will be Inducted on Friday, October 17 and Presented at Halftime of BC-Clemson Football Game the Next Day

With Cathy Inglese, winningest coach in the history of  Boston College women's basketball.

With Cathy Inglese, winningest coach in the history of Boston College women’s basketball.

Today I got down to work on one of my most enjoyable annual assignments: interviewing and writing up the life stories of the newest members of the Boston College Hall of Fame. I spent a few hours with Cathy Inglese, the all-time winningest women’s basketball coach in BC history. Cathy coached at BC for 15 seasons, had an overall record of 273-197, and brought the Eagles to seven NCAA Tourneys and three appearances in the Sweet Sixteen.

Cathy is a most fitting choice and is the only coach among the inductees. The rest of the Hall of Fame Class of 2014 are student-athletes. And yes, that’s for real; all were top-notch students. Three of them played ice hockey. The other sports represented with one inductee each are volleyball, field hockey, track & field, softball, baseball, and the first-ever inductee in the sport of fencing.

Allison Anderson ’07 (volleyball): A three-year captain and BC’s career leader in aces (133), digs (2,176), and digs per set (4.92). After graduation, she received the Weaver-James-Corrigan Award, an ACC postgraduate scholarship for excellence both on the court and in the classroom.

Bob Dirks ’09 (field hockey): A three-time All-American and 2006 ACC Offensive Player of the Year. She started 77 out of 79 games and finished her career as BC all-time leader for goals in a career (62) and points in a career (150).

Jeff Farkas ‘00 (hockey): Played four years and was All-American and a Hobey Baker finalist in 2000.He is BC’s sixth all-time in scorer (190 points). He also received BC’s Outstanding Male Scholar-Athlete Award and was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Kasey Hill ’07 (track and field): The first BC track & field athlete to earn All-America honors at the NCAA Indoor Championships in 2007. She also competed in the heptathlon at the U.S. Olympic Trials. She holds BC’s record holder in both the pentathlon and heptathlon, and she is among the top five in the 55m hurdles (8.02), 100m hurdles (13.91), 200m (24.85m), shot put (43’0.25”), javelin (123’0”), and long jump (19’0.75”).

William Hogan, Jr. ’33 (hockey): The Bill was responsible for reviving the sport of ice hockey at Boston College during the Great Depression and for recruiting his Cambridge neighbor John “Snooks” Kelley to be head coach. He led the team in scoring in 1932-33 and went to a distinguished legal career after graduating from Harvard Law School. His son Bill Hogan III, Class of 1963, is also a Hall of Fame member. Bill Jr. will be a posthumous induction; he passed away in 2012 at the age of 100.

Marty Reasoner ’98 (hockey): The breakthrough recruit in coach Jerry York’s rebuilding of the hockey program, Marty played for three years and led the team in scoring each time. He was All-America and the team leader in the NCAA Frozen Four Year of 1998. He went on to play 15 years in the NHL.

Kim (Ryan) Scavone ’03 (softball): A two-time captain, she was Big East Rookie of the Year in 2000 and Pitcher of the Year in 2003. She ended up as Big East career and single-season strikeout record holder, and she was a first-team Regional All-American in 2003.

Paul Taylor ’04 (fencing): Boston College’s first Rhodes Scholar and holder of a doctorate in astrophysics, Paul is BC’s first fencers to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. He was a three-time NCAA Regional finalist, twice qualified for the NCAA Championships, was 2002 New England Collegiate Foil Champion, and has BC’s most career wins as foilist.

Jeff Waldron ’99 (baseball): A catcher, Jeff was captain in 1999 and twice All-Big East first-team. He ranks first all-time in walks (99), third in on-base percentage (.441), fifth in runs (138) and seventh in batting average (.341). He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1998 MLB draft.

Once again, BC Varsity Club has nominated a most impressive group of people. They’re great representatives of the school. I’m looking forward to getting the program book written up, and to the induction ceremony in October.

*****
P.S. This is not related to the Hall of Fame, but I don’t want to lose this opportunity to let you know of the October 7 release date for Tales from the Boston College Hockey Locker Room, co-authored by Reid Oslin and me. It’s a history of Eagle hockey that traces the evolution of the sport from the days of “ice polo” in the 1880’s all the way through BC’s six national championships.

That’s right – six. BC has won the NCAA Championship five times. But before that tournament even existed, the Eagles took the National AAU Tournament Crown way back in 1942. After winning it, they were presented with the George V. Brown Memorial Trophy, which was emblematic of the championship of amateur hockey in America.

Full disclosure: George V. Brown is my grandfather. So you know that made it into the book!

Click here to go to the order form on Amazon.

Will You Do the Fandango?

June 19, 2014

(Cultural) History I Never Knew:
Scaramouche, Scaramouche. Who is That Guy?

Scaramuccia, also known as Scaramouche or Scaramouch, is a roguish clown character of the commedia dell’arte, which began in 16th-century Italy.

A Royal Doulton mug of Scaramouche

A Royal Doulton mug of Scaramouche

Scaramuccia (literally “skirmish”) wears a black mask and, sometimes, glasses. He entertains the audience by his “grimaces and affected language.” Another such minor character is Coviello, described by painter Salvator Rosa as, (like Scaramouche) “sly, adroit, supple, and conceited”. In Molière’s “The Bourgeois Gentleman,” Coviello disguises his master as a Turk and pretends to speak Turkish. Both Scaramouche and Coviello can be clever or stupid—as the actor sees fit to portray him.

Scaramouche is also one of the iconic characters in the Punch and Judy puppet shows, which have their roots in commedia dell’arte. In some scenarios, Scaramouche is the owner of The Dog, another stock character. During performances, Punch frequently strikes Scaramouche, causing his head to come off his shoulders. Because of this, the term “scaramouche” has become associated with a class of puppets with extendable necks.

The accompanying picture is that of a Royal Doulton mug of Scaramouche.

Many of us who are unfamiliar with Italian comedy or with Punch and Judy first heard of Scaramouche in Bohemian Rhapsody:

“I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning,
Very, very frightening me.
(Galileo) Galileo.
(Galileo) Galileo,
Galileo Figaro
Magnifico.

“I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me.
He’s just a poor boy from a poor family,
Spare him his life from this monstrosity.

“Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. (Let him go!)
Bismillah! We will not let you go. (Let him go!)
Bismillah! We will not let you go. (Let me go!)”

The fandango is a lively couples’ dance usually accompanied by guitars, hand claps and castanets.

“Bismillah” is an Arabic word that means “in the name of God.” It is used at the head of almost every chapter in the Koran.

Hey – who said you couldn’t absorb some serious culture by watching “Wayne’s World?”

Joining the Team at Curry College

June 1, 2014

June 1 2014 (6)aI’m pleased to be the newest staff member of the Writing Center, one of the many services of Curry College’s Academic Enrichment Center. Earlier this week I met with my colleagues, a passionately dedicated group of writing professionals who love working with Curry’s energetic students.

Other offerings pf the AEC: Math Lab; Peer Tutoring and Teaching Assistant Program; Athletic Study Halls; Education Support Specialist Program; and Academic Classes including The Academic Writing Process, Read Around the World, Competencies for Prospective Educators, Peer Teaching in the Disciplines, Study Abroad Seminar, and Discovering Boston.

I’m looking forward to September. Go Colonels!

The Worldly Wisdom and Wit of Judith Wax: Book Review and Personal Reflection

May 15, 2014

Altered Aspirations
I once wanted to grow up to be Grantland Rice. He was the classics-steeped dean of American sportswriters who came up with “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again…” To my young mind, that line was perfection itself. If only I could write like him!

Author Judith Wax

Author Judith Wax

That was until I read Judith Wax. She was my first professional crush. I wanted to write like Judith Wax. I still want to.

Grantland Rice wrote about sports. Judith Wax wrote, for the most part, about a much more interesting subject: women.

In 1973, she burst onto the journalistic/literary scene with “The Waterbury Tales,” subject of which was the Watergate scandal. It was a wonderfully creative, funny, and stylistically accurate parody of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.”

Judith was 42 years old at the time. Her poem was picked up by several national publications, and she quickly became a hot commodity as a magazine feature writer and interviewer.

Judith’s first book was “Starting in the Middle,” published in 1979. The prologue begins

“Whan that forty with his hot pursuite,
Play happy birthday to yow on his floote,
And even they who marathon hath wonne
Can no the moving calendar outronne,
When heads that hadde blacke hayr, and blondys,
Discovyr in ther midst some straunge strondes,
Whan dimplyn’ folks flesshe with cellulyte,
And troubyl creepin’ in on smal crow’s feete,
Whan Mothyr Bell hath print her book too smalle,
Whan movying hands writ HOT FLASSH on youre walle,
Than starts the pilgrimage thru middle ages,
A tryp the OLDE WYFE tel in these pagys.”

Is that not brilliant? This is what “The Waterbury Tales” was like. As soon as I heard she’d done a book, I bought it, devoured it, and eventually lent it to someone who never returned it. Just recently, I bought another copy via Amazon. I love it even more than I did 30 years ago.

Back then, I longed to be as clever and witty as Judith Wax was with her similes, metaphors, literary allusions, and observations. One of the worst shocks about middle age, she suggested, was finding out that no one is really in charge. I can’t disagree with that.

She titled a chapter about raising her children “Slouching Toward Bettelheim.” In a piece titled “The Latest Wrinkle,” she interviewed people who’d undergone cosmetic surgery. She wrote

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may is still advice for virgins
For this same flower that smiles today too soon seeks plastic surgeons.”

In that same article, Judith went on to surmise that people feel comfortable talking to her about having face-craft done was for the same reason she could draw them out on such sensitive subjects as child-rearing and marriage problems: that we are comfortable talking with those “…as least as far from perfection as we are…Would you ask Cybill Shepherd whether she thinks your laugh lines are all that bad?”

The chapter concluded with a personal anecdote. Near the end of a vacation trip, she and her husband had gotten up early to catch a flight out of Rome. Her makeup-less face was the “worst Roman ruin around” as her husband shoved her into a tiny hotel elevator where she came face-to-face with Catherine Deneuve.

“Has any middle-aged woman ever had a crueler confrontation at dawn’s early light?” Her spouse had arranged for himself, she said, “…a close-up comparative view, cheek-by-jowl, of Catherine and me – Beauty and the Creased.”

In an earlier chapter she wrote that she’d met her husband at college, went steady for two years, got “pinned” and then engaged, and married him only partly because, in the dark garage behind her freshman dorm, he had explained “Sex is an integral part of life. Nobody had ever said ‘integral’ to me before.’”

My First Impressions

Wax - book2When I first read this delightful work so long ago, I marveled at all that – Judith’s humor, artistry, and self-deprecating personality. Also, like any male who’s honest will admit to, I couldn’t get enough of her confidential talks with thoughtful, experienced women on such topics as beauty, sex, and marriage. Several of the chapters have material like the above that had originally run in magazines like Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. None of them were on my subscription list.

Here’s just an example of such a discussion. In a chapter on women who’ve had, or are contemplating, an extramarital affair, she begins “…a lot of us didn’t discover the possibilities of the double life until we’d been hit by the possibilities of the double chin.”

She interviewed a woman named Norma, twenty-one years married, who admitted to fantasizing for years about “…an aging Prince Charming somewhere around who had the balls to break my spell.” In anticipation of such a liaison, Norma secretly built up a stash of “adultery underwear.” Pantyhose had not yet arrived on the scene, so she bought a flame-red latex girdle with black lace, so as to distract her lover-to-be from the ugly girdle grippers that held up her stockings.

As it turned out, Norma never did go through with her plans to cheat on her husband, and stated, “It’s too late for the red girdle. But maybe just as well. With my luck, I probably would have picked a man who would have asked to borrow it.”

Re-Visiting and Looking Deeper

Going back to Judith and re-reading her three decades later was even better. Much better. My appreciation for her work, when I was young, could never have matched what I felt and realized about her the second time around.

Why? Because I’ve been through middle age myself. Like Judith had, I’ve heard Time’s Winged Chariot at my back. I too have worried about my looks and my physical and mental capacities. More telling, I’ve lost dear friends to cancer, as Judith did. Some beautiful ladies I know would be worthy interviewees for her.

Judith Wax gets to the heart of the matter in her conversations with people. She captures them and tells their stories with grace, respect, good humor, and loving sympathy when it’s needed. That’s the kind of writer I try to be.

About friendship and her own life, she says “The best thing about the midyears, at least about mine. Is the depth of the friendships. The worst thing can be losing them. It’s to be expected that in middle age, mortality is not only intimated, but sometimes delivered, that pain and loss are birthday presents no one asks for.”

Bringing her own experience into the matter, she goes on about “The December day the wittiest friend I’ve ever had had come home from the hospital. I brought her homemade soup and instant lies. Both offerings were meant to comfort (me as well as her); neither could be swallowed with ease any more. I found her sitting at her living room window, watching the melting snow. ‘I’m sitting here in a blaze of optimism, planning my garden,’ she said. We both laughed, an astonished burst, and then stared at each other in shocked recognition of what had been unspeakable between us, that maybe she wouldn’t live to see the garden’s blossoming. She didn’t.”

That passage cut right through me. I’d been there too. It was just a few years ago that Bobby, beloved and admired companion of my youth, was fast losing his battle with cancer. Our lives had diverged and I hadn’t seen him for a long while. Knowing he wasn’t doing well, I temporized about going over to the old home town. Would he even be well enough to see me? Will he want to? When his reply to my query came back almost immediately, “would love to see you,” I promised to be there the next day.

I had him all to myself for about three hours – a lot of laughing and reminiscing, a few long-wondered-about questions asked and answered, and just a little reflecting on the rotten hand of failing health he’d been dealt. He wasn’t able to drink the half-quart bottle of Schaefer beer – one of our favorites – I’d bought him for the occasion. I left, feeling tremendously guilty at how healthy I still was but grateful that I’d had the chance to talk with him once more. That day was the very last time I could have done so. He was dead within a week.

I suppose I could go on and on with examples both funny and poignant, on topics like emptying-nest angst, Jewish-mother-guilt, psychiatrists and rebellious children, career versus stay-at-home, the instant and unwelcome change of social status that comes with widowhood, and coming of age sexually. But maybe, if this review/ reflection appeals to you, then you could go and find a copy of the book. It’s out of print, but can be found on line.

The Key to Happiness?

While Judith Wax doesn’t purport to dispense advice, much of what she wrote is wisdom to be heeded. I’d like to cite one more passage as an example because I, too, have known people who’ve done what she tells. I also know people who’ve gone the opposite way in their lives.

On the topic of aging gracefully and happily, she mentions two women. One is wealthy, the other nearly penniless. But they both “…share continuing engagement. What their newspapers tell them each day is infinitely more interesting to them that what their mirrors do (though both are strikingly, and painstakingly, attractive). ..And whatever sneak attacks fate has prepared for them, they have stayed participants in a larger sphere than self-concern.”

Haven’t you met them too? Some people who can’t get enough of life, or can’t give enough? And others who have already quit at age fifty?

This compact little book is both Judith Wax’s self-introduction to her reading public and her smiling embrace of her own life and her future. At the end, she returns to the style of Chaucer and writes,

“I telle you that ripeness is the beste.
I vow that midlyfe’s bettyr than the reste.
I swear young folk have naught on myddl-agyrs,
(I swear, also, I’m Far y-Fawcett-Majyrs.)”

A Tragic Ending

“Starting in the Middle” was the only book that Judith Wax wrote. She and her husband were passengers on American Airlines Flight 191. Leaving Chicago on May 25, 1979, the plane crashed on takeoff from O’Hare Airport, exploding into a roaring fireball that killed all 271 people on board instantly.

For me, who believes that there’s a story worth telling about everyone, Judith Wax will always be an inspiration, an interviewer and storyteller to emulate. Here, that word means to imitate with the hope of equaling or surpassing. I doubt I’ll ever get there. No one did it better than she.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.