Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Some Thoughts about Felicity

September 15, 2019

Nobody asked me, but…

I think that the sentence meted out to Felicity Huffman is reasonable and appropriate.  The star of “Desperate Housewives” will spend two weeks in a low-security federal corrections facility near San Francisco. She will also pay a $30,000 fine and perform 250 hours of yet-unspecified community service.

Felicity Huffman at her sentencing hearing in Boston

At the sentencing, the judge’s reasoning and remarks were well considered, professional, and compassionate. Ms Huffman’s contrition at being part of a college admissions scam seems genuine.  Her embarrassment at having broken the law and at having had insufficient confidence in her daughter’s abilities is obviously painful to her.

Rehabilitating and repairing the relationship within the family will probably take much longer than the two weeks or so that she will be off the grid. Yes, I know that she’s a rich celeb, and the rich have all the goodies and privileges, and blah, blah, blah. But let’s dispense with the schadenfreude. Her money and fame can’t shield her from the consequences of the decision that she now regrets – and I don’t think she regrets it simply because she got caught.

I have no doubt that she will be able to continue with her acting career, if she so chooses, once she completes her sentence. I will be rooting for her. If it turns that out I’m wrong about her sincerity, and that her admission of guilt and her demeanor are nothing more than a damage-controlling act — well, then I’m wrong.

We all screw up sometimes, and we all deserve a chance to make amends.

Book Review: “Beyond the Flight of the Arrow” by James Bradford Taylor

August 1, 2019

Author Brad Taylor

Sometimes, you just want to escape. Get away from here. Have a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure in a far-off land.  Meet your childhood hero or the girl of your dreams.  Tell their story – no, live in their story the way you imagine it was in days of old.

Here’s one way to do it. Make this book by James Bradford “Brad” Taylor part of your summer reading list. Take it to the beach, willingly suspend your disbelief, unsheathe your trusty sword, and offer battle to the forces of evil.

The book, Taylor’s first, is an autobiographically-flavored fantasy fulfillment.  As the book’s hero, Andrew “Finney” Jackson, he is a cinema owner who gets the chance to prowl around the offices and warehouse of a long-dead Hollywood movie mogul.  He falls down some cellar stairs and is transported, Twilight-Zone fashion, back to Sherwood Forest, where his adventure begins.

As a lad growing up in Winthrop, Massachusetts, Brad Taylor stoked his imagination with one of the town’s biggest and best-organized troves of DC Comic books.  Superman and Batman were staples, but he was also a big fan and authority on the likes of Green Lantern; Hawkman; Green Arrow and Speedy, and just about anyone else who was good enough to make the roster of the Justice League of America.

Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian and Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, 1938

When Brad outgrew the comic book heroes and began to notice girls, he developed a “thing” for Olivia de Havilland. She played Maid Marian in the 1938 film “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” with Errol Flynn in the lead role and other familiar names like Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, and Alan Hale in the supporting cast. It was the first color film by Warner Brothers studios.

I don’t think it’s revealing too much about the book to say that our hero Finney falls in love with Maid Marian, rescues her, kidnaps her for ransom, but ultimately doesn’t wed her.  He points out that she always went off with Errol Flynn, so he lets Robin Hood marry her in the end.

The book’s subtitle is A Fantasy Adventure Concerning Robin Hood, Errol Flynn, and One Finney Jackson.  Nope.  It should be something like An Adventurous Story of Unrequited Love for Olivia de Havilland by One James B. Taylor.  But that little misdirection notwithstanding, I have to give Brad credit for honesty about his feelings for Olivia. Who among us did not have such fantasies as we stumbled through adolescence? I recall similar crushes that I had on Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanova, and on Katharine Ross as Elaine Robinson.  (Now I rather dig Mrs. Robinson. But I digress.)

Here’s what Brad/Finney had to say after initially encountering Maid Marian in boy’s clothing, disguised as a page, and being the first of the Merry Men to recognize that she was a woman:

“Not only was she a woman, she was incredibly beautiful as well. How did I know this ‘page’ was a woman? Well, when you have seen one of the most beautiful women in the world, you don’t forget her face, even if the next time you see her she’s dressed as a boy. Yes, I had seen this woman before. Not once, but many times.

“She had made the biggest impression on me, however, when she co-starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood as Maid Marian, for this ‘page’ riding on the trail below us was none other than Olivia de Havilland…Perhaps it would be more correct to say she was the living, breathing image of Olivia de Havilland; for Robin was the exact double of Errol Flynn, yet he was Robin Hood and not an actor…

“When I was twelve years old I first saw The Adventures of Robin Hood on television, and I fell instantly in love with Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian. It was my first adolescent crush, and I never really got entirely over it…To me, the beauty of Olivia de Havilland was perfection in every way with her dark hair and those eyes of hers. Those eyes! Has any of God’s creatures ever possessed such eyes?

“She could only be mine when I saw her in The Adventures of Robin Hood; and then she always went off with Errol Flynn…This time, though, I was in a position to determine whether there could be something between us in reality. As far as I was concerned, there would be.”

Well, there is something nice that develops between our hero and the lovely woman. They become good buds.  But that’s all. Along the way Robin stumbles badly and for a while seems most unworthy of her. Our hero Brad/Finney becomes of the realm’s premier swordsmen. He seems to emerge as a contender for Maid Marian’s heart.  However, as previously noted, Robin and Marian eventually wed.  Though the author refashions parts of the Robin Hood legend and rewrites some of the script of the Errol Flynn movie to suit his fancy, he leaves the legend’s essentials intact.

During his daring escapades, Brad/Finney also gets in some commentary on the history of the period. In the movie, King Richard the Lion-Hearted (a big misnomer, actually; he was a nebbish) the scummy Prince John was not yet on the throne of England. Robin Hood and his boys robbed from the rich, gave to the poor, stymied the evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and kept Prince John off the throne.

In this book, John has been the king for sixteen years. And it’s Brad/Finney who intervenes with the Archbishop of Canterbury and brings about King John’s reluctant signing of the Magna Carta.

Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne, Claude Rains as Prince John in the 1938 film.

Robin has already told his new recruit to the Merry Men the truth about the present and previous monarchs of the realm.

“A woeful reign it has been for his subjects. He taxes everyone heavily. And those who cannot pay in gold must pay in crops. It was a foul wind that blew that accursed Norman [Gisbourne] to England’s shores seven years ago. Until then King John wasn’t so bad, but Gisbourne’s intrigues have made everything worse. The King is his puppet.”

That latter story isn’t history, because Sir Guy is fictional; he’s simply a villain who shows up in most of the retellings of the Robin Hood legend.  But by that point of the book we’re beyond letting facts get in the way of a good story.

At the end, before he’s whisked back to the present, Brad/Finney gets to kiss Marian, the bride, at her wedding. But just prior to that little wish-come-true, Robin Hood gives him a small stone, a talisman, which had been a gift to him from Little John.

“It signifies a great friendship,” Robin says. “There are only two things on earth that go beyond the flight of the arrow. One is the love that comes once in a lifetime between a man and a woman. The other is friendship between two men that no force on earth can overcome.”

I’ll raise a tankard of Sherwood Forest’s finest ale to that one.

Remembering Cathy Inglese, Boston College Women’s Basketball’s Greatest Coach

July 25, 2019

Cathy Inglese, age 60, died on July 24, 2019 after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a fall at her home. The following is her story that I wrote in 2014, when she was inducted into the Boston College Varsity Club Hall of Fame. She was one of the very best. May she rest in peace.

The coach with the most wins in the history of Boston College basketball had never planned to make coaching her career.

Cathy Inglese graduated from Southern Connecticut State on a Friday. She started teaching at Glastonbury High School the following Monday. She reapplied for a full-time position the following September. They told her that of course, since she’d been a star basketball player in college, she’d coach as well as teach.

“Southern was a good program when I played there, but coaching never entered my mind. I was planning to get a master’s degree in nutrition,” Cathy said.

A multi-sport star throughout high school, Cathy had turned down offers from BC, UConn and Providence to play basketball at her parents’ alma mater. She had been a good athlete since her childhood in the town of Wallingford.  “They were outside all day long,” her mother Nancy said about Cathy and her siblings. If it wasn’t baseball or basketball, they’d be climbing trees.”

In the fall of her third year of teaching, Cathy attended a Big East coaches’ clinic in Hartford and met up with Cecilia DeMarco, head coach at the University of New Hampshire. That spring, DeMarco called about an opening for an assistant basketball coach and assistant athletic director.

“My father had asked me if I’d ever like to try teaching in college, and I figured, ‘what have I got to lose.’ I was 26 at the time. I found that I liked working with student-athletes who were away from home for the first time. I got to travel, to teach, to recruit and to sell,” she explains.

Three years later, Cathy took over the University of Vermont basketball program, which had never had a winning season. Over seven years there, she transformed both Catamount basketball and herself. In her last two seasons, UVM went 29-1 and 28-1 and made the NCAA tournament.

Off the court, she conquered her fear of public speaking and hit the circuit. She addressed executives at IBM’s Vermont facility, among others, and discoursed on topics like leadership, motivation, and teamwork.

“I learned that it doesn’t matter if you’re the president of a company or a coach. You’ve got to have goals. You’ve got to believe in yourself. And it takes time. When you bring people from different backgrounds and with different outlooks, you can succeed as long you share the same vision.”

“I was lucky at Vermont,” she said. “I got to make all my mistakes early, in things like recruiting and in the systems I tried.”

Vermont was where Inglese learned to be a head coach. Boston College was where she put that all that knowledge to work. When Eagle athletic director Chet Gladchuk came calling, it didn’t take much convincing for him to bring her on board.

Again, it took time. Three losing seasons to start off. No fans at Conte Forum. But she made it clear to Gladchuk that there should be no more games in the adjoining Power Gym either. It was going to be a big-time program in a big-time facility.

“In our first game, it was so quiet you could hear the ball bouncing. It wasn’t a great environment, but it was something to build on,” she said.

Gradually, the talented athletes started to arrive. Cal Bouchard, who wasn’t widely known to college coaches, was a recruiting breakthrough. Cathy pursued Cal her after seeing a videotape of her being interviewed on television in Canada. Bouchard’s rookie year of 1996-97 was an 18-10 campaign and Inglese’s first winning one at the Heights.

Many more star athletes and successful seasons would follow. In her 15 years at the Heights, Cathy amassed a record of 273-179.  Among the highlights was the Big East championship in 2004. Inglese’s fifth-seeded Eagles won four games in four nights at the Hartford Civic Center, including a 51-48 semifinal conquest of nemesis Connecticut.

Cathy’s teams also had seven NCAA Tournament bids, and three advances to the national championship tourney’s Sweet 16. In 2005-06, the first year in the ACC, the Eagles lost their last five contests but still qualified for the NCAAs. At the Albuquerque Regional, they defeated Notre Dame and then top-seeded Ohio State, to once again make the round of 16.

Erik Johnson, now the head coach at BC, was Cathy’s assistant in her last three seasons. He marvels at the attention to detail and her meticulous planning that frequently brought victories over more talented opponents.

“I learned from her that that there’s no magic formula to winning at a high level. But every little thing matters. So we might not have players that are as big or as fast as North Carolina’s, but we could beat them because we made fewer mistakes. We moved the ball better, we were better prepared. Our fundamentals were better,” he said.

Clare Droesch was a free-wheeling shooter, a high school All-America when she arrived in 2001. For her, it was a struggle in adjusting to the Inglese way.

“She was an X and O coach who would look for five or six passes before the shot. It was hard, but it finally clicked for me in junior and senior years. When you bought into the system, it worked,” said Clare.

“We were one of the highest-percentage teams in the country. Coach did an amazing job of building offenses and defenses with the players she had.  When she saw potential, she’d push you to the limit of what you could be.”

Brooke Queenan, who played on all three of Inglese’s Sweet 16 squads, adds,

“I’ve never had a coach with her work ethic, and how goal-oriented she was. She demanded that from all of us.”

Interviewing Cathy at her home in Rhode Island in 2014

The team went 21-12 in 2007-08, Cathy’s final year at Boston College. After departing, she took a year off, then became head coach at the University of Rhode Island. Kingston wasn’t Chestnut Hill, though, and it didn’t happen for Cathy’s Rams. After five seasons, she moved on to explore other options including athletic administration, non-profit development, and leadership consulting.

The world hasn’t heard the last of Cathy Inglese, and it will be a long time before any coach in any sport at Boston College compiles a record of success like hers.

Men of July 4: Adams and Jefferson

July 4, 2019

Comrades in the struggle to found the American nation, then bitter foes in the nasty and brutal election campaign of 1800, and finally dear friends and eloquent correspondents in their long retirement years, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson deserve all of the praise and honor that history has conferred upon them.

This is not to say that they were models of perfection. Each had glaring personal flaws and quirks; each made mistakes in the wielding of power in his respective and various roles. Both men died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  James Monroe, the fifth president, also died on that date in 1831.

Jefferson is credited with writing the Declaration; noted for his ability with words, he did write the first draft.  But it was then edited by a committee comprising Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston.

Adams was a skilled writer as well; he could have done a good job with the first draft too. While he later groused about the political mileage that Jefferson got from his reputation as the Declaration’s author – wondering, in 1805, if there was “ever a coup de théâtre that had so great an effect as Jefferson’s penmanship of the Declaration of Independence” – he also knew that it was important for the 13 colonies to have a Virginian be a visible leader of the breakaway from King George. Support from the rich, agrarian South was critical, and the South was rife with loyalist slave-owners for whom life was just fine the way it was.

So, what were these two gentlemen really like? What did they think, and feel, about themselves and their lives, after they had retired from public life? The following excerpts from letters they exchanged in 1812 tell us a good deal. (And would that letter-writing still hold as important a place in society now; we would all be better off and, I dare say, a little more civilized.)

Jefferson to Adams

Monticello, January 21, 1812

Dear Sir,

[your letter] carries me back to the times when, beset with difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man, his right of self-government. Laboring always at the same oar, with some wave ahead ever threatening to overwhelm us, we knew not how, we rode through the storm with heart and hand, and made a happy port.  Still we did not expect to be without rubs and difficulties – and we have had them.

[after noting several issues that led to the War of 1812, he continues] And I believe we shall continue to grow, to multiply and prosper until we exhibit an association, powerful, and wise, and happy beyond what has yet been seen by men.

As for France and England, with all their preeminence in science, the one is a den of robbers, the other of pirates. And if science produces no better fruits than tyranny, murder, rapine, and the destitution of national morality, I would rather wish our country be ignorant, honest, and estimable as our neighboring savages are.

But whither is senile garrulity leading me? Into politics, of which I have taken final leave. I think little of them and say less. I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid; and I find myself much the happier.

[after talking about his own health and his pleasure in his grandchildren, he concludes] I should have the pleasure of knowing that in the race of life you do not keep, in its physical decline, the same distance ahead of me that you have done in political honors and achievements. No circumstances have lessened the interest I feel in these particulars respecting yourself; none have suspended for one moment my sincere esteem for you; and I now salute you with unchanged affections and respect.

Adams to Jefferson

Quincy, February 1, 1812

Dear Sir,

Your life and mine for almost half a century have been nearly all of a piece, resembling in the whole, mine in the Gulf Stream, chased by three British frigates, in a hurricane from the northeast and a hideous tempest of thunder and lightning, which cracked our mainmast, struck three and twenty men on deck, wounded four, and killed one. I do not remember that my feelings in those three days were very different from what they have been for fifty years.

What an exchange have you made? Of newspapers for Newton? Rising from the lower deep of the lowest deep of dullness and bathos to the contemplation of the heavens and the heavens of heavens. Oh that I had devoted to Newton and fellows that time which I fear has been wasted on Plato and Aristotle, Bacon, Acherly, Bolingbroke, De Lolme, Harrington, Sidney, Hobbes, Plato Redivivus, Marchmont, Nedham, with twenty others upon subjects which mankind is determined never to understand, and those who do understand them are resolved never to practice, or countenance.

Your memoranda of the past, your sense of the present, and your prospect for the future seem to be well founded as far as I can see.  But the latter, i.e., the prospect for the future, will depend upon the Union: how is that Union to be preserved? Concordia res parvae crescent, Discordia maximae dilabuntur. [Small matters thrive with concord, great things fall apart through discord.] I will not at present point out the precise days and months when, nor the names of the men by whom this Union has been put in jeopardy. Your recollection can be at no more loss than mine.

“…But conquerors to now so easily disappear, battles and victories are irresistible by human nature. When a man is once acknowledged by the people in the army and the country as the author of a victory, there is no longer any question. Had Hamilton or Burr obtained a recent victory, neither you nor Jay nor I should have stood any chance against them or either of them more than a swallow or a sparrow.

I have read Thucydides and Tacitus, so often and at such distant period of my life that, elegant and profound and enchanting as is their style, I am weary of them. When I read them I seem only to be reading the history of my own times and my own life. I am heartily weary of both, i.e., of recollecting the history of both: for I am not weary of living. Whatever a peevish patriarch might say, I have never yet seen the day in which I could say I have had no pleasure, or that I have had more pain than pleasure.

[After telling of his daily activities and his family, he concludes] I cordially reciprocate your professions of esteem and respect. Madam sends her kind regards to your daughter and your grandchildren, as well as to yourself.

P.S. I forgot to remark your preference to savage over civilized life. I have something to say upon that subject. If I am in error, you can set me right, but by all I know of one or the other I would rather be the poorest man in France or England, with sound health of body and mind, than the proudest king, sachem or warrior of any tribe of savages in America.

And Now This Editorial Comment

In my opinion, Thomas Jefferson is one of the “great” presidents, but I think that history has been a little too kind to him and much too dismissive of Adams.  T.J. was undoubtedly more personally appealing, more clever, and certainly more snake-in-the-grass politically adept than the grouchy, curmudgeonly, and more highly-principled Adams.   David McCullough’s biography of Adams has done something to rectify that imbalance.

But whatever…would you not like to sit down with these two men, perhaps at the Colonial Inn in Concord or the Michie Tavern in Charlottesville, over beers brewed by their pal Samuel Adams, and just listen to what they have to say? I can think of no better activity for the Fourth of July.

Two Welcome News Items: This is Your America, and Mine. Thank You for Reminding Us, Robert Smith and Diane von Furstenberg.

May 23, 2019

Three cheers – no, make that three times three times three cheers – for Diane von Furstenberg and Robert F. Smith.  They are the principal actors in two recent good-news stories about America.  Let’s tune out the political stink-bombers and the nabobs of negativity, and let’s listen to them.

Mr. Smith

Mr. Smith, a graduate of Morehouse College and its 2019 commencement speaker, announced to the school’s graduates that he would pay off their student loans. That will take an estimated $40 million of his multi-billion dollar personal fortune that he amassed in a career in investment banking.

Ms Von Furstenberg, daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, came to America at age 22 with a baby in her womb and a suitcase full of dresses that she hoped to sell. DVF-branded goods now sell in 70 countries. She chaired the recently-concluded fund-raising campaign that brought in $100 million for a new museum of the Statue of Liberty.

The immediate beneficiaries of Mr. Smith’s gift are the graduating seniors. No longer saddled with loan payments, they will be free to launch their careers, build their own fortunes, and start their families.  I’m sure that all those young people have said “thank you,” but the proof of their sincerity will lie in how well they go and do what he advises.

He prefaced his message by saying that his contributions would put a little fuel in the bus, and continued,

“You don’t want to just be on the bus. You want to own it and drive it and pick up as many people as you can… [by your doing so, the United States become a place where access to education is determined by] “the fierceness of your intellect…Be intentional about the words you speak, how you define yourself, the people you spend time with.”

In thinking about Smith’s extraordinary generosity, I was reminded of the Gospel passage in Luke 17, the story about Jesus healing ten lepers who called out to him from the side of the road.  The ten went to show themselves to the priests as he instructed, and they were cured. Only one of them, a Samaritan, returned to thank him.

“Were not all ten cleansed?” Jesus asked. “Where then are the other nine? Was no one found except this foreigner to return and give glory to God?”

Then Jesus said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well!”

Let me suggest that these newly-minted Morehouse graduates will show their own gratitude, will become like this Samaritan and be truly well, if they heed what Mr. Smith says. Then will his gift’s benefits multiply without end; it will become, as I’m sure he hopes, a gift to the country that was so good to him.  It’s up to them now.

 

Ms. von Furstenberg

The fruits of Ms von Furstenberg’s charitable endeavors will go to a much broader audience.

Somewhere between three and four million people visit the Statue of Liberty every year.  The expanded museum will, in the words of a Wall Street Journal editorial, give those visitors “a richer insight into the beacon of freedom’s place in American history and culture.”

In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar magazine, she suggested that Lady Liberty is a reminder to all people of the friendships between nations. Not necessarily, she adds, friendship between the governments of nations:

“…not their leaders, their people. The Statue of Liberty was given to us by the people of France to commemorate the centennial of the American Revolution at a time when they were disappointed by their own political situation. The French Revolution started not long after the American Revolution, but the result was very different: the Terror, and then Napoléon and the Second Empire. So the French looked to America as this utopic democracy.”

As to why she agreed to chair the fund-raising drive and to use her connections to the world’s rich and famous, von Furstenberg points to a passage in her own book about her life. That passage quoted her mother: “God has saved my life so that I can give you life. By giving you life, you gave me my life back. You are my torch, my flag of freedom.”

“…I was lucky and privileged to become the woman I wanted to be. Now that I’m older, I would like to spend the rest of my life using my voice, my knowledge, my connections—anything I have—to help all women become the women they want to be.”

So once again, praise and thanks for these two great Americans. Both of them are doing good after having done well; they’re examples of people who have realized the much-clichéd “American Dream.”

To bring up another overly familiar term, are they “giving back?” I must say that I don’t particularly like that way of looking at things.  To me, anyway, it suggests a direct return of a favor, a repayment of a debt, a quid-pro-quo.

Perhaps that’s true here, in a broad sense. They’re giving something back to the country that allowed their talents to blossom and them to earn their fortunes. But I prefer to think of what Mr. Smith and Ms von Furstenberg are doing is simply expressing their gratitude.  It’s gratitude for the opportunity to be the best that each of them could be.

We still don’t see enough of that gratitude nowadays, just as they didn’t see much of it in the biblical times depicted in the gospel of Luke.

So I say again, three times three times three cheers.

Book Review: The Animal’s Companion

May 8, 2019

People and Their Pets, a 26,000-Year Love Story

By Jacky Collis Harvey

Author Jacky Collis Harvey

When you read a book by Jacky Collis Harvey, you learn a lot. And with the way she writes, deeply researched and with wit and erudtion, you also have fun as you learn.

Bonus: you also get to know Jacky as a person, because she puts so much of herself into her books. Reading her is like a leisurely date with a new, intriguing friend at the Dog and Duck, or maybe afternoon tea at the Savoy.   When you’re in such a setting with an interesting woman, the best thing to do is to sit back, let her do the talking, drink it all in, and go home wiser and happier.

Jacky’s first book, reviewed here, was Red: A History of the Redhead. There’s no need to tell you the color of her hair, which placed the chip on her shoulder and the flash in her eye.

Her newest work is The Animal’s Companion: People and Their Pets, a 26,000-Year Love Story.  Ms Collis Harvey is one such companion. She loves animals. With passion and appreciation.  She prepares the reader for what’s coming when she writes, in the introductory chapter,

“As I look back, all of the most important lessons in my life were taught by animals: the realities of love and loss and the impenetrability of death, which could take a warm, breathing living flank and overnight turn it into something lifeless, cold and solid; the imperatives of sex; the largeness of care and responsibility…Growing up a redhead made me bold; but it was growing up with animals that made a liberal out of me.”

Okay, Jacky, so tell me more about yourself and those animal friends.

Here’s one passage that I loved; I felt myself shivering in the cold right alongside the author, and feeling her primal fear:

“…if you are a woman. The psychological effect of walking with a big dog padding along obediently beside you is intoxicating. The world opens up, no matter how timid by nature you may be yourself…Fergus, my wolfhound, and I used to set off into the murk of winter fields and winter evenings without hesitation. And then one particular evening, he off his leash and me holding a flashlight rather than a burning brand, Fergus saw something at the side of the fields that caused a growl to rise from within his chest that was both the deepest and most horripilating sound I have ever heard an animal produce. It was like listening to the ominous drawing-back of the sea before the crash of some terrible wave. My own hackles were up at the sound of it, never mind his. My nerve ends soaked with adrenaline in nanoseconds – the kind of atavistic response you forget the human body is still capable of producing.”

Later on in the book, after telling about the ways that literary and historical luminaries, like Samuel Pepys, King John, Plutarch, Elizabeth Barrett and Alexandre Dumas cared for animals, she relates how she unhesitatingly ponied up £3,000 for emergency medical care for her cat, Miss Puss. The cat made it and lived another seven years, though it cost what she said was “more money than we had in the world” at that point.  In declaring that the little creature’s emotional value to her was far beyond any vet’s bill, she speaks for just about all people who have pets of their own.

Each of the book’s chapters deals with a different theme in the life of humans who love animals: Finding, Choosing, Fashioning, Naming, Communicating, Connecting, Caring, Losing, and Imagining. Her own anecdotes, observations, and philosophical musings crop up frequently, but not so much that the book seems to be about her. She strikes a nice balance and re-introduces the reader to many familiar names of animal lovers from history, literature and art.

The 26,000 years in the book’s subtitle refers to the approximate age of the fossilized footprints of a boy and his dog in the Chauvet cave, rediscovered in France by archaeologists in 1995. That, the author maintains, is the oldest known evidence of a human as an animal’s companion.

Federico Gonzaga: “notoriously bad husband material.”

That’s a great answer for Final Jeopardy, so keep it in mind. But more amusing, and an example of Collis Harvey’s fine eye for history that we can relate to, is the story behind Titian’s painting of Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. Federico was on the make and targeting Margherita, heiress to the Marquis of Monferrato. Problem was, as Collis Harvey relates, the Gonzagas were “notoriously bad husband material,” and the heiress was hesitating.

So what to do? Commission a painting of yourself with a cute, fluffy little dog, looking longingly up at you while extending a supplicating paw. The little dog is there “to say that she has nothing to worry about, that as a husband Federico will be both faithful and protective…to reinforce the message that he was benevolent and trustworthy, neither of which in fact was true.”

Readers also hear from the likes of Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, Renoir, the Book of Job, Alfred Hitchcock, Friedrich Engels, A.A. Milne, William Blake, Lord Byron, and Horace Walpole.  All in all, this book is a delightful romp through the ages. It even feels that you’re taking that romp in the company of your own beloved pet. Several times along the way I felt the presence of my sweet golden retriever Molly, who’s been gone from this earth for more than a decade.

Yes, we do learn great life lessons from our dealings with animal friends. Those intertwining lives can also bring broader lessons for society as a whole. In the final chapter, after discussing animals’ rights and reminding readers of Mary Wollstonecraft’s pioneering writings on the rights of women, Collis Harvey muses,

“What was once, in its demand for equality and respect, the cutting edge of social change is now a given across most of the planet (and will get all the way there too)…We are coming to recognize that we cannot claim rights without also granting them; not insist upon them for ourselves without acknowledging them for others.”

Good thought. Good lesson. Good book.

Please Join Me for Coffee, Ms Taylor

March 19, 2019

Elizabeth Taylor – classic beauty

In March of 2019, there was a spate of paid Facebook postings that depicted three or four celebrities and the question “Cup and Conversation with…?”  You were supposed to click on the most appealing of the prospective interlocutors.

That Facebook campaign was most likely a clickbait thing, probably targeting women because most of the time the celebs depicted were deceased dreamboat males.  But I must say that it got me thinking. If I had to name four people with whom I’d love to have coffee and a chat, of course they’d be women. One of them would be Elizabeth Taylor. Another would be Hedy Lamarr.

Okay, stop right there. I know what you’re thinking, and there’s more to the story than that. Really, there is.  How can there not be? Neither of them is a redhead. But I’ll explain.  I’m taking Truman Capote’s recommendations on the first of those wonderful women.  As for my reasons for including Ms Lamarr, neé Hedwig Kiesler, read my earlier blog post here.

How I would have loved to do coffee, or lunch, or whatever, with either of them. It would have been nice to have been able to count either of them among my friends.

Additionally, I like the way Capote thinks about the company of women in general.  I’ve been reading Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote.  In it there’s a piece titled “Self-Portrait,” a Q&A that reads like a magazine interview.  In a lengthy response to “How do you like best to occupy your spare time?” he states,

“Many people say they hate to lunch…[it] altogether spoils their day. It makes mine. There are some men I enjoy lunching with, but by and large I prefer beautiful, or at least extremely attractive, alert, and au courant women.”

After naming several such ladies, he continues, “But I don’t think that any woman deserves full marks until she attains and maintains qualities of style and appearance and amusing good sense beyond the point of easy youthful beguilement.”

All righty, then.  Truman and I do see eye-to-eye.

Truman Capote

It’s right after that when Capote first mentions Liz Taylor. He names several more women who had distinguished themselves in their lives and careers, then points out that they are all private citizens rather than public characters whose trade is “allure.”

Taylor and Garbo are two such public characters.  He depicts Garbo as “an ultimately selfish and tiresome woman;” Taylor, however, is “a sensitive, self-educated lady with a tough but essentially innocent attitude – if you sleep with a guy, gosh, that means you have to marry him!”

I suppose if that wasn’t enough to whet my appetite for more insight into the ravishingly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, I could also fall back on what my mother once said about her: “I wouldn’t cross the street to meet that tramp.” Up until then, I’d always thought that a tramp was one of those homeless guys that we also called hoboes. I never knew a woman could be one.

Sorry, Ma. It’s quite clear that Elizabeth Taylor was anything but a tramp. Truman Capote was an acerbic, exacting observer of human nature, and he didn’t suffer fools gladly. He skewered many of the beautiful people in his writings, but Liz was not one of them.  So I’ll take his word for it. One of his essays tells of their friendship that blossomed after a number of casual meetings and finally, one of those lengthy lunch dates.

Of Ms Taylor’s love life, he points out that the two worst things that had happened to her were the death of her third (of an eventual eight) husband, Mike Todd, and her subsequent marriage to the “singer” Eddie Fisher. That latter marriage was an event “almost as unsuitable as Mrs. Kennedy’s Grecian nuptials.” Ouch!

Taylor as Gloria Wandrous in “Butterfield 8”

Capote learned that despite her liberal use of four-letter words, Liz was “in various areas a moralist, quite a strict one, almost Calvinist.” She hated having to play Gloria Wandrous in Butterfield 8, saying “I don’t like that girl. I don’t like what she stands for. The sleazy emptiness of her. The men.The sleeping around.”

Yikes. Liz actually sounds like my mom there. She didn’t like tramps either. But she was under contract to John O’Hara and she had to do the movie. She played the tramp and won an Academy Award. As one reviewer on IMDB put it:

“Much of this movie is cheap psychobabble, but Taylor smolders with a raw sensuality that you would never guess she had in her. You knew she was strong, beautiful, and flawed, but you never knew she could be all three and still be able to act with that much cleavage. The unfortunate thing about this movie is that there are other people in it.”

Yes, Elizabeth Taylor was a damn fine actress and much more than a pretty face. But she was also a brainiac, as Capote found out that day. He goes on to state his surprise at how well-read she was:

“…not that she made anything of it, or posed as an intellectual, but clearly she cared about books and, in haphazard style, had absorbed a large number of them.  And she discussed them with considerable understanding of the literary process; all in all, it made one wonder about the men in her life, with the exception of Mike Todd…Nicky Hilton, Michael Wilding, Mr. Fisher – what on earth did this very alert and swift-minded young woman find to talk to them about?”

He lets Liz herself answer that one. She told him, “Well one doesn’t always fry the fish one wants to fry. Some of the men I’ve really liked really didn’t like women.”

Illustrating this point, further, Capote mentions a later meeting he had with Taylor and Fisher, whom Capote disdainfully dubbed “The Busboy.” Eddie was sitting on a couch, rubbing his eyes in frustration. He complained “It’s all that reading. That thing you tell me I gotta read. I’ve tried. I can’t get through it somehow.”

Taylor turned to Capote and explained, “He means To Kill a Mockingbird. It just came out. I think it’s a really lovely book.”

There’s a good deal more about Elizabeth Taylor that’s downright appealing. It makes me wish we could somehow have been friends, and not just lunch companions.  She didn’t seem at all like a fair-weather type. She took  friendship seriously – not something that I would associate with the cutthroat world of show business.

Montgomery Clift

Liz stood by another old friend, Montgomery Clift, while his life was slowly unraveling with substance abuse. She briefly salvaged his career by insisting that he play opposite her in Suddenly, Last Summer. It turned out to be his last good performance.  By 1966, Clift was considered unemployable. Liz got him one more role. She put her salary for the planned film Reflections in a Golden Eye, up as insurance in order for him to co-star with her.  But Clift died before the film was made, and Marlon Brando got the role.

Some years later, when she was married to Richard Burton, they were leaving a Broadway play by car. A large and rowdy crowd of fans swarmed all over the car and kept it from moving.  One guy climbed onto the hood, fell off, and was kicked by police horses. Burton was amused by it all, saying that the rabble was just “enthusiastic.” Not as far as Liz was concerned.  She was afraid that someone could be seriously hurt. To her, they were there

“To see a pair of sinful freaks. For God’s sake, Richard, don’t you realize the only reason this is happening is because they think we’re sinners and freaks?”

Taylor and Burton were married to each other and divorced from each other twice. With their constant squabbling, they were always fodder for the tabloids.  But there still had to be something special between them.

Taylor and Burton in “Cleopatra”

Capote was with them one evening. Burton had left the room to go fetch some more champagne.  Capote wrote that her enthusiasm for her husband “illuminated the room like a mass of Japanese lanterns.” Then she said,

“Oh, we quarrel. But at least he’s worth quarreling with. He’s really brilliant. He’s read everything and I can talk to him – there’s nothing I can’t talk to him about. All his friends…Emlyn Williams told him he was a fool to marry me. He was a great actor. Could be a great actor. And I was nothing. A movie star.

“But the most important thing is what happens between a man and a woman who love each other. Or any two people who love each other.”

I would say that Elizabeth Taylor truly “got it.” What a formidable, remarkable woman she was. Can you now see why I’d love to have a cup and conversation with her?  And would you care to join us?

Leonardo da Belichick

February 27, 2019

Book Review and Reflection

I speak of geniuses. That’s as good a way as any to review and discuss a book about Leonardo da Vinci.

So let’s start with Bill Belichick. He’s a genius of his sport, and he has a lot in common with Leonardo, a prolific, incomparable polymath who once finished a job application letter to the ruler of Milan with “Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible.” No kidding, as he later showed with Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.

I’m not kidding about Bill either. Even though Joe Montana, the storied Notre Dame and San Francisco 49er quarterback, said that nobody in football should be called a genius because “a genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.”

Actually, no.  A genius is a guy like Leonard da Vinci and Bill Belichick.

A genius is made, not born. A genius is an imaginative synthesizer of art and science. A genius is a lifetime autodidact, because there’s always more to learn. A genius can draw analogies, discern underlying similarities, and apply lessons from vastly different fields to his own.  That’s my big takeaway from Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography of Leonardo.

Nobody in the history of the world did a better job of all that genius-making than Leonardo da Vinci. Though this post is primarily about that book and about him, I think a side trip into a brief comparison with Belichick is instructive.

The post-Super Bowl issue of Sports Illustrated had a lengthy piece on Belichick, as you might expect. One of its anecdotes immediately reminded me of several similar ones about Da Vinci. Their minds operated in exactly the same way.

In 2000, the reticent, grumpy Belichick had met Lenny Clarke, the loud and uncouth lowbrow comedian, on an airplane flight. They became buds, unlikely as that sounds. Four years and two Super Bowl victories later, Bill asked if he could visit the set of Clarke’s tv show, Rescue Me.

Belichick showed up at 5 a.m. and spent the entire day, notebook and Blackberry in hand, taking notes and asking questions like “When do the lighting guys come in? Who is the boss? How many guys work for him?”

At lunch, comedian and show co-star Dennis Leary asked Belichick why all the questions.  “Fascination,” was the answer. “It’s about the process.”

I don’t know exactly what lessons Bill Belichick learned that day, but I’m positive he found something about putting on a television show that he could apply to his work of directing a football organization. “Do your job,” remember? It’s not just the players on game day. It’s everybody, all year round. The process brings about the execution. Bill, like Leonardo, is a lifetime learner, an observer of the real world who looks for something of value wherever he goes.

Now to da Vinci’s biography. The book has so many examples of Leonardo’s relentless search for knowledge and his creative application of that knowledge, it’s impossible to list them all here.  I’ll just cite a few, after mentioning the many fields of scientific study that Leonardo da Vinci pursued almost obsessively throughout his life.

He did his learning mostly by observation and hands-on experimenting, but also by consulting with experts and by reading.  He was the perfect autodidact.

Those fields of study include: anatomy, the heart, birds, fossils, water flows, optics, geometry, botany, geology, geography, military weaponry, engineering, architecture, and flying machines.

The Ideal Man

Consider Leonardo’s drawing of “Vitruvian Man.” This spread-eagled, perfectly proportioned man rests within both a circle and a square.  His name comes from Vitruvius, a military engineer and architect who lived in the first century CE. Vitruvius once wrote that the layout of a religious temple should have precise relationships, exactly like those of a well-shaped man. So, what was a well-shaped man? Leonardo decided to determine that.

As it happened, Leonardo had also been working on the design of a bell tower for a cathedral in Milan. Squares and circles, from his favored discipline of geometry, both figured prominently in the design of the church’s floor plan. He used them in the drawing, in which the outstretched arms of the man extended to the ends of the church’s transepts.  As he worked on it, Leonardo brought in his own observations of anatomy; for example, Vitruvius thought that a man’s height was six times the length of his foot. Through his dissections and drawings of cadavers, Leonardo realized that the proportion was seven times, not six.

The drawing, in Isaacson’s description, “embodies a moment when art and science combines to allow mortal minds to probe timeless questions about who we are and how we fit into the grand order of the universe.  It also symbolizes an ideal of humanism that celebrates the dignity, value, and rational agency of humans and individuals. Inside the square and the circle we can see the essence of Leonardo da Vinci, and the essence of ourselves, standing naked at the intersection of the earthly and the cosmic.”

A rather flowery summation, but I like it.

The Penis

A bit more on anatomy – Leonardo celebrated both beauty and function. Vitruvian Man’s proportions also required that “The root of the penis (il membra virile) is at half the height of the man.” The man’s genitals are at the exact center of the square.  Il membra virile was apparently a favorite subject for Leonardo, as his little essay On the Penis indicates:

“The penis sometimes displays an intellect of its own. When a man may desire it to be stimulated, it remains obstinate and goes its own way, sometimes moving on its own without permission of the owner. Whether he is awake or sleeping, it does what it desires. Often when the man wishes to use it, it desires otherwise, and often it wishes to be used and the man forbids it.  Therefore it appears that this creature possesses a life and intelligence separate from the man. Man is wrong to be ashamed of giving it a name or showing it, always covering and concealing something that deserves to be adorned and displayed with ceremony.”

Such an assessment had to come from both observation and experience. Another thing about the handsome, dashing Leonardo…he never had a lady friend, but unlike his rival Michelangelo, who was also gay, he was not ashamed of his own sexual desires. Rather, he was amused by them. Like his relentless quest for learning, they were a source of joy, insight, and satisfaction.

Light and Pictures

Leonardo’s fascination with optics and light led him to a correct surmise about why the sky is blue, and to the explanation of the “earthshine” glow on a crescent moon.  It also informed the precision of his painting of colors in artistic works; an object lighted by reflected light is different from one illuminated by direct light, for instance.

He also understood how the human eye works; and the pupils of his subjects’ eyes display that knowledge.  They seem to follow observers around as those observers change positions. His painting technique of “sfumato,” which slightly blurred outlines and mellowed colors, both left something to the viewer’s imagination and gave a more realistic perspective of three-dimensional depth.  Sharply defined outlines, like those of Michelangelo, make paintings look flat and two-dimensional. As da Vinci wrote to art students, “Your shadows and lights should be blended without lines of borders in the manner of smoke losing itself in the air.”

Leonardo dissected literally hundreds of dead bodies over the course of his career. His drawings, which were unfortunately not shared widely or published, were every bit as good as those you see in the classic “Gray’s Anatomy” books.

He studied the structure of the lip muscles and used that knowledge in crafting Mona Lisa’s famous smile. He studied how the body’s joints moved the hands, arms, legs, and torso; with that knowledge he he imparted realistic action to the people in his paintings. He was acquainted with a man who happened to be a deaf mute; he studied how that man used his hands and his facial expressions to convey his inner emotions.  Check out how he applied that in The Last Supper. In that painting, Jesus has just announced to his followers, “One of you will betray me.” Note the many ways in which the apostles’ gestures and expressions tell what they feel about that bombshell.

Hydraulics of the Heart

To me, the most fascinating connection and discovery that da Vinci made was about how the aortic valve of the heart works. The heart pumps torrents of oxygenated blood out through the triangle-shaped valve opening, and somehow the little flaps of that valve immediately close up and don’t allow backflow into the chamber. How was this possible?

Go back to da Vinci’s close observations of flowing water. He took note of how river currents flow swiftly in the middle of the stream, but along the edges they flow more slowly, swirling back into little eddies and meanders.  Those swirls appear in his paintings, where streams appear in the background or flow as spiraling eddies around his subjects’ feet. They also show up as the luxurious curly locks of his subjects’ hair.

He also saw how water flowing out of a pipe moved faster in the center, but slower along the edges of the pipe because of friction and drag. Applying that to the heart valve, he wrote, “The middle of the blood that spouts up through the trials acquires much more height than that which rises up along the sides.  That slower-moving blood forms spiraling eddies, which causes the leaflets of the valve to spread out and cover the opening. He writes “The revolving blood beats against the sides of the three valves and closes them so that the blood cannot descend.”

Up until the 1960s, heart specialists thought differently.  They believed that the valve was simply pushed shut by the weight of the blood above it. Finally, about 450 years after da Vinci, researchers at Oxford used dyes and radiography to confirm that Leonardo’s description of the heart’s hydrodynamics had gotten it right. They found that “vortices produce a thrust on both the cusp and the sinus wall, and the closure of the cusps is thus steady and synchronized.”

One surgeon is quoted on the latter: “Of all the amazements that Leonardo left for the ages, this one would seem to be the most extraordinary.”

I’ll leave that decision up to you. But I do urge you to read the book. In addition to learning about da Vinci the man, you’ll discover a good deal about how life really was in Renaissance Italy, and about art history and techniques, along with many other items of interest.

Can We Ever Hope to Emulate Leonardo?

And now for a final thought and personal reflection. Isaacson closes the book with a section subtitled “Learning from Leonardo.” In it he gives several bits of advice, two of which are “Be curious, be relentlessly curious,” and “Retain a childlike sense of wonder.” To the latter he adds “We should be careful to never outgrow our wonder years, or to let our children do so.”

Amen to that. We’re never too old to learn, and we’re never too old to embrace and to love life, and to relish each and every day that dawns as a precious gift from God.

With Doris Matthews White, the “Queen Bee,” and many of her friends at Planting for Friends Day at Winthrop Cemetery, June 2010.

I’m fortunate to have many contemporaries who live with this attitude.  But perhaps the best example is my dear and now-departed friend Doris Matthews White. She left this earth just before attaining 100 years of age.  Her days she filled with online research and banter with her hundreds of fans and admirers. She dived right into computer technology, taught herself techniques of genealogy, and discovered the life stories of relatives. One of them died at the battle of Lexington and Concord; another was captain of a privateering vessel during the Revolutionary War; and still another was a member of the court of Edward the Confessor.

Doris remained relentlessly curious and open to learning throughout her long life. To herself, she brought a wealth of knowledge. To her many friends and admirers with whom she shared that knowledge, she brought joy, appreciation, and faith that somehow all would be right with the world.

Leonardo kept much of his vast knowledge to himself. But fortunately for us, many of his notebooks have survived.

And as for that other modern-day Leonardo, Bill Belichick, he doesn’t share a whole lot of what he knows either. But you have to admit that he puts it to good use. Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs. Or Pete Carroll. Or Roger Goodell.

Remembering Vin Shanley, Boston College Hockey Captain Extraordinaire

November 25, 2018

Vincent Shanley, Boston College ’72, succumbed to pancreatic cancer on the weekend of Thanksgiving 2018. This blog post is for him.

I traveled with the Boston College hockey team to all games in the 1971-72 season, when Vin was team captain and Snooks Kelley was in his 36th and final year of coaching BC. He was an ideal captain – not the most talented player on the team but the one to whom everybody looked up. I always thought that he was a breed apart from his teammates, even though he was still one of the boys too.

As a BC senior, he was already married to his lovely wife Christine. He was thoughtful and serious – I recall one time, on a bus trip to a game at Dartmouth, everybody else was horsing around, playing cards and telling jokes. Vinnie had his nose buried in “The Vantage Point,” a telephone-book-sized memoir by Lyndon Johnson.  I could tell right then that Vinnie was going places and that he’d already scoped out the trajectory of his eminently successful legal career.

My article that follows was published at the time of Vin’s induction to the BC Hall of Fame in 2016.

May he rest in peace! 

Vin Shanley ‘72

Ice Hockey

Vin Shanley, senior captain of Boston College, 1971-72 season.

Vin Shanley looked around the crowded locker room and thought, “Oh my God, What am I doing here?”

It was 1963. All the other candidates for the Boston Technical High freshman team wore uniforms emblazoned with logos from their youth hockey programs.

Not Vinnie. He’d never played organized hockey.  He felt lost in the puck handling drills. But then came the skating contests.  And Vin Shanley could fly.  Ever since he can remember, he’d walked the mile from his home in Brighton to the Boston Skating Club. Three days a week. Just to go skating.

Shanley outstripped them all and made the team. The hockey know-how, taught by coach Vic Campbell, came quickly. He showed Shanley the fine points, like how to snap off a wicked backhand shot, and how to cradle the stick blade as he would a catcher’s mitt when receiving passes.

In his junior and senior years, Shanley was the leading scorer in the Boston City League.  But Boston College coach John “Snooks” Kelley wasn’t initially interested.  Vin put in a post-graduate year at New Prep, a frequent opponent for the Eagle freshmen.

The first time the team came to BC, Vin scored two goals. A week later, the planned opponent cancelled out, and New Prep coach Owen Hughes agreed to play at McHugh Forum again. This time Vinnie scored a hat trick, with two of the goals coming on 20-foot backhanders.

The next day, the Shanleys’ phone rang. It was Snooks. He had already given out all of his scholarship money, he explained, but he asked Vinnie to come to BC as a recruited walk-on. Vin survived the cuts in freshman year and played as a regular. The next year he made it through the grueling two weeks of tryouts and beat out a couple of scholarship players for a varsity berth.

Vin Shanley and BU’s goalie in a game at Boston Arena in 1970.

Kelley called Shanley into his office. “I like your work ethic, kid. You’re on the team,” the Snooker said.

“I never missed a game, never missed a shift, in three years. I’m proud of that,” said Vin. “But I was never so proud as I was when I skated onto that ice wearing the Maroon and Gold. I was a Boston College hockey player.”

Vin’s sophomore year started off well but ended in disaster. Stacked with talented seniors, the team cruised through the first half of the schedule near the top of the standings. But then, beset by senioritis, they lost eight of their last 11 games and spiraled out of sight.

For the rest of Shanley’s BC career, the team was rebuilding and struggling for mere respectability.  Before his junior season, Vin addressed his teammates.

“We saw what happened last year,” he said. “We’ve lost eight players from that team including three All-Americans. But we’re going to play hard, we’re going to do the best we can, and we’re not going to tolerate any nonsense.”

The team got the message but didn’t have the talent. They went 11-15 and missed the playoffs for the first time. Coach Kelley announced that he’d be retiring after the following season. His career-win mark stood at 487.

Shanley and his mates dedicated their season to winning 13 games to send Snooks off with 500 wins. It’s a mark that seems quaint now, but was a towering achievement 44 years ago.

Talent on the 1971-72 team was a bit better. Juniors Bob Reardon and Ed Kenty had emerged to be fine forwards. Shanley, Scott Godfrey, and Jack Cronin were the senior spiritual leaders. They all felt that they were good enough to get the Snooker his 500th, and maybe even to make the playoffs.  They elected Shanley their captain.

Kenty, a Hall of Fame inductee in 2002, stated,

“Vinnie wasn’t the most naturally gifted player but was an extremely hard worker who led by example. He was not afraid to speak up when players slacked off — and believe me, I know that first hand. He also was a selfless player who made others around him better. I centered Vinnie and Scott Godfrey. I think that in my three years, it was the best line I played on.

Shanley scoring against the St. Louis University Billikens in 1972. His centerman Ed Kenty is in background.

“As a person, Vinnie was always pulling the guys together off the ice as most good captains do, and he connected with everyone on every level. In summary, great leader, very good player and a super guy.”

The 500th victory for Snooks didn’t come readily. By late February, the Eagles had ten wins, but the remaining schedule included a North Country swing to Clarkson and St. Lawrence and a meeting with national champion BU, who had thrashed the Eagles seven straight times.

But they pulled it off. And, miracle of miracles, they did it against the Terriers, 7-5. Kenty scored four times, including an empty-netter to clinch the game.  In the frantic waning seconds, the puck had caromed out to Shanley. His eyes lit up.  But the disc eluded his stick and landed on Kenty’s.

BC did not make the playoffs, but they attained the goal that truly counted. At the post-season banquet, Shanley received, for the second consecutive year, the Pike’s Peak Club Award as the Player Who Best Typifies Boston College Hockey.

Vin has stayed involved with the Pike’s Peak Club. He has been on the Board of Directors for 40 years and served three terms as president. The Club initiated its endowed scholarship during his presidency. He and his wife Christine have three children: Meagan, 43; Vincent, 41; and MaryKate, 38, as well as four grandchildren.

Vin played an important part in bringing Jerry York back to The Heights. As a member of the committee to select the Eagles’ third coach in three years, he made a passionate argument for the experience, steady hand, and previous track record of Coach York. It carried the day.

The rest is a history of success. But that success may never have occurred without Vin Shanley, the walk-on from Brighton who became one of Boston College hockey’s most respected captains and leaders of all time.

You Think You Know What It Means to be a Sports Hero? Not Until You Meet Pete Frates, You Don’t

September 5, 2018

Boston College’s Varsity Club has honored Pete Frates with the presentation of the Varsity Club Medal. This is only the second time that the medal has been bestowed upon an individual, who has “served Boston College with excellence, fostered its athletic traditions, and promoted sportsmanship while in service to the Varsity Club and Boston College Athletics.”

Pete, as many know, is the face of the Ice Bucket Challenge. He didn’t invent it, but he was the one responsible for turning it into a social-media phenomenon that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) research.

I do believe that when the cure for ALS is finally run to earth, the path for that cure will lead back to Pete Frates.

The following story of this singularly heroic man and his wonderful family, which was done for the Varsity Club’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony on September 7, 2018, appears below.

Pete Frates ’07   

Varsity Club Medal

The most prescient scouting report on the athletic potential of young Peter Frates didn’t come from a coach. It was from a dancer.

Well, actually it was gym teacher Susan Stowe, but her subject matter was dance. She’d been observing Pete ever since kindergarten. One day, when Pete was in the fourth grade, she remarked to his mother Diane,

Julie, Lucy, and Pete Frates

“I don’t say this very often, but you’ve got a Division One athlete on your hands. In the dance curriculum, he has shown such agility, and such an ability to learn – all the things necessary to be an athlete.”

There was one other athletic must-have about Pete Frates: he was born with grit and determination.  When he was an infant, he fought off a severe staph infection that required a blood transfusion and that carried a more than 20 percent mortality rate.

Pete played football, hockey, and baseball from the age of six. He excelled in all of them, all the way through high school at Saint John’s Prep in Danvers.  In football he was a Catholic Conference All-Star. He also had an instinctive rapport with coaches and an innate ability to lead, so he was elected or appointed captain of most of his teams.

Very few Boston-area athletes have played hockey in Boston Garden, football at Gillette Stadium, and baseball in Fenway Park. But Pete Frates has – and at Fenway, he blasted a home run into the bullpen in a game against Harvard, his favorite foe.

“We always thought he’d be a hockey player,” said Diane. “He was a defenseman on the Saint John’s varsity as a sophomore. He was a safety in football, and they had some powerhouse teams. He played baseball all summer in Babe Ruth or Legion ball.  He’s always had a deep and abiding love for baseball. Both my husband John and I went to BC, Class of 80. It was his dream to play at BC, but that didn’t seem to be on the radar.”

One day, in the summer between junior and senior years of high school, Pete went to a baseball showcase run by BC coach Pete Hughes. After it was over, when Hughes learned that Frates was an honor student and that he’d done well on his SATs, he asked Pete to come and play baseball at Boston College.

Pete receives his baseball jersey from members of the BC baseball team. The team has retired his #3.

Pete played center field for the Eagles, for three years under Hughes and then his senior year as team captain under Mike Aoki. In 2007 he set a modern BC record in a game at Maryland. He went 4-for 6, with eight RBIs from a grand slam, a three-run homer and a double. His Fenway homer came in 2006, when he was 4-for-4 in the 10-2 Beanpot final win over Harvard.

After graduation, Pete played a year with Hamburg, Germany, in the European League before coming home and entering the workaday world. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with selling group life insurance for a living, but he still played ball, catching on with the Lexington Blue Sox in the Inter-City League. But life changed on that fateful day when he and his family answered a doctor’s call to come in and discuss a diagnosis.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – ALS, the dreaded and incurable disease that took the life of another baseball great, Lou Gehrig, had come to Pete Frates. He went for a second opinion to Dr. Merit Cudkowicz at Mass General. After she confirmed the bad news, and Pete was exiting her office, he turned around and asked,

“Doctor. How much money would you need to find a cure for ALS?”

Taken aback at such an unusual question, she answered, “I’d need a billion dollars.”

To which Pete replied, “I’ll work on that for you.”

Some day, when medical textbooks describe the cure for ALS, they will point to that day, April 1, 2012, as the starting point, the call to battle.

Pete Frates and family on the day he received the BC Varsity Club Medal from club president Richard Schoenfeld, second from left.

Team Frates was born that day. Pete set to work – calling, texting, emailing – everyone he knew from his many endeavors, athletic and otherwise. He asked if they’d join in the fight. And the “Circles of Pete” began to form.

A little more than a year later, Pete and Julie Kowalik, a 2012 BC graduate, were married at her family’s Marblehead home. Their daughter Lucy was born in 2014.

Two and half years after that second opinion, and an online conversation between Pete and Pat Quinn, another ALS patient, the Ice Bucket Challenge emerged as a worldwide, social-media-driven phenomenon.

Dumping cold water on someone’s head as a way of raising money for charity was Quinn’s idea. To Frates, it was like that pitch he hit out of Fenway Park. To his parents, he said,

“This is the vehicle I’ve been waiting for.”

Team Frates swung into action with the Ice Bucket challenge. The Boston College community was particularly responsive, with athletes like Matt Ryan, Brian Boyle, and Sean Marshall taking prominent roles. You’ve seen the film clips of those who’ve accepted the challenge – the famous athletes, show business titans, captains of industry, and two presidents of the United States. More than 2.4 million tagged videos about the challenge have appeared on Facebook.

In its first year, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $200 million. The work continues, the ice water continues to flow, and most importantly, there’s hope for a cure. The FDA has approved two new experimental drugs, with more in the pipeline.

Thanks to $1 million in challenge money, researchers discovered the NEK1 gene in Project MinE, a global gene-sequencing effort, involving 11 countries and 80 researchers.

None of that progress, none of those positive steps toward finding the cure for ALS, would have happened without Pete Frates and those who admire him, love him, and would do anything he asks of them.

“He’s had more friends that anybody ever could have,” says Diane. “A life well-lived.”