What’s Happening on Main Streets

With this column, I’m fortunate to make readers aware of events that occur in Mission Hill that might not merit news coverage, but are noteworthy as events particular to this great neighborhood. For example, on Sept. 14, I attended a 10th anniversary event at the Puddingstone Pub for New England Community Services, a provider of counseling services to at-risk youths and families with offices in Dorchester, Lynn, and Lawrence. The special guest host was our own District City Councilor Josh Zakim and the reception highlighted the wide array of services provided to some of the neediest in our community, bringing increased awareness of the challenges and responses available to troubled families.

Each 9/11 anniversary evokes catastrophic memories of international terrorism upon New York’s World Trade Center. Every year, news outlets feature clips of the attacks and ceremonial readings of the roll of victims held in civic spots across the nation. In Brigham Circle at the Penguin Pizzeria, regulars gather annually to mark the disastrous date with bagpipes, patriotic songs, and toasts to first responders and to loved ones lost. Penguin owner Dermot Doyne says the tradition began simply when a couple of his pals who had worked in the New York City and Port Authority Police Departments gathered for pizza and fraternity on the anniversary and encountered other patrons who lost friends on 9/11.

The group vowed to meet same time next year and a tradition began. More New York transplants, first responders, and others directly impacted started attending annually. The patriotic and prodigal publican Dermot said that Port Authority cop Joe Roughan once told him “whenever I hear bagpipes, my mind goes back to the twin towers cleanup. When remains were discovered, bagpipers playing would be the signal for all to halt the digging. We’d come to attention as each body was removed.” Thus, the following year began the annual appearance of Dorchester native and retired NH State Trooper Jim Carney providing the wailing lament of bagpipes at the Penguin. Although it may sound to some as something playful, it is anything but. To those affected by the tragedy, this memorial is a solemn remembrance with pathos and dignity, and something unique to Mission Hill.

October brings cooler days and dramatic foliage changes making New England vibrant and distinctive. Children become excited anticipating Halloween festivities sponsored by the Mission Hill Youth Collaborative, which are the envy of affluent towns across our Commonwealth. Tobin Center honcho John Jackson is the driving force behind this annual effort executed by a dedicated array of volunteers. Collaborative Director Marta Rivera did a superb job last year and if you wish to be a part of this year’s spook-a-thon called “Halloween on the Hill” contact [email protected] to offer assistance.

Finally, I’m saddened to announce the retirement of a gentleman who I respect and admire. A founding member of the Mission Hill Main Streets Board of Directors, John McGonagle is retiring from Brigham and Women’s Hospital after 40 years of professional service. I qualify “professional” because this doesn’t include the nearly 10 years of high school, summer, and part-time work performed while John attended college and acquired professional certifications. An amazing accomplishment of a half century of devoted service to what John lovingly describes as… the greatest medical institution in the world!

John told me that while a student at Mission High School, he began working at BWH and knew back then that this is where he wanted to work for the rest of his life. I have an older brother who is a Catholic priest. He describes his “calling” in a manner very similar to John’s. Those who know John best will verify that this is an accurate assertion of his temperament. People of my vintage describe men like John McGonagle as the “Gary Cooper Type!” (For those under 40, watch any movie on TCM featuring Gary Cooper to learn what I’m talking about.) Unflappable, courtly, and exceedingly polite, John personifies the word gentleman. For many residents and community leaders of Mission Hill, John McGonagle IS the BWH in this neighborhood. John’s reputation as a straight shooter provided credibility for Massachusetts second largest hospital in an era when large urban institutions across this country struggle to retain positive community relations. So many times our late Mayor Tom Menino shared with me how much he relied upon and valued John’s counsel and opinion.

John was the driving force in ensuring that BWH served as the “Corporate Buddy” for our Main Streets organization and we are forever grateful. Many local civic activists have confessed to me an uncertainty as to what will happen in the future. There is one thing of which I’m certain… John McGonagle will need to use that pension check to purchase a fancy new trophy case to hold the numerous awards he’ll be receiving in the coming months. Congratulations, John, for a well-deserved retirement!


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