In Memoriam: Richard E. Doherty, My Wise Old Friend

Dick in red with safari hat, me with arm around him. Cape Cod 1964 Click on photo for better view.

Dick and I were close friends for 65 years. As the years passed and our lives ran their separate ways we spoke on occasion and had lunch or dinner. We both had busy lives. Time would slip by but when we got together it was like we were together the day before.

Dick had a degree in engineering and worked most of his life at Beth Israel Hospital as its primary building engineer. He’d marry Chris, move to Arlington on the other side of the Charles River and eventually end up living in Winchester. He took up tennis after a while. He spent considerable time playing it continuing doing it just about up until weeks before he died. Even when his feet surrendered he pushed on. He’d tell me, “I can run pretty well but I can’t stop.” In later years he could hardly walk having beat up his feet so badly but he played on. He never complained although when we got together he would lament about the grim reaper diminishing the number of his tennis buddies.

Breakfast with Dick. Brother Paul on left. I’m taking the photo.

Dick and Chris had three lovely daughters.  He cared for deeply for them and always spoke highly of them when I’d ask. They gave him grandchildren whom he also loved. Every summer for over forty years they would go off together for a week to a camp on an island on Lake Winnipesaukee. Dick picked up the tab even as the numbers seemed to grow by leaps and bounds.

I first met Dick in my mid-teens. He lived on the other side of the bridge, the beach side, in Savin Hill in a six-decker. He went to Technical High School and then on to Wentworth Institute of Technology.  If I had to guess how we met it was through something relating to our church, St. William’s. It would not have been in school, nor hanging around the corners, nor in the pick-up sports games. Maybe it was at Savin Hill beach in the summer up at the shelter.

Dick on right; Al Demarais on left;. Two young ladies. BC High dance.

Dick was a left brain engineer. Everything had to be in order. I’m sort of a left brain/right brain person depending on the weather. That we melded together so well was something I never gave a thought to. We just did.

He was smarter than I, better read. He was full of information. He amazed me with what he knew. Without intending it he always making me feel so uninformed which, of course, I never admitted.

Beyond all that, he was wiser than I. He had broken the curse of neighborhood parochialism. He made me recognize my prejudices, confront them, and overcome them. He and my time in the Marines opened my eyes to the true meaning of  equality of all. Dick, if memory is correct he served in the Air Force as did Al Desmarais (in photo) who loved Glen Miller music but died before he was out of his twenties, much too young .

Dick in my wedding party.

Thinking back we never had a fight or disagreement between us; we were always happy to see each other. Our conversations were friendly and cheerful. We seemed to agree with each other over most things. We respected women never using off colored language in front of them. We never engaged in so called “locker room” talk when they weren’t present. We were capable of handling ourselves. We never spoke of being tough guys.

Looking back he always seemed to be looking out for me. One  summer the house he had rented in Dennis with other guys had shut off the number who could stay there. He came up with a plan to convince them to let me use the large closet in his bedroom to sleep. He told them how I was working five and a half days a week. I only got down there Saturday afternoon. He made it so I only had to pay half the fee.

That turned out to be very fortuitous for me. Our house would have Saturday dinner with another house full of nurses. That’s where I met my wife Maria who I’ve been with since.

From left, me, Dick, Tord Svenson, John Calahalane. Timmy O took photo.

We did much together from having coffee across from St. Willilam’s, Sunday night movies at the Strand Theater in Uphams Corner, bowling, and joining the Knights of Columbus so we could use their bowling alley (along with Timmy O) We were together through our weddings. We proudly put our first born, Matthew and Caron, next to each other on a bed. We had many lunches, dinners, hockey games, and reunions with his observation “the guys still look the same, the women are changing,” We went on fishing trips out of Maine and Rock Harbor. We journeyed through life knowing the other was there for support and always ready to pick up where we left off.

Over the many years when we met we spoke happily but kept our emotions to ourselves. We never mentioned our long term friendship. We took it for granted that it was what it was. There was be no need to speak to it.

Maine Fishing Trip – Dick loved Timmy O but sometimes felt like strangling him.

A months or so ago I called him when I had not heard from him which was unusual. He told me he had a headache in the back of his head for about six weeks. He he couldn’t seem to shake it. He was in lots of pain and trying to control it with ibuprofen. Timmy O always remarked at his ability to ignore pain.

He spoke clearly about it. He had gone to some medical appointments at Beth Israel and had others scheduled. Dick was always proud he could sleep eight hours straight at night, now he could only do two at a time. I did my best to encourage him but worried that it was very serious.

A little while later I called again. His speech seemed a little labored. He said he was having trouble speaking and swallowing. He told the doctors wanted to do some more tests. He assured me he was in good hands medically. I urged him to move quickly to get things done. It didn’t sound good.

The next two weeks he was in and out of the hospital for tests. I was kept appraised of his process by Timmy O another old friend. He had inside access to the information. Dick had an inoperable brain cancer that was spreading rapidly.

Dick in vest, Timmy O’Leary, waiting for their ship to come in. Boston Harbor 2015

I wrote him a short note which went out on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. Later on that day I called him. His daughter told me he wanted to speak to me. That afternoon Timmy O went to see him. He told me Dick didn’t talk too much and nodded off at times. Just before he left Dick asked him to shake hands. They did. He remarked on Dick’s strong handshake. I reminded him he always had one remembering the times he would crush my hand when we shook. Timmy wondered if Dick would be able to call me.

Later that day my phone told me Dick was calling. We talked. He did most of it. I had difficulty understanding him. His speech had been affected by the disease. I did my best to respond appropriately. I don’t think I did it well.

Then as if he summonsed up all his strength and fought back against the enemy encroaching on his brain, in a strong clear voice he said: “I just wanted to call you to say goodbye. I Iove you Matt. I wanted to say goodbye.”

It hit me like a brick penetrating to my soul. I could not respond right away. I’ve known him since our early days as teenagers. We never expressed emotions.  I choked up, tears came flowing, despite my determination not to be moved, I blurted out a “I love you too, goodbye Dick.”

I don’t know if he heard me. It all became confused at the moment for me. What I do remember is he said in a firmer voice: “Goodbye Matt” and the phone went dead. He was gone.

Dick died overnight Thursday into Friday. His daughter Caron notified me of his death. She sent a text, It read:

“Dear Matt, I am incredibly heartbroken to let you know my dad passed last night. He passed at his home surrounded by his daughters, our mom and his beautiful paintings. We held him, loved him and told him we were blessed to have such an incredible dad and friend. He was so thankful that he got to speak to you. It meant so much to him that you told him that you loved him and he could tell you the same. I read your beautiful letter to him and he had such joy in his face. You are an incredible life long friend who helped make his final days so meaningful. Thank you with all my heart. Warmest Regards, Caron”

25 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Richard E. Doherty, My Wise Old Friend

  1. Eloquently said, Matt. Those sentiments evoke so many parallels in my own life and that of my extended family. The vignettes of the life we so fortuitously shared, highlighted in stark relief by your vivid recollection, those ties that bind. ( I particularly thought of the ties between your family and mine. That you and Russel and Eddy were friends, Jim and my brother Bob, and my own closeness to Bill and Sammy, provides some sort comfort during these losses. I really believe that grief shared is truly grief diminished. Thank you for reminding me of how lucky I have been

    1. Hutch:

      Hutch, Yes there is a close connection between our families; the stately and steady Eddie and the smiling and spirited Russie. Eddie an I played on the same high school football team. Eddie was a good half back. I played tackle. I recall the play Eddie got the ball and was to run through a hole behind me. My assignment was to block the linebacker. As I moved forward the guy opposite me stepped on my toe, forgetting my assignment I stopped to gingerly let the pain pass, Eddie was by me in a flash and the linebacker I was supposed to block tackled him preventing him from scoring. As you can tell I never went on to the NFL. It’s strange I always think of that when seeing Eddie. Then the memories of Russ abound. Most are best kept in the memory bank. Matt

  2. A beautiful tribute, Matt, to a man I am sure is deserving of every accolade given. I send you my deepest sympathy.

  3. “I am not this body. I am in this body, and this is part of my incarnation and I honor it but that isn’t who I am.”

    “We’re all just walking each other home.”

    1. MS:

      Thanks. Isn’t there a letter from John Quincy Adams when he was in his eighties to a friend who asked him how he was doing wherein he says John Quincy Adams is doing quite well but the house he lives in is creaking and crumbling all around him. We should keep your and his suggestion in mind.

  4. So sorry for your loss, Matt. We knew Dick and your other friends you mentioned.
    Your life-long friendship with Dick is so typical of us who grew up in the Savin Hill/St. William’s neighborhood. Joan and I are still in touch with our group – many of us have been friends for over 75-80 years! All the places you mentioned are imbedded in our memories forever. We might not remember what we did this morning but mention Savin Hill and be prepared for a list of ‘remember when….’ Those of our friends who have answered the call to “go home” are in our conversations as if they were still among us. We have so much to be thankful for………… let us never forget!

    1. Joe:

      Thanks for the memories. Woke up today thinking of Jimmy and Mikey who died so young and how you have experienced the loss of your siblings. One think that sticks out in my memory every time Good Friday rolls around is walking with them between noon and 3 in the afternoon and keeping to the tradition of not speaking. Then I remembered they always had an Irish Setter with them, but I forget the name. But for some reason still remember the name of the Wyshak’s Great Dane which was Humpshaw.

      We were lucky to have that neighborhood Savin Hill/St. William’s to grow up in which gives us fine memories to look back upon and like you, I am thankful for them. How many have had a May Day parade or have had to stop their street games to say “Good Afternoon Sister” as the endless parade of nuns walked past the corner of Belfort and Sagamore Streets on the way to the church. You as one of the older kids I recall was kind and gracious which you remain every time we’d bump into each other always pleasantly smiling. It was nice to hear from you. Matt

  5. I’m sorry for your loss Matt. He seems like a wonderful man. You were fortunate to have such a friend. RIP

  6. That’s a very nice tribute, Matt. Sorry about the passing of your friend, and condolences to his family and friends.

  7. RIP Dick. He was a very nice guy along with your pals John and Timmy. Their brothers were great guys too. Condolences to all.

  8. Matt, sorry for your loss. You’ve penned a great tribute to your lifelong friend.

    Sorry too for our loss for we younger guys knew and respected Dick, too, and of course some of our gang were the younger brothers of some of your gang, like the photo of John Cahalane instantly brought back the memory of his younger brother Pat Cahalane, who we (Myself, Neal, Hutch, Cuddy, Bobby Mancini, Teddy Ryan, Dan Ryan and Billy Jenks, to mention a few) loved as well, brotherly love, lifelong friends, although we rarely if ever spoke of it, but we all were all for one, and one for all throughout thick and thin. Al Demaris (also pictured) was a handsome young man; one women called him “the handsomest boy in Dorchester; his passing sadder because he was young) and Al’s younger brother Paul DeMaris was also one of our gang. Dick Doherty, of course we knew, liked, admired, looked up and respected as we did all of your gang. I remember Dick’s subtle, understated sense of humor. Dick was always a gentleman.
    May Dick and all our dear departed friends from Savin Hill rest in peace.

    At these sad times I reread that great poem: “Dirge Without Music”, by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

    Consolations.

    1. Also pictured: Timmy O’Leary whose younger brother Jimmy was also one of us, the Cornpoppers, (a name given us by a younger kid on Sidney Street); we were the kids who lived a few blocks on either side of Dorchester Avenue near St. William’s Church, but by grammar school we seamlessly melded with the guys over the bridge: Motley public schoolers; St. William’s schoolers, some Eddie Edward kids, Little School kids, et alia: One big gang, older kids, younger kids, in a tightly packed neighborhood of families (@15,000 folks): The Savie Guys.

  9. Sorry for your loss Matt.Its always deepest when you lose
    a friend from the old neighborhood. My East Boston crowd from St. Mary’s
    and Byron corner has dwindled down to a half dozen . It’s wrenching when
    someone passes.

    1. Paul: Thanks. We used to worry about, as the song said, the wedding bells breaking up the old gang. Now we see that it is something else. Stay Health.

  10. Matt, very sad and a terrible loss to those he loved and those he touched. My sympathies to his family and friends.

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