The Song Ended Before The Dance Was Over

I’ve been away from the reevaluation of Whitey’s life for a week or so but I will return to it as soon as I can. Before going back to it during this week of Presidents Day I will write my thoughts about another president, Billy Bulger.  I do so because I’ve thought of him after reading some articles in the New York Times concerning the resignation of Pope Benedict.

Billy got elected to the Massachusetts Legislature in 1960 and served there until the mid-90s. He left when he was appointed president of the University of Massachusetts. Billy’s political career was in the tradition of the old-time Irish Catholic politicians from South Boston, John McCormack, and Joe Moakley.

All were guided by the social teachings of the Catholic Church in their service to the public. Their ideas are far removed from those many have today. Ross Douthat said it a lot better than I could the other day.  “the Catholic vision of the good society — more egalitarian than American conservatism and more moralistic than American” liberalism . . .”  was the camp in which Billy pitched his tent.  Today as Douthat pointed out, “Republicans are more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Thomas Aquinas, and a strident social liberalism holds the whip hand in the Democratic Party.”   

Billy was strong in his faith and even stronger in his belief that as a politician his first job was to alleviate the sufferings of “them who have little.”  Helping those in need was part and parcel of who Billy was. He knew where he came from. He knew he worked hard to achieve his good fortune. He knew others did not have his intellectual abilities, or drive, or skill with language but because he had these gifts he did not condemn the others for their failures but believed as he was taught, “there but for the Grace of God go I.” He worked hard to ensure the benefits needed by the least among us were provided to them.

Billy put himself out to the public to be elected and rubbed shoulders with the poorest of the poor. He would keep his common touch while moving through politics where he became powerful and gained the respect of all who had dealings with him. He was of the old-time school, he rewarded his friends and didn’t coddle his enemies. He prized loyalty and  a person’s word. He honored and revered his parents who with little gave him as much as they could which was a good home in which to grow up. As part of that, he knew that his parents loved their children and expected their children to love each other. He kept to his parents wishes and suffered with them when his brother Whitey became a criminal.

As any parent knows, you can give your children your love, the best of care and a fine home in which to grow up but what they will become is up to them. Kahil Gibran put it best about children: “You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,. . . ”

Whitey’s future was foretold when he was young. Billy’s also could be seen. The former, the older brother, wild and untamed; the latter, studious and diligent. They were as unlike as two brothers could be yet they were still brothers.

It would be a relationship that would damage both even though they lived separate lives. They were linked together not by choice but by birth. Whitey, without Billy, would be just another evil criminal. He does not come anywhere near the malignancy of our local hoodlums the Flemmis, the Martoranos,  the Salemmes, Angiulos, or Baione.

Whitey was put at the top of the criminal heap for the sole purpose of hurting Billy. Billy never did anything with respect to Whitey’s criminal enterprises other than to pray that somehow Whitey would change. Billy’s service to the people of Massachusetts for over 40 years is a model for any politician. But the knives were out for him. Those who never stood for elected office and faced the people, a malignant media abetted by malicious and ignorant men, seeking profit from slander, or media praise and fame, held the floor. They threw Billy onto it and stomped on his reputation.

We are told to judge a person by his friends not by his relatives. We’ve seen who were Whitey’s friends. Billy’s were among the most reputable in society. When I think of Billy I’m reminded of Shakesperian tragedies where we see men at the top of their game undergoing a sudden reversal of fortune brought about by a tragic flaw. We know that “the central impression of the tragedy is waste.”



  1. It defies rational belief that a fairly straightforward motion, sterns’ recusal, is taking this long for the 1st cir to decide. I can only conclude, and I am looking for others thoughts here, that there is a scathing dissent written by one justice which the others are trying to mollify. Souter is a preeminent jurist, and his authorship of such a dissent, would surely take the majority down a peg.

    • JimP:
      I have to agree. The delay makes no sense. I could have written the opinion the next day. Either “the appeal is premature and we will deal with it after trial;” or, “it seems meet and just that Judge Stearns not sit on this case.” Then I would add “opinion to follow.”
      What must be happening is as you suggest the inability of the judges to agree. Souter would seem to be the wild card. He may not know Stearns and is more interested in the overall reputation of the court; the other two are in the same courthouse as Stearns and find it difficult to go against him. The judges are like FBI agents, wanting to protect their club from embarrassment. They don’t want to embarrass Stearns and say he is wrong.
      It’s all guess work but I lean your way in thinking. We really don’t know what is going on but can just speculate. They are acting like they are picking the next pope but to think of it if those three judges were involved in that decision it would be years before they’d come up with one.

  2. Great piece: a perspective of Mr. Bulger that needs to get out there and be heard. But I can’t help but think that the “song” may have not yet ended; in fact, I can’t help but think that he is merely in the point of the “crescendo” that’s all, perhaps in more ways than one. Your piece above will help people judge more fairly the entire Oratorio “While the Music Lasts.” After all, a good symphony, often paired with a good Greek or Shakespearean Tragedy, will always and profoundly resonate with the audience, long after the performers leave the stage. A great symphony may even become part of the pulse and rhythm of all those who have the ears to hear it.

    • Alex,
      Thanks for writing and your comment. I suggested it ended because I believe Billy meant by suggesting in the title of his book “While The Music Lasts” the idea that as long as he could do a good job as a politician and president of U Mass he would enjoy himself immensely. Suggesting the music ended was a way of saying he could no longer do what he most enjoyed which was to wield power for the public good.
      I hope it’s about time that people take another look at the injustice that was done to Billy. I’d like to see it happen before he leaves the stage and he begins to see himself getting the credited for all the good he did.

  3. i saw a picture of all three bulger brothers taken when they were wearing t shirts and appeared to be in their twenties. big smiles on their faces and what i take away from that is that people are brothers for life. i think many people are upset billy never turned away from whitey at any point in his lifetime. growing up poor, catholic and irish in long ago boston i am sure was part of a tie that binds. my mind has changed on billy partly because of this blog and also from the mere fact i doubt anyone has been investigated by so many and had no results to show for it for so many years. regards,

    • Norwood:
      I don’t know how close the Bulger brothers were because they were all so different. Whitey the wild gangster, Billy the studious serious one, Jackie the the well liked get along type guy. Different or not as they say you can pick your friends but not your relatives. You hit the nail on your head when you suggest that is what many people feel Billy should have done and don’t like him because of that but Billy has five siblings and coming from such a family there is great pressure to stick together and no matter what you think of the other not to turn on him.
      I’ve written that I was investigating Whitey and his crew for over a dozen years with more cops than I could count who were involved with me in doing wiretaps and other investigations. I worked with the best police investigators in the state who were tough guys, did not like criminals and spoke their minds. Not once did I ever hear, even in joking, any of them mentioning Billy in connection to Whitey.
      I was named the representative of the District Attorneys to see if I could get Billy to go along with a change in the pension plan for the DAs and their assistants so that the good prosecutors wouldn’t jump ship after a few years learning the trade. I talked to Billy once or twice and even though I had been investigating Whitey I never connected them in my mind. It sounds strange but I remembered that when I got into doing this stuff.
      And as you note, look at all the people the feds have made deals with in this case and except for that story that Martorano made up which didn’t make sense because Billy didn’t help Connolly get into BC or the FBI no one has given them anything on Billy. I’m happy to see you keeping an open mind. As you know I’ve sure changed some of my opinions as I looked into this stuff and got beyond the books and newspapers. Good to hear from you.

  4. William M. Connolly

    Well said!