Monthly Archives: January 2022

“John Gallagher and Dr. David Link, Two Jewish Brookline Guys Who Changed the World”

John Gallagher Jewish? Sounds Irish to me. The John Gallagher who was the President of the world famous Longwood Cricket Club where tennis is king and was deplored for its policy of not admitting Jews as members? The very same. The guy who wore a custom made mezuzzah with a Star of David and a shamrock embedded in it, not to mention attending more Bar Mitzvahs than most Jews, knew lots of Yiddish phrases, had his own yarmulke, and sent his daughter, Amanda, to pre-school at nearby Temple Emeth where Rabbi Zev Nelson led the congregation? Why not? It was Zev Nelson who taught John Jewish history as a a kid, befriending him when John’s forty four Jewish classmates at Baker, the local public school, left him and two others not Jewish alone, when they attended Nelson’s Jewish history class. “Three is not a baseball team,” as John puts it, so he snuck into Temple Emeth and joined that class, thus becoming Jewish, sort of. Enough to later become a Shabbat father in Amanda’s class, the only Irishman to be so honored. John says, “That is how I became an Honorary Jew AND an Irish Catholic. It shows Brookline’s egalitarianism.” At least in South Brookline, it might be said. Brookline has had its own racial problems. But not lately at Longwood which has outgrown its earlier bad rep, and now, as John proudly points out, is an oasis, open and equal, fun and friendly, moderate and not boisterous, respectful to all, the only requirement for admittance being a love for tennis. John’s Irish credentials include his stepfather, “Last Hurrah” Mayor of Boston, James Michael Curley, and his grandfather, the erudite former counsel to the Boston Globe, Francis T. Leahy. That gentleman took John into his home when his father passed early, where he reaped the benefit of learning Latin and locution at his grandad’s knee, and the pleasure of interacting with his forty four first cousins, and other members of the Leahy clan. John learned the art of getting along in a large family so well that he became an all-time integrator of peoples.

The world lost a great doctor and humanitarian when Dr. David Link unwillingly and prematurely left the world a few months ago. As an expert in vaccination he would have brought help to many souls in this pandemic. Leaving the profitable private practice of his early years to take up the far less remunerative practice of pediatric primary care and public health for the less affluent here and abroad, allied with his work as the Head of Pediatrics for over thirty years at the Cambridge Health Alliance and the Mt. Auburn Hospital. In that role, David traveled often to Africa and Europe to improve health systems. The Jewish Community Relations Council commissioned David and his team to visit  Dnieperpetrovsk, the city of Peter the Great, to introduce the vaccine for Hepatitis B so Ukrainians could get there what we get here. His team won 10,000 patients to that vaccine. Revisiting some years later, David was happy to see the  plan had been legislated into law so the vaccine was available country wide. His major interest was children. Loving music learned from his Viennese Mozart loving family, David said maybe he could save a kid who would become a Mozart – that if Mozart could have been saved from his early death from kidney disease at thirty five we would now have over 1,000 of his works instead of only 600. In my own case, it may be I owe an existential debt to David. When I developed an invasive melanoma above my left eye a few years ago, he told me in no uncertain terms that, “Anyone who has a melanoma in or around Boston who doesn’t go for care to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute is nuts.” I went. I’m here. Thank you Dr. David Link!

People, Always People!

Looking Backwards to See the Future

That is what historians do! That is what preservationists do! Many a wise man has said that we can’t see where we’re going if we have no awareness of where we’ve been. Human Nature remains the same. The lessons we need to navigate forward are all there in our history. Two late Brookline people who knew that were Jane Holtz Kay and Dr. John ‘Jack’ Little. It seems Jane was born knowing it, raised by her eminent lawyer father, Jackson Holtz, to read, read, read, which brought her as a student at Radcliffe College to stand before Brookline’s 19th Century ornate and beautiful Town Hall in her famous and futile attempt to save it from the wrecking ball. That led to her book, “Lost Boston,” (1980), which told in words and remarkable pictures how many of Boston’s great homes and buildings of earlier times had met a similar fate. I clearly remember when first looking at that book how sad I was to see how development had won over good sense. It was In “Asphalt Nation, How the Automobile Took over America and How We Can Take It Back (1997), that the prescient Jane Holtz, expanding on the ideas of Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s most renowned landscape architect, that Kay hit full stride as an exemplar of urban design and the conservation of natural and urban environments a generation before others got on board. She demonstrated the deleterious dominance of the car on American culture and climate. To prove it Jane sold her car and got along very well without it living in Boston’s Back Bay. She opted for trains, bicycles, less cars, and living densely. What a lady! What a generous person in my own life, always helping me in my early efforts as a writer.

And what about Jack Little, another Jewish preservationist whose mother, noted historian, Nina Fletcher Little, lived at Brookline’s famous palace of Jewish learning The Maimonides School, named after the famous Jewish 12th Century philosopher. Well, not reallly, not at all. The school stands on the grounds and in the structure of the former affluent Fletcher home where Nina lived as a child looking out on Boylston Street and its horse drawn carriages, now Route 9. In later years Nina returned home in 1978, by when it was the Maimonides School, to give a reading of her work, “Reminiscences of the Philbrick Road Neighborhood,” which the home and now the school partially bordered. She and her husband, Bertram Kimball Little, both noted preservationists, brought Jack Little up in the same tradition in an old house not far away on Warren Street. Besides preserving and building early TV’s, radios, and autos, Jack, as President of the Brookline Historical Society, preserved old houses such as the famous Devotion House which dated back to the 17th Century and where the curator of the Society lives. In his college years Jack and a friend drove an old Model T Ford 12,000 miles over four months seeing the USA, and repeated the exploit in his Army years in Europe in a French Citroen. That led to his collection of vintage cars and old medical apparatus. Truly, Jack Little preserved the past! Indeed Dr.Little even found time to become one of the most famous radiological researchers in the world during his long tenure as a Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, writing five hundred or more published articles, and receiving many honors. Whenever I ran into Jack he always met me with a big smile.

Listen to hear me tell more about these two incredible people!

People, Always People!

Irishmen and Irishwoman are a Boy’s Best Friend

How could I know that I would spend twenty of the happiest years of my life from age 69 to 89 at one of the most undesirable office locations in Brookline:), amidst a gang of Irishmen, two Irishwomen, a Garage Punk Midwesterner, and a severe  Italian landlady. After all, I had just recently inhabited the grandest office in Brookline’s famous Coolidge Corner. Sure, I wanted a small and private space to test out my notion of becoming an author and historian, but what was I getting myself into? My tough landlord, Patricia Simboli, had me cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s, probably figuring this old guy will be outta here in no time with his grandiose notions. As (bad) luck would have it, on my first day my office mates, each having their own small office, were out in the hall talking, chief among them the seemingly unwelcoming husband and wife legal team, Joe and Paula Killion. Being crazy me, I said, “Hey everybody, I’m just what you need up here, an old Jewish guy.” That broke the ice. We all became immediate friends, and that warmth continued forever.

Joe turned out to be a pussycat who helped me out of the trouble my bad driving habits induced, and discussed baseball with me constantly, he having been a star pitcher at Holy Cross. He also proved to be the Champion Pack-Rat of all time! Brilliant criminal defense lawyer, Paula Killion, stared at me with her gorgeous blue Irish eyes, set in a face of flawless alabaster skin, but later shared with me her vast knowledge of the criminal law and shrewd opinions of people. Linda Gavin, Esq. became a chapter in my book, “Voices of Brookline”, when she was married by the Town Clerk to her longtime same sex partner at the Brookline Town Hall right after the Massachusetts Supreme Court allowed such unions in the landmark “Goodrich” case. Gentle Walter Landergan flawlessly handled several cases I referred to him with honesty and respect. Walter was close to Joe, and was broken up, as were we all, when Joe passed early at seventy. Walter and I bonded as friends. So too I bonded with the low key Steve Simon who startlingly combined that persona with his love of garage punk music which he blasted out on his program on Boston College radio station WZBZ. Steve’s late small dog, Chloe, came to the office often with Steve, and whimpered when I called him down the hall from his sanctum sanctorum to fish me out of my ineptitude on my computer. It turned out that Patricia Simboli possessed a full measure of warm Italian family feeling when she told me of her happiness with me as a tenant, and of her pride in my success. My luck in friends had held, coming as I did from my previous big quarters and my long friendship there with David Jensen, Esq., who like those above possessed a warm personality that has made us friends to this day.

Listen and you’ll hear much more about these nice folks! Who knows, you might get to like lawyers’

People, Always People!

Life and Death

Does anybody have the ridiculous notion he or she will live forever? Yeah, me! Not really, but when Jordan Rich asked me on this podcast why I had waited to age eighty-five to have drawn an estate plan, that is what I answered, along with saying I was having too much fun to think about death. He asked why so many people never get around to drawing a will, let alone an estate plan? I replied that folks don’t want to think about death, although that was not true in my case. My thinking was crystallized into action when an older couple for whom I had drafted a will some years previously consulted me about a codicil to their will. By that time it was plain that their holdings required an estate plan drawn by an expert in that specialty. I sought one out for them. We met with her. She impressed me mightily. Her name is Kristin Shirahama, whose persona impressed many, resulting in her election as President of the Womens’ Bar Association while still in her thirties, and a partnership in a large Boston law firm a few years after we met. Cool, calm, and collected is Kristin as a professional, warm as a person! I retained Kristin to draw a plan for Lois and me, a necessity in many ways, not least because I am a decade older than my wife of fifty-eight years.

In an unusual collaboration Kristin and I joined forces on a plan leaving major gifts to several charities when we’re gone. She handled the expert advising and drafting required, and I met the leaders of the various charities considered. It required two years to get it right, but the the result was the plan of my and Lois’ dreams. That included the warm friendship Lois and I sought with Kristin for the long term, unanticipated benefits from the charities chosen, such as the august New England Historical Genealogical Society collecting my authorial papers and publishing them on the worldwide net, arrangements for a foundation grant to the newly formed Jewish Heritage Center, a valued participatory association with the Yiddish Book Center, and other honors of the same ilk. The experience directed my thinking to the needs of elder people, and the ideas expressed in my memoir that older folks need not take to the sidelines, but can remain immersed every day in life. For example, anybody can write about their own life for the benefit of family, friends, and associates, even if not for commercial dissemination, by the simple act of dredging their memory for the forgotten incidents of a long life. Everyone has a story to tell! Everyone in reasonable health can contribute meaningfully to their own and others’ lives until their dying day.

Listen to this podcast and hear that not only in my words, but in how I speak those words.

People, Always People!