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Francis Grady, social worker deeply committed to Boston

FRANCIS GRADY FRANCIS GRADY
By J.M. Lawrence
Globe Correspondent / October 7, 2011

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After cancer prompted social worker Francis Grady to retire after a lifetime of caring for the elderly and the disabled, he spent the last year of his life focusing on the needs of his Dorchester neighborhood.

Mr. Grady, who died in his home Sunday at 68 of esophageal cancer, rallied his neighbors to try to help a family that had lost their home to foreclosure. When the family decided to give up and move on, he led efforts to keep the vacant home on Kenwood Street from becoming an eyesore.

In May, a dozen neighbors donned work clothes, tore out invasive plants, and trimmed shrubbery. The house was sold this summer.

To his many friends, who knew Mr. Grady as Fran, it was a fitting last act for someone who cared deeply about the Codman Square area, where Mr. Grady and his wife, Ann, first moved in the late 1960s and where they had raised three daughters.

“His first concern was, ‘What about the people who left the house?’ That house could have naturally gone the other way,’’ said Sandy Middlebrooks, a neighbor who added that the home is now one of the best-looking properties on the block.

Born in Wilmington, Del., Mr. Grady first lived in Massachusetts during the Vietnam War. He was among the first in Delaware to be granted conscientious objector status as a Catholic, his wife said, and in lieu of going to war, he performed service for Massachusetts Mental Health.

The oldest son of a chemist and a homemaker, Mr. Grady spent time in the seminary in Baltimore and graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

He met Ann McGlinchy when they were working in public housing in Baltimore as volunteers through the national organization VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America. They were married for 43 years.

Ann Grady, a retired Boston public school teacher, said she was drawn to his “generosity of spirit, his keen interest in the world around him, and his positive thinking.’’

“He thought, ‘What could make the world a better place?’ ’’ she said. “And that continued to his very last days.’’

In 1973, Mr. Grady received a graduate degree in social work from Boston College and worked in state hospitals. From the 1980s until 1994, he managed elderly public housing at the Englewood Apartments in Dorchester.

He later worked with the mentally ill at the Lexington-based Edinburg Center, and from 1999 until last year, he worked with the developmentally disabled through the center.

“He was a great ideas man and a unique individual,’’ said Martha Conant, director of developmental disabilities clinical services at the Edinburg Center.

Last year, the state Department of Developmental Services recognized Mr. Grady for his work with a 60-year-old client who has autism. With Mr. Grady’s coaching, the man began hosting dinner parties at his apartment complex, where he previously did not know his neighbors.

Conant said she recently attended one of the parties with at least 25 other guests. “Fran, through hard work, was able to get this socially isolated man hooked up with his community,’’ she said.

Mr. Grady also spearheaded the Edinburg Center’s connection with students doing community service work through Bentley University’s Service-Learning Center. Bentley students help Edinburg staff with their computer systems and other projects.

“Fran was instrumental in getting us linked to the Bentley Service Learning Center,’’ Conant said. “It’s been a real benefit to the agency.’’

Alvin Shiggs of Jamaica Plain, a friend who attended church with Mr. Grady at St. Mary of the Angels Church in Roxbury, met him 20 years ago when Shiggs’s 9-year-old son joined a Dorchester soccer league team Mr. Grady coached. Shiggs said he was instantly impressed by Mr. Grady’s focus on teaching his players how to support and respect one another.

“The other important thing Fran was promoting was the ethnic diversity of the team,’’ Shiggs said. “I don’t remember how successful they were, but he taught them much more about spirit and cooperation and togetherness.’’

He added that “Fran was a person who I don’t think ever saw a problem, or issue, that could not be resolved or worked out.’’

In addition to his wife, Mr. Grady leaves three daughters, Ellen of Austin, Texas, Mary of Dorchester, and Kathleen of Oakland, Calif.; a brother, John of Dover, Del.; two sisters, MaryAnn of Wilmington, Del., and Julie of Hockessin, Del.; three grandsons; and a granddaughter.

A funeral Mass will be said at 1 p.m. tomorrow in St. Mary of the Angels Church in Roxbury. Burial will be in Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston.

Several weeks ago, Mr. Grady’s friends packed his home for a roast in his honor.

They remembered his work at St. Mary of the Angels, where he and his wife once cleaned every month when the church had no money for housekeeping. They recalled joining Mr. Grady at Doyle’s Cafe in Jamaica Plain, his work on an annual clothing drive to help the homeless at the Barbara McInnis House in Roxbury, and how he started an annual Good Friday walk to acknowledge the hopes and sorrows of the Roxbury neighborhood around St. Mary’s.

Then Juana Pujols, who attends St. Mary of the Angels, rose to sing, “Nada Es Impossible,’’ which means “nothing is impossible.’’ A translation of the song includes the passage:

There’s no sunset but you are looking at me There’s no breeze and you don’t sigh We are decorating this little corner Bringing the city up to date Don’t you worry because Nothing is impossible If the fuses of our hearts melt together.

J.M. Lawrence can be reached at jmlawrence@mac.com.