Call this space 'thank you notes'
A great father has great friends
Today, I am attempting to do the impossible. For decades, my father filled this space with his unique style and perspective that nearly always elicited a response from his readers. I am trying to fill those shoes just this once. Three sentences in, and I already feel inadequate. I do not envy the person charged with filling the space of ''Your Humble Servant'' hereafter.
The only space more difficult to fill will be the hole in the hearts of those who love him. For our family and friends, the sense of loss is overwhelming. For many of us, Will McDonough was the dominant figure in our lives. He was the person to whom we could always turn for advice, help, support, comfort, love, or anything else we needed.
In the days since his death, we have learned how many lives he touched. There is not much I can add to the many tributes that have been written, spoken, or emailed, because I think almost all of them captured the essence of my multidimensional father. There were many recurring themes. As a writer and reporter, he was a giant and a legend. Even those who did not always agree with his opinions or his methods would agree on that. As a person, he was a GIANT and a LEGEND. It is not humanly possible to be a better, or more loyal, husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend, or citizen. I don't know anybody who has done more for other people than my Dad, and I never will. Of all of the aspects of his legacy, that is the one of which I will always be most proud.
While death invariably brings sadness, there is much that has happened that has brought our family a sense of peace. About a month ago, my father was hospitalized for several days after he suffered a "minor" heart attack. Each night, on my way home from my radio program, I would stop by and visit with him for an hour or so until it was time for him to go to sleep. My Dad's cherished friend, Joe O'Donnell, has pointed out that Will's columns always left you longing for more, even one more paragraph. Those conversations at the hospital had the same feel for me. When it was time to leave, I wished there were just five more minutes we could spend together. Five more minutes I could spend listening to one more story, gaining one more insight, laughing one more time.
My everlasting comfort will come from knowing my father was prepared to die. At that time a month ago, he did not know what was wrong with him, but he knew something was wrong. As usual, he knew more than the rest of us. He told me that no matter what happened, his life had been complete. He did not get cheated. He never did. He had a wife who gave him boundless love and joy, five children who adored and idolized him, and more friends than he could count. We all thought we were Dad's best friend. He knew how much he had given to all of us and his beloved community of Boston. My Dad died knowing that he was "Mr. Big" to so many of us because of the way he lived his life. The events of the days since his passing demonstrated how many others appreciate that life well-lived as well.
Our family has been moved by so many wonderful expressions of sympathy and appreciation for Dad, large and small. They started from the moment word spread that Dad had died. Last Friday, when we gathered at our family home, trying to deal with the shock and unspeakable grief, but also having to deal with the reality of arrangements and such, my cellphone rang. It was Harry Sinden, Rich Krezwick, and Nate Greenberg from the FleetCenter. They offered their condolences and then offered the use of the FleetCenter for any services we might be considering. The call came at a time when we had just begun trying to figure out where we could possibly find a place big enough to accommodate all who would want to pay their respects. Harry said the FleetCenter might not be big enough. After some reflection and prayer, our family decided it was the perfect place. It was, thanks to Krezwick and the staff at the FleetCenter who made it so. Our family will forever be grateful to them for their extraordinary kindness, and for their amazing tribute to Dad.
The celebration of Dad's life at the FleetCenter fittingly brought together a cross section of Will's universe. Our visit from the Governor, the Commissioner, and the Owner was followed immediately by a long line of loyal readers who never met my father but who wanted to express their respect and admiration for him. Many of these people were dressed in the jacket of their favorite team. Nearly all had a tear in their eye. Many of them thanked us for giving them the opportunity to participate in the ceremony. My father would not have had it any other way. Dad would have appreciated their words as much as anything. As others have stated more eloquently than I, he treated everyone the same. He always understood that each of us is the same in the eyes of God.
While each of the thousands of expressions of sympathy and support we have received is much appreciated, some moments from the celebration at the FleetCenter will stay in our memories forever. Our entire family burst into tears when we saw the members of the Charlestown High School basketball team, in their uniform tops, coming through the long line. We knew of Dad's connection to that team. As the team approached us, I was handed a copy of the "Headmaster's Bulletin" from the previous day. Headmaster Michael Fung wrote: "Two years ago after our basketball team won the state championship, Will wrote a nice note in the Sunday Globe about the team. He pointed out that, unlike the suburban school systems, despite the accomplishment of the team no one seemed to care much about these basketball kids. He urged his readers to make contributions to Charlestown High School so that a bunch of urban kids could have a celebration for winning a state championship two years in succession. Within a week we received over $3,000. Many of the contributions came from fans and coaches of teams that we had defeated that year. Will McDonough also personally asked the Celtics to hold a simple reception for the team, in addition to an invitation to a Celtics game. The players had a wonderful time and got to meet with some of the Celtics stars. Will McDonough was a graduate of English High. He was a prominent journalist with great influence. He did not have to do any of these things for a Charlestown High team. But he did, without anyone asking him to, because he liked our team and because he was also a good man. I will miss him." The team used the money to buy championship jackets. When people talk about how my father used the power of his column, this is an example of what I will remember.
Another story that will stay with us was provided by 11-year-old Stephen McKenna of Lexington. He came through the line with his mother, who handed me a handwritten letter authored by Stephen, and an article from a local newspaper that told his story. In the winter of 2001, Stephen was earning money by baby-sitting chickens. (As my father might add here, I am not making this up.) He wrote: "Before I took care of them, the five chickens laid a total of one egg every other day. By the time I had finished loving and playing with them, they were laying 3-4 eggs a day. I earned $3 per day for a total of $147. " Stephen wanted to use the money to take his grandfather, sister, and mother to Opening Day at Fenway Park, but he couldn't get tickets. His mother faxed the letter to my Dad, who called the house to make sure it was legitimate. Then, Will got on the phone to the Red Sox, and Stephen and his family had their tickets to Opening Day. Stephen also wrote that he was doing this in memory of his great-grandmother, Nana, a lifelong Red Sox fan who had died two weeks earlier at the age of 96. Stephen wrote: "Nana's first stop was to go talk to Babe Ruth so he would lift the curse!" I bet Nana and Will are working on that one together.
On behalf of our entire family, I want to express our most sincere and heartfelt thanks to the thousands of you who have taken time to share your thoughts about my Dad with us. From the beautiful tributes from my colleagues in the media, to the random strangers who reached out to us in a variety of ways, your kindness will never be forgotten. Most of all, to our closest friends who have been there for us when we needed them most, and while dealing with their own profound sadness and grief, we love you more than we can adequately express. My lasting hope is that each of us will learn from, and follow, Dad's example. That we will all take time to be better to each other, and perform random acts of kindness.
During that time last month when my father was hospitalized, I was struggling with one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make. I was considering a great offer from the New York Mets to become their television broadcaster. During one of our visits, I laid out the details for my Dad. For him, it was an easy decision. It never took Dad long to reach a conclusion. He told me I should go to the Mets because their ownership and television executives were treating me beautifully and with a lot of respect, while the Red Sox ownership and television management was indifferent at best. He felt I deserved a lot better from the Red Sox than a serious reduction in workload and pay. For Dad, it was often about the good guys versus the bad guys.
For several days, I was leaning strongly toward taking the Mets' offer. As usual, my Dad's opinion was the foremost factor in my mind. I can't recall ever making an important decision when I did not follow my Dad's advice. I was having a hard time accepting the Mets' offer because I knew my heart wasn't in leaving Boston and the Red Sox. After a couple of days, my Dad must have sensed this as well. On a subsequent visit to the hospital, at a time when I absolutely had to make a decision, he told me he thought I should stay in Boston because everything I care about is here. Only then did I have courage to follow my heart and stay. To me, it was about the good guy. It was about my Dad. I told him the biggest reason I wanted to stay was because I wanted to spend more time with him, playing golf and hanging out on my boat. I won't have that chance, but I thank God every day that I told him.
Over the years on Red Sox telecasts, many of you have heard me refer to Boston as "America's Greatest City." And when I sit at the microphone on Opening Day, I will say that again and mean it as sincerely as I possibly can. Thank you to all of you who have reminded our family that it is our people who make this city great. Thank you for reinforcing in me that it was the right thing to stay, and why I could never live anywhere else. Most of all, thank you for giving "Mr. Big" the send-off he so richly deserved.
And Dad, thank you for always making me the luckiest and proudest son who ever lived.