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At South End restaurant, memories of a co-worker linger

Posted by boston.com  December 19, 2013 04:32 PM

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For the first four days after his death, Bill McCarthy's body stayed in the city morgue, identified only as John Doe.

Found unconscious on a Dorchester street on Columbus Day, no wallet, ID or cell phone on his person, McCarthy had been rushed to Boston Medical Center and pronounced dead of natural causes that afternoon. He was 53. The only thing in his bag that shed light on his identity was a waiter's apron.

In a way, that apron, or at least the time he spent wearing it, had become McCarthy's identity. At Giacomo's restaurant in the South End that same day, McCarthy's disappearance was the staff's main concern. In his twelve years working at the Italian restaurant on Columbus Avenue, he had never been late.

"It's just not like Bill," said Richard Talieri, the manager of Giacomo's.

He was the one who had hired McCarthy 12 years ago. He was also the one who identified his body days after his disappearance.

Now, the staff of this tight-knit restaurant and its weekly customers continue to mourn the loss of someone who was much more than a guy who served food.

Giacomo's was McCarthy's home, and the people within it were more of a family than his own. He didn't talk to his brother. His mother had died 10 years ago. His relationship with his dad was on and off. He was gay and single, and had no children. He lived by himself.

But, according to Jason Walker, who is Giacomo's cook and was McCarthy’s friend, that is why McCarthy belonged at this restaurant.

"There are people who don't really get along with their brothers and sisters at home,” Walker said. “Maybe they really don't have the best relationship with their mom and dad. But you come in the restaurant business, and these are the people who care about you. These are the people who will look out for you.”

That is exactly what McCarthy's co-workers did.

Karen Mullen, a real estate broker who waited tables with McCarthy for years, was the one who helped him find a condo in Dorchester and guided him through the home- buying process. Talieri called the police the night McCarthy didn't show up for work, as well as every hospital in the Boston and New York City area looking for him.

The bartender next door used her connections with Channel 7 News to get the story out that a man was missing, leading the doctor who pronounced McCarthy dead to connect the picture of the missing waiter to the apron she found in John Doe's bag and alert the police.

It was co-owner Joe Dinarello who kept McCarthy's father, who lives in an assisted living facility in Newton, updated on his son's disappearance. After Talieri identified the body, Dinarello organized McCarthy's wake and tied up his estate.

"It was very hard," Talieri said. "It got out there in the neighborhood quick. Everyone was putting signs up. And then after we confirmed his death we were telling the same story. How many times do you have to tell it? You had to tell it ten times a night. And then everyone's reaction was different. They would start crying. It was hard, and sad, and that went on for weeks."

Talieri said he believes McCarthy was likely experiencing heart failure all weekend, and died of a heart attack. His friend Walker, the cook, was surprised and warmed by the response to McCarthy's death. More than 200 people came to the wake, many of them regulars at the restaurant.

"It was really kind of moving,” he said. “It's good in a way to see that people really do care.”

They cared because McCarthy cared about the people he worked with and waited on.

"He talked to people, to a fault," said Talieri. "I had to pull him away from tables sometimes and tell him to get his food out of the kitchen! But that's why Bill was so liked. He knew everyone who came in. He knew all of their stories."

Recalled Moris Flores, who worked with McCarthy at Giacomo's for 11 years: "Every year, he would bring in a cake for my birthday. At Christmas, he would bring gifts for the guys in the kitchen. And every Tuesday he would bring in ice cream. He made it a tradition for the last three years."

Like any family, however, a restaurant family has its quirks. Talieri remembers McCarthy would come in to every shift with a huge, highly caffeinated iced tea drink.

"Then the entire staff would watch him have an espresso and say 'oh no.' And then he would have another one and everyone knew they were in trouble because he would just spin out of control at that point.”

“His caffeine intake was a point of contention," said Talieri, laughing. "He would talk to himself, run around and then at 10 o'clock, he'd go back to normal."

McCarthy would always come in early and wash and prep the lettuce.

"Those are some of my favorite talks, when I would come down and berate him with questions about politics, music and the Red Sox," said Walker.

"His two passions were food and small indie bands," said Talieri. "He would travel all around to see them. He was always trying to pick out the next big band before they got big so he could see them in a small club with fifty or sixty people. He'd go all over Boston and New York."

When Talieri and Dinarello went through his things recently, they found his calendar marked with upcoming shows. They even found tickets to an upcoming Alice Cooper concert. "We joked around," said Talieri. "We said 'Really, you're going to pay forty dollars to see that old man? Come on, Bill.'"

The nature of McCarthy's death is hard on everyone who knew him.

"You never want to die on the street and then be a stranger in a hospital," said Walker. However, the lonely way he died, they say, in no way resembles the way he lived his life at Giacomo's, as a waiter who knew every regular and never forgot birthdays or ice cream on Tuesday.

Although McCarthy was buried on Nov. 30 in Watertown next to his mother's grave, the staff at Giacomo's are not yet done saying goodbye. They are planning a celebration of McCarthy's life in January, at the neighboring restaurant, Anchovies.

"Bill needs a proper send-off, where everyone drinks Chimay and smokes Luckies," said Talieri, smiling.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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