The Simple Priest

John O’Brien was a priest of the Roman Church according to the ancient Order.  He had a marvelous gift and not since Monsignor Ed Connors have we had someone stand up in front of a Westchester congregation to preach about the Carpenter’s Son with as much grace and eloquence.

O’Brien, a gentle man, spoke with a raspy, gritty croak caused by the thousands of cigarettes that killed him.  But he reached into many hearts with that great gift of expression which accompanied him when he went to work in a church.

He was a Christian Brother for many years before entering the priesthood late in life.  And so, instead of standing in a classroom before 35 rowdy kids, John O’Brien, in recent years, did his teaching and his preaching too in front of many of all ages every Sunday and on the days of Obligation.

He didn’t speak with the brilliance of a Jesuit orator or the scruffy humanity and relentless compassion of the Franciscans.   There was only a stark honesty to O’Brien who spoke with some intimate knowledge of the long-remembered, timeless wisdom of the church fathers.  You could hear the cigarettes, the wheeze and the rattle in his soft voice as he whispered those ancient truths in stunningly simple homilies.

The old priest was uncomfortable presiding way up in the pulpit lording it over everyone.  He always did his best work at eye level on the floor up close to the people huddled in their pews.

I’ve seen the priest O’Brien in hospital rooms mumbling the rosary for comatose patients who couldn’t even hear him.  And I observed him consoling a family following the untimely death of a beautiful young man.  I also saw the Irishman with the Roman collar go after rich contractors and road builders  from Scarsdale to persuade them to help his parish.  He was something to behold when shaking the money tree.

But being Irish, John O’Brien was at his best at funerals … praying and often shedding his own real tears over the deceased and dearly departed ranging in age from 84 to 22.  But he was gentle and kind and had a great way about him through it all in every season.

I remember one winter day, not unlike this one, when the priest stood in front of grieving relatives at a funeral Mass for that young man:

“Our lives teach us that courage is the opposite of fear.  But it’s not.  Faith is the opposite of fear.  Having that Faith is something that doesn’t come easily or automatically into our lives.  It comes by experience and by the awful grace of God.

You’re filled with sorrow now.  But Faith tells us, assures us, all is well … because … His name is Emmanuel … and I am with you always.  Even to the End of the world.  It was His name at the Beginning.  And it is His name at the End.

So, I come to do the Will of my Father.  And this is the Will of my Father … that I should lose … nothing.  That you should lose … nothing.”

He was not a high church kind of priest.  And you could not imagine O’Brien strolling in some Vatican garden taking his constitutional clad in a finely tailored cassock adorned with a purple sash or scarlet trim speaking in hushed diplomatic tones with hands clasped casually behind his back.

And yet, despite his aversion to pomp and pretension, it was announced that several bishops and elders of the Church will pray over the Reverend John P. O’Brien at St. Pius X Church in Scarsdale this weekend, including the new Archbishop Timothy Dolan who, one is sure, is O’Brien’s kind of guy.  Come to think of it, you couldn’t imagine Dolan strolling in that Vatican garden with the Canon lawyers and diplomats either.

As he lay dying this week at New York University Hospital in the great city, someone sent the priest a note:  “You are loved and respected.”  I hope he got it and understood it through all the tubes and painkillers.

And so Timothy Dolan himself will preside at Mass on Saturday.   The Archbishop brings a wonderful joy and dynamism to everything he does.  But who, I wonder, will reach out and grab people by the throat and tug at their hearts to tell those assembled once more in sadness and mourning just how very special the old priest with the gravelly voice really was …?

Before he left us last week, the pastor of St. Pius X Church in Scarsdale sat at his desk in the parish rectory to write a Christmas message.  It was to be his last homily.  The priest was wracked with pain.  But there were many things to do to get the parish ready for the holy season.  He knew he was dying and the very next day John O’Brien would check himself into a New York hospital.  So he worked quickly, but carefully.  This is what he wrote as he sat in loneliness and silence on that cold day last week in Scarsdale …

“Silent night, holy night

All is calm, all is bright.”

A holy night to be sure, but hardly silent and anything but calm.

The “silence” of that night was shattered by the blood curdling cries of wild animals roaming the hillsides.  In a cold, dark cave a young, frightened woman gave birth to her child while her husband, a carpenter by trade, stood by helplessly.

Finally, amid the bleating of sheep and the braying of animals, the newborn’s first cry broke the stillness.  This “silent night” was filled with terror, pain and the bone-numbing exhaustion that sleep alone cannot relieve.

There was no “silence” that night so long ago in crowded, chaotic Bethlehem, bursting with visitors who had come for the great census.  In fact, there was no “calm” in all of Israel – only tension and conflict between the Jewish people and their Roman occupiers.  Ancient Palestine was hardly a place of “heavenly peace.”  It was a land torn by oppression, persecution and terror.  Madness reigned.

And yet … on this noisy, chaotic, anxious night, our Savior, the Light of the World was born.  Amid the pain and anguish of a devastated people, new hope was born.  The Messiah came at last with transforming joy.

Even though our world today may once more seem far from “silent,” our Church far from “holy,” our personal lives far from “calm,” the Prince of Peace has blessed our flawed and fractured world by walking upon it, by loving those in it relentlessly and unconditionally, and by laying down his life for all who pass through it. 

For he would rather die than to live in eternity without us.

Emmanuel!  God is with us!  Let earth receive her King!

He retired with the gift.


                                                December 10, 2009

William O’Shaughnessy



Teddy Suric

General Manager, “21”

The Return of the Jockeys!

October 21, 2015


William O’Shaughnessy:

The jockeys are back at “The Numbers” on 52nd Street.  We’re here in the iconic, hallowed halls of the fabled “21” Club in Manhattan because this is a big deal day.  With us is the managing director of the “21” Club – Teddy Suric.  He’s a restaurateur, highly respected in his profession.  I’ve never seen you this excited …

Teddy Suric:

Well, it’s an exciting moment, Bill.  This club has been here for 85 years.  Anything you do in 85 years is really something special.  Just the history within these walls and the way it all started with Jack and Charlie in 1929 and here we are at “21” in the 21st century!


Teddy Suric, general manager of “21” … this started as a saloon, a speakeasy. 


It’s one of the oldest speakeasies in the country.  The Prohibition-era wine room is still operational and very active.  It’s a special chef’s table underground for 22 special people.  It’s available for lunch and dinner.  Historically when “21” opened – it opened up at 21 West 52nd Street – Jack and Charlie then purchased number 19 and then the building at number 17.  They then combined the three homes into one. And that’s where all the wine and liquor went, in the “Prohibition” room.  They called it “21.”


Teddy Suric, major domo of “21” … there’s a lot of colorful stuff, a lot of excitement out on 52nd Street tonight.  Your jockeys are back! 


Huge for us!  I think it’s really huge for our fans as well and bar patrons and clientele here in New York and all across the country.  In fact “21” is truly an international destination.  After 85 years they had never been refurbished.  In 1930 the Van Urk family donated a jockey back then. You see it was the “horsey” crowd that used to occupy the seats here … then and ever since.  The rich and famous you might say!         


Do you still get the rich and famous?


Constantly …


Are these real jockeys? 


They are real jockeys, Mr. O’Shaughnessy, almost life-like statues thereof.  They represent all the great breeders and stables.  They’re actually donated to “21” by the famous stables.   The maker of these jockeys, you really can’t find any one like him anymore was down in Virginia.   The gentleman passed away nine years ago.  But these jockeys were donated for “21” … they weren’t purchased.  And this year we have a new addition … the Triple Crown winner – American Pharaoh, by Zayat Stables. We added the Triple Crown winner for the first time in the past 40 years.


So all these rich guys, the horsemen, with their own racing silks, have their colors.  And thus each one of these jockeys is attired differently.


Six or seven months ago when I initiated the project, I reached out to the stables and there were a couple of silks that were just wrong.  And they were so happy I reached out to them because a lot of these – at least 80% – of these stables are still active.  So they gave me the correct silks.  I then ordered the jockeys to be taken “off property” and we carefully and lovingly refurbished them away from “21.” 


As I listen to you, Teddy Suric, I’m reminded you’ve been a friend of ours for many years all the way back to your Le Cirque days … will you trust me to conduct myself properly, as I put this microphone before you …? 


I will trust you for another 100 years, Mr. O’!


Teddy, I then can safely say that you’re a pretty hot guy right now in your profession … in the restaurant business.  You’ve re-invigorated this beloved old lorelei.  It had had – not exactly fallen on hard times – but there was a bit of a “lull” hereabouts.  And, if you’ll forgive me, nobody was having any “fun.”


There was a “lull,” I guess you could say … it’s my second year here.  I view it as kind of like “refurbishing” or “restoring” – or “revitalizing” is what I want to say … because the bones were still good.  It’s owned by a great company.  And look – there are a lot of gentlemen out there who still  want to wear a tie and have a nice martini.   And a lot of lovely and attractive women who want to dress up.


You said the racing guys … the rich guys who own horse farms in Virginia and Florida used to put their backsides in your seats.  Who does it now?  Who do you get?


Their grandchildren!  Their sons … their daughters!  On any given night we can have 10 – 15 famous clients … from athletes to politicians to actors in here.  It’s just another regular dining experience for them.  And always special for us.


Teddy Suric, whose name do you need to get into “21” these days?  Sometimes people are a little “reluctant” to enter the threshold of a famous place like “21.”  How do you crash through the “Iron Gates?”


I still have a greeter here named Shakir.  He’s been here for 38 years which is pretty remarkable in this business.  And I’ve been in this business for my entire life.  My cell phone is out there.  You can call me or my right-hand man Aaron.  Actually the only “name” you need to get in to “21” is your own.


Teddy Suric … are you glad to have your damn jockeys back? 


I love it … the Family is back!


Which is your favorite jockey?


My favorite jockey is probably … I’ll go with Secretariat! 


Once I’m reminded they had a charity in this very room up here on the second floor and famous designers decorated a jockey with their colors.  Like de la Renta did one.  Cartier did one.    I had a couple of them up in the country.  But my ex got one. 


I do remember that occasion.  It was for charity. I wasn’t here at the time, but I read up on my history of the jockeys.  And that was a great night.  One of several.


Why don’t you do that again?


We’ll try.  I’m trying to bring back a little bit of the good old times that used to make this place rock. 


How do you have to dress these days to get in this joint, this high class saloon?


A tie is not required.  We relaxed the tie requirement in 2009.  But a sports jacket is required.  No jeans in the bar room.  And in the lounge we actually relaxed it to “casual,” but neat.


Teddy, do you get a better table if you wear a tie?



No comment …!


Thank you Mr. General Manager.  The place looks great.  You’ve got 52nd Street buzzing tonight.  Your beloved jockeys are back!  It’s a true New York night …




William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues, and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America national charitable organization.  He is also a longtime director and member of the Executive Committee of the foundation. He has operated WVOX and WVIP, two of the last independent radio stations in the New York area, for 56 years as president and editorial director.
He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … and “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files,” released in January, 2011. He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, an anthology which will include this interview with Teddy Suric of the "21" Club. He is also completing a Reminiscence and tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo which will be published early in 2016.




Cindy Gallagher


Caryl Donnelly Plunkett

Caryl Donnelly Plunkett

 An Appreciation by

 William O’Shaughnessy

 September 11, 2015


I once received by U.S. postal service a letter from a William Plunkett, Esquire. As I usually do not open letters from practitioners or solicitors of the Law, I did not rush to retrieve said missive from Plunkett, Esquire. “You’d better open it,” said Cindy Hall Gallagher, amanuensis without whom my life would resemble a seven car pile-up.

Mercifully lacking any of the usual bad news conveyed by your typical lawyer’s letter, I found instead a very nice note from this Mr. Plunkett, Esquire complimenting us on a tribute we had broadcast over the radio airwaves. He called it a “eulogy.”

Now as I do not like to do eulogies or even think about them, I quickly deposited the compliment in our very thin “nice letters” file which in bulk, depth and volume, pales in comparison to our “not so nice letters” file which after some 50 years is fairly bursting out of the file cabinets.

When he wrote his gracious note some years ago, I’m quite certain William Plunkett never anticipated that I would one day take pen in clumsy hand and sit over a pad with lines across it onto which I must now write words and later speak them into a radio microphone about the passing of one Caryl Donnelly Plunkett who died earlier this week after some 70 years as the matriarch of a powerful and influential New York and Connecticut family. She was his wife, this Caryl Donnelly Plunkett.

All of this must be told on this particular radio station because Caryl and her husband Bill Plunkett, barrister, lived together for many years in Tarrytown, in Sleepy Hollow country, where they were neighbors of the Rockefellers and patrons of Historic Hudson Valley and Phelps Hospital.

Our colleagues in the public press and especially our friends at Page Six always refer to Caryl Donnelly’s surviving husband Bill as a “power broker” and “king-maker.” On the morning after the worst night of his life when Mario Cuomo lost to George Pataki, Mario Cuomo was on the phone “Do you know the Plunketts?”

Plunkett, you see, took a law firm once called Plunkett & Jaffe and built it into a legal and lobbying powerhouse with lines into the Executive Mansion and the New York State Legislature in Albany. This occurred when one of his junior partners George Elmer Pataki became governor and another partner – the estimable John Cahill – started thinking about running for attorney general. It was also at this time that a daughter of Caryl Donnelly and William Plunkett advised governors of Connecticut on judgeships. One of the firm’s clients owns a big chunk of Ground Zero real estate and their children are making their mark in law enforcement, real estate and high finance. And a son-in-law who practically ran the Justice Department in Washington, may one day be a governor of Connecticut. But this is about Caryl Donnelly Plunkett who left us just before the current, sad September weekend.

And if you lay the appellation “power broker” on her famous husband you have to also acknowledge that Miss Donnelly was very much The Power behind the kingmaker. They especially know of her standing and stature up in the Litchfield hills of Connecticut where this amazing Caryl Plunkett was identified as one of the fabled Donnelly girls of Bantam Lake where the Plunketts summered each year before life turned sad and difficult as she battled the cancer that took her a few days ago.

A man named Jim Lamond walked out of Murphy’s Pharmacy this morning with his fancy dog and the daily newspapers with tears in his eyes after being told of Caryl Donnelly’s passing. And Mark Murphy, an affable, gregarious townie who, with his sister Marla runs this old-fashioned family drug store, went suddenly silent. And Father Robert Tucker, the charismatic, most colorful pastor of Saint Anthony’s, the Roman church in the little town, was on the phone requesting prayers for Mrs. Plunkett. In his most direct manner and completely typical way, the priest Tucker even directed an Irish broadcaster to weigh in with prayers.

“Look … I’m desperate … I’ve even got to ask you, O’Shaughnessy. This was a special person. Start praying.” As Tucker is a “Three Hail Mary’s for a homicide” priest and known in these parts as “The God-Father,” I quickly mumbled some prayers for all the good they will do.

Timothy Dolan, the Cardinal archbishop of New York will have more to say and do it much more artfully and gracefully than I am able at 1:30 Monday in the Cathedral of Saint Patrick in New York City.

It is almost certain he will speak of her influence “behind the scenes.” I know, I know preachers have spoken for years about women who were “powers behind the throne.” They struggle to find a way to exalt and memorialize a woman’s standing and stature in marriages and in our midst. They do this with many words and elegant paragraphs. I don’t struggle with this refrain. I have just two words to sum up the category: Caryl Plunkett.

Dolan will speak to those assembled of the clout of the Plunkett family and of Caryl’s personal dynamism, energy and effervescence. And Timothy Dolan will then look out in the great cathedral on Fifth Avenue and acknowledge her generosity of purse and spirit and recite how much she did for Catholic charities, hospitals, religious orders and high schools in his care and keeping. This will take some time.

One can expect His Eminence will also speak of Miss Donnelly-Plunkett’s bravery and courage as she checked in and out of hospitals all up and down the East Coast as she refused to yield to the killer that pursued her for almost 10 years. At the Sloan-Kettering hospital where they daily battle this lethal stuff, she was known as “Lazarus.” The priest Dolan, who slipped into Sloan-Kettering earlier this week without staff and miter or the trappings of his high Roman office to whisper prayers into Caryl Plunkett’s ear won’t have to work too hard to get this particular dame into Heaven.

And then, on Tuesday, up in Litchfield, the aforementioned old country priest Robert Tucker will say final prayers over the woman as she is laid to rest.

She was a high church lady who presided over a family that rivaled the Maras and Rooneys and she was a Dame of Malta, the fabled international Catholic charitable organization.

Mrs. Plunkett had homes in Westchester, Connecticut, the Carolinas and Florida and she was known on the Sleepy Hollow fairway overlooking the Hudson River. Such disparate types as Paul Tagliabue and Senator Lamar Alexander would take a Plunkett call in every season.

Caryl Donnelly Plunkett leaves two daughters, many sons, a whole posse of grandchildren.    And that one husband.

The goodness and marvelous spirit of the woman will inspire them – and all of us – for a good long time.

I hate eulogies …

“Those People”

Donald Trump’s unfortunate remarks about Mexicans took us back a few months to a very unsettling piece in the Westchester daily newspaper about some dedicated, hard-working employees of the American Yacht Club in Rye who were let go following a surprise visit to the club by Homeland Security.  Most of them were Mexicans who have been in this country for a good, long time.

I know many of these foreign born and their sad story really set me to thinking about all the essential contributions immigrants – “legal” or otherwise – make in our lives.

But it must first be here noted that Barack H. Obama, the particular individual who is the current president of the United States of America has deported more aliens than any previous inhabitant of the White House.  And be advised as well that in certain rarified parts of Westchester and in our better neighborhoods they are referred to as “those people.” 

Here is what “those people” do for us just to earn a living.  They cook our meals,  set our tables, wash our dishes, scrub our floors, haul away our trash and garbage, weed our gardens, plant our flowers, cut our grass in the spring, rake our leaves in the fall, shovel our sidewalks and plow our driveways in the winter, iron our shirts, wash our laundry, clean our toilets, style our hair, cut our toenails and buff our fingernails, baby-sit and pick up after our kids (and our pets), walk our dogs, fumigate our houses, tote our bales, shine our shoes, sell us Lottery tickets, drive our school buses, sow and harvest our fields, grow our vegetables, muck our stalls, cobble our shoes, tend our vineyards, sweep our streets, paint our fences, pick up our litter, gas up, wash and fix our cars, repair our roofs, shoe our horses, carry our heavy, leather golf bags across hot Westchester fairways, manicure the greens at our fancy country clubs, haul boats at our yacht clubs, hoist our banners and club burgees, move our furniture, play in our orchestras, mend our clothes, sew our buttons, empty our bedpans, push our wheelchairs,  dig our graves, flip our pizzas, butter and schmear our bagels, stir our cocktails and pour our drinks, make our beds, park our cars, stack our plates and bus our tables …

In addition to the above-mentioned “services” which they daily provide, “those people” also enrich our culture and our lives.

All of which brings a stunning flash of Déjà vu. 

Because we’ve been there.

And done that … when it was the Irish and Italians who attended to all these most necessary things. 

It was not … too … long … ago.

This is a WVOX and WVIP commentary. 

This is Bill O’Shaughnessy.


The Contender

A WVOX and WVIP Commentary
by William O’Shaughnessy
March 26, 2015

The brilliant Vanity Fair contributor Michael Shnayerson has written a much heralded book The Contender about Andrew Cuomo which comes out next week.

Everyone awaits Mr. Snayerson’s findings re:  the Governor.  Meanwhile, here are some lovely recent descriptions of New York State’s chief executive compliments of the local media:

Andrew Mark Cuomo is tough, blunt, obsessive, intense, driven, ambitious, dour, controlled, controlling, impatient, abrupt, cantankerous, inscrutable, difficult, brittle, sensitive, formidable, aggressive, self-confident, pragmatic, competitive, tense, distant, acerbic, fixated, reclusive, private, combative, workmanlike, prodigious, relentless, goal-oriented, tactically astute, strategically brilliant, mechanical, adept at stagecraft, sharp-elbowed, parochial, not cosmic, centrist, business-like, strong, does whatever it takes, makes it happen, disdains rhetoric, prizes results, honest (per Mario himself) and straight as they come (also per Mario), bright, powerful, effective, taut, dynamic, suspicious, guarded and shrewd.

As you may have noticed, Andrew Cuomo has been called All of The Above by our colleagues in the public press.

But to all of these descriptions and appellations must fairly be added:  brave and courageous (as witness his fracking ban … tough gun control laws … same sex marriage … reining in the teachers unions … property tax freeze … estate tax reduction).

And one thing more.  He is a son of Mario Cuomo.  And in his best moments, Andrew resembles Mario Cuomo and can inspire, motivate  and encourage … as he did so memorably,  gracefully and beautifully at his late father’s funeral             Mass in New York City.

No one knows the levers of government like Andrew. He’s a brilliant tactician.  And he’s had to be a tough guy to clean up the detritus left over from the Spitzer-Paterson era. 

But now … now he’s got to start to “reveal” more of himself as he did praying over his father in that Jesuit Church on Park Avenue on January 6th, 2015.

He’s come this far by being a no-nonsense, eminently practical, Clintonesque, mechanic.

But if he’s going to go beyond the sturm und drang and minutiae of governance here in New York State … he’s got to once more be Mario Cuomo’s son and heir.  He has that ability.

And like his father of sainted memory … Andrew can inspire.

He hears the music.  He’s got the stature, the cadence, the rhythm, the passion, the genes … if he will but give more of himself.

Andrew is great at the prose.

Now it’s time for some poetry.

And music …

He could yet be a president.  And a great one.



William O’Shaughnessy

WO Statement re: Hon. Ernie Davis Sentencing

“I know that – in the heat of the moment – he may have called our colleagues in the public press ‘gangsters’ …

But I remain convinced that Ernie Davis is a good, kind and decent man and that rare political figure who really cares about people.

Although the year of Probation will be a burden on this 76-year old man … it’s nothing at all compared to locking him up for the omissions and mistakes to which he pled. 

Judge Davison has rendered his decision with great wisdom and compassion.  And Mayor Davis’ friends and admirers – and I am among them – thank His Honor for his empathy and understanding in a very difficult case concerning, as the Judge found, ‘a first offender on two misdemeanor counts.’

Having observed Westchester and New York State public officials for over 50 years – I remain convinced that Ernie Davis is possessed of a great and good heart and a deep and abiding love for the people of his beloved Mount Vernon.

As I previously indicated to Judge Davison:  ‘I’ve constantly observed, with great sadness, that men and women of real quality will not submit to the rigors of public service. But there are exceptions like Ernie Davis’.”         



William O’Shaughnessy

914-235-3279     914-980-7003

Interview With Mario M. Cuomo re: Pope Benedict … the Catholic Church … his own life … Ed Koch … Mariano Rivera

The O'Shaughnessy Files...

William O’Shaughnessy

Interview With

Mario M. Cuomo


Re: Pope Benedict … the Catholic Church …

his own life … Ed Koch … Mariano Rivera


February 11, 2013

WVOX and WVIP Worldwide


“It would be wonderful if we could all get one more shot at it…to be given the opportunity to go back and do it over.”


No Pope has given up the miter or the keys to the kingdom in 600 years … but it happened this week.  Governor Mario Cuomo, you’re a great student of things theological and you’re a son of the Church … what do you think about the Pope walking away from it and hanging it up?



What the Pope did, it appears to me, was a practical, selfless, intelligent decision.  He is a man who has worked very hard for a long time.  He’s now concluded that…

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