An Appreciation of Jimmy Breslin

An Appreciation

of

Jimmy Breslin 

by

William O’Shaughnessy

March 20, 2017

He was the Dimaggio of a profession which included Pete Hamill, Nat Hentoff, Gay Talese, Mike Barnicle, Wayne Barrett, Nancy Q. Keefe, Phil Reisman, Denis Hamill, Peter Maas, David Hinckley, Jack Newfield, McCandlish Phillips, Dennis Duggan, Richard Reeves, Sam Roberts, Terry Golway, Mike Lupica, Malachy McCourt, Michael Daly, Nick Pileggi, Meyer “Mike” Berger and Jimmy Cannon of sainted memory who was the Mother Lode and inspired damn near everyone here mentioned to write with passion, conviction and honesty.

And, I’m sorry, but if we’re talking here about those who can maneuver words like Nelson Riddle arranged notes and put them into actual graceful sentences and then insert them in elegant paragraphs that fill entire pages that move people … I suggest that one Mario M. Cuomo, although he went to work each day as a politician and possessed a business card that said “Governor,” has to be included in this fraternity too. 

They were practitioners of a journalism that produced lean, strong, direct, muscular, unadorned, passionate, declarative, on-your-sleeve writing.  USA Today called it “simple, but stirring prose.  The New York Times referred to the product of Breslin’s genius as “narrative non-fiction.” By any name, it was sui generis:  unique and able to be defined only in his own terms.  So was he.

Breslin’s modus operandi:  after a sporting event or political race, don’t go to the winner in the spotlight … find the loser: That’s where the story is … at the locker room of the vanquished.

During my own 58 years at the microphone of this community radio station, many friends have caused their sons and heirs and their daughters too to seek our advice and counsel … making them repair to a white-haired broadcaster completely lacking in wisdom or good judgment and possessed only of a good Rolodex.

So as I sat majestically and all-knowing in high council in my office:  if a youngster wanted to spend his or her life in Law Enforcement, I would send them to Joseph Anthony Spinelli who once headed an FBI SWAT team and participated in seven shootouts as a federal lawman.  “Go see Spinelli.” And if the kid was any good, Spinelli would ring up the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation with instructions to “hire this guy.”

If a youngster liked show biz or the Theatre, I would send them forthwith to Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. And if government or Public Service was mentioned, I would ring up a failed baseball player with too many vowels in his name.  And Mario Cuomo, of sainted memory, would get the kid’s head filled with all sorts of crazy notions like “God didn’t finish creating the universe, that’s your job.”

If on occasion a young man or woman mentioned newspapers, journalism or broadcasting and seemed destined for the Columbia School of Journalism or the Newhouse School at Syracuse, I would reach over to my library and pull out a book, one of 16 written by Jimmy Breslin.  “Go home and read this … it’s all I know.  It’s all you need to know.  It’s everything you need to know.”  Sometimes I would also thrust a Jimmy Cannon book across the desk.

Many years ago before two busted marriages, I sat with the great Breslin at Costello’s bar which was near Grand Central and Saint Agnes Church where suburban Catholics go with their sins if they are too lazy to take a subway ride to the Garden and walk to 31st Street where the generous and forgiving Franciscans assess only three Hail Mary’s for anything up to a homicide.

Anyway, Breslin and I sat on this one long-ago afternoon in the smoky now-gone Costello’s midtown bar. Reaching way above my pay grade and for another Canadian Club, I told the greatest American journalist during our time that I loved his columns on Jack Kennedy and his brother Bobby and certainly the magnificent one he dispatched from London, in England, which was my favorite. “The pigeons were on the statue of Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square while a few blocks away, at Number 10 Downing Street, Sir Winston Spencer Churchill lay dying.  He was a man of beef and brandy and cigars and the last great statue of the English language.”

I told the great Breslin that although I most certainly loved all the iconic columns describing the Kennedys and Mr. Churchill, he had recently taken to writing about guys named Ramon and Jose and Pedro and I gently suggested he might return to the “mythic” figures abroad in the land.  “Who’s to write about …?”, said Breslin. And then he went out into the night to write of a Queens neighbor named Mario M. Cuomo.

They teach Breslin in “J” school at Columbia, NYU, Hofstra and Ithaca which cite his legendary piece about the gravedigger who made $3.01 to dig a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy who, in an earlier sad November day some 55 years ago, had his brains blown out in Dallas, in Texas. 

It was a great piece of writing. But the Churchill piece stays with me because I am well aware that, with the encouragement or forbearance of the Jesuits, I have written some six books, anthologies which contain pages of sentences containing many words, not any of which would permit me to loose the strap on Jimmy Breslin’s sandal. 

He did to a typewriter and yellow legal pads, and later to a computer, what Michael Jordan did to a basketball and Sinatra did in a recording studio to Cole Porter lyrics.

He would take words and put them in strong, passionate, muscular sentences that caused Mario Cuomo to tell people “Nobody can describe a scene like Breslin.”

Jimmy Breslin’s final, personal “30” comes at a most inopportune time.  For it is 2017 and there is, abroad in the land, no Mario Cuomo to do Jimmy’s eulogy. So I guess the graceful lines Dan Barry wrote in Monday’s New York Times will have to do.  These words leap out from among all the many written every day in our beloved Times which exhausts itself trying to find ways to tell just how awful President Donald John Trump is. Here are those beautiful words said of Breslin in our most important newspaper which survives him and will survive Trump. 

“Jimmy Breslin, the New York City newspaper columnist and best-selling author who levelled the powerful and elevated the powerless for more than 50 years with brick-hard words and a jagged-glasses wit, died on Sunday in his home in Manhattan.  He was 88, and until very recently was still pushing somebody’s buttons with two-finger jabs at his keyboard.  Love him or loathe him, none could deny Mr. Breslin’s enduring impact on the craft of narrative nonfiction. At the same time, Mr. Breslin was unmatched in his attention to the poor and disenfranchised.  If there is one hero in the Breslin canon, it is the single black mother, far removed from power, trying to make it through the week.”

I can’t do better this sad morning than Dan Barry who had some help from Jim Dwyer and Richard Goldstein in the Times.

In the hours since James Earl Breslin left us, many other lovely, admiring pieces have been written in all the journals of the land about just how special Jimmy Breslin really was.

There were quite wonderful and graceful tributes from Jim Rutenberg, Jim Dwyer, Dan Barry, Sean Patrick Farrell and Richard Goldstein of The New York Times … Kevin McCoy, John Bacon and Adam Shell of USA Today … Jason Silverstein, Arthur Browne and Josh Greenman of the Daily News … Christopher Bonanos of New York Magazine …  Verna Dobnik and David Bauder of AP … Joe Mahoney in upstate papers … Tom Allon of City & State … Michael “Lionel” Lebron, Phil Reisman and Sarah Fagan Greenberg on Facebook … Paul Duggan of The Washington Post … Mark Moore and Joe Marino of the New York Post … and Debby Krenek and Michael O’Keeffe of Newsday.

But who, I wonder, will come into a funeral home or stand up in a Roman church this week to speak a eulogy of Jimmy Breslin? There really was only one equal to the sad task: Jimmy’s old sparring partner and dear friend Mr. Cuomo, who himself departed on January 1, 2015.

So now lacking the eloquence and presence of his friend, the Gov, to define and celebrate Breslin, we are left with just these gracious remarks Mario put together for the 60th anniversary of Jimmy’s career in journalism organized by Pete Hamill.

I’m not eager to go out to events at night.  Like a lot of other people, my day’s work is sufficiently challenging to make me look forward to quiet evenings at home.  It takes a really good reason to get me out, so when Pete Hamill called and told me that on December 7th there would be an event at night to honor Jimmy for his sixty years as a writer, I wanted to be sure it was real.

I asked Pete … “Does Jimmy know?”  And he said, “Yeah, he’s all for it.”

At first it didn’t sound right to me.  Jimmy didn’t even celebrate sixty years of being alive, so why would he be eager to celebrate sixty years as a writer?

Logic gave me a quick answer.  “Just being alive meant a lot less to Jimmy than being alive and writing.

That’s the way it is with truly gifted people like him.  Writers will remind you this evening of his Pulitzer and a wall full of other significant honors over the years acknowledging his unique and vibrant writing skills.  As a reporter he became the uncommon voice of the common man with his uncanny ability to find in newsworthy events, details that made the events more meaningful to the people of New York’s boroughs and millions of other people like them.  Interviewing the gravedigger at John F. Kennedy’s burial is a good example.  The writers will remind you how he could make people smile, or laugh out loud when they bring back some of Jimmy’s inimitable descriptions of hapless ballplayers, second-rate mobsters and third-rate politicians, or reintroduce you to “Fat Thomas” and “Robert J. Allen.”

There may even be a tear-or-two if someone chooses to read from “Short, Sweet Life of Edward Gutierrez,” or parts of “World Without End, Amen.”

But no matter how many bits of Breslin inspiration are shared this evening, they will amount to only light hints of the immense amount of great writing he has done in his uniquely long, productive and heralded career.  Think of it:  he still works every day … writing or thinking about writing and he has done it for sixty years – nearly 22,000 days and nights – except for the short hiatus when doctors were forced to drill a hole in his head to let out of his congested brain some of his unused lines.  Then … he wrote a book about it!

That’s a lot of “Jim Breslin Writing” to cover in a single night of celebration.  And the challenge is even greater because, as Pete has pointed out – there are really at “least two Jim Breslins.”  One “Breslin” is the public person, Writer, Raconteur and Celebrity figure.

The other is the private guy from Queens when he’s not on the stage or on the screen but is himself, on the phone or having an otherwise quiet dinner, explaining to you the world and it’s various dysfunctionalties.  And excoriating those who are responsible for the disorder, by creating it or by not doing enough to fix it … that often includes the people he’s talking to at the moment.

That’s when he’s just “Jimmy” and that’s the way I know him best and have for more than forty years.

I met him when I was a youngish lawyer trying to help sixty-nine barely middle-class homeowners in Corona, Queens, save their homes from a Mayor who was about to condemn them to accommodate t he builder of a huge housing complex.

They couldn’t afford a big law firm and I was neither prestigious nor politically influential, so the sixty-nine would probably have lost their homes if Jimmy hadn’t gotten involved.  He came to a meeting of the group, did some research then wrote a long story and some short ones, and talked to some influential people at City Hall.  He convinced them the Mayor was wrong and the sixty-nine stayed in their homes.  That was Jimmy at his best and it led to a friendship that has survived all the years since then.  Good days and hard days.  Days when we enjoyed some lucky breaks and other days when we got hit by tragedies.

And most of the real tragedies were on Jimmy’s side of the relationship.  Heavy, heavy blows that would have left me and most people crippled and helpless.

But not Jimmy.

It had to be hard for him for sure, but Jimmy just kept writing.  He had to!  His world was too big, too complex, too filled with great characters.  There were too many great stories that needed telling and retelling.  And there were too many big problems that needed solving!

There still are!  As there have been for sixty years:  nearly 22,000 nights and days!

# # #

Almost every morning before he goes to his typewriter, he’ll call one of his many friends to describe some of the problems …

As war we should be ending, a healthcare bill we need to pass.  I can hear him now, “Did you see the first page of the Times?  Food stamps are back!  Food stamps … and they say the recession is over!  What are you doing about it?  Write a damn letter!  Call somebody – some big shot.  You must know someone!  Tell them about the abused immigrants and the abusive landlords, the crooked politicians and the bad priests.

# # #

Every morning Jimmy has a bowl of oatmeal:  and his outrage.

And I suspect that’s the way it will always be.  He won’t ever stop thinking about the world he lives in and writing about it.

Why?

Because way down deep “Jimmy” is a believer.

He will argue with the priests of his Church, but he knows the God they are supposed to be working for has given him a personal gift.  A gift that is given to only a few.

And he will not offend his God by not using that gift.  And he will use it until there are no more stories to tell nor problems to solve.

Thank you Jimmy.  Keep going!

He leaves a profession which is fast becoming a “Between you and I” industry as he once called it even before the bimbos – male and female – attempted to speak the English language from teleprompters in every television studio in the land.

One more memory of Breslin stays.  It came out of an afternoon on the West Side when John Hay Whitney and Walter Nelson Thayer came to shut down for all time to come a magnificent newspaper called the Herald Tribune which had been founded by Horace Greeley.  As many at the “wake” for the paper crowded around Walter “Red” Smith, the Trib’s iconic sportswriter who sat on the edge of a desk with a shaky hand trying to light a cigarette, there was Breslin over in a corner with the cleaning women trying to put together a story which survives in one of his books.

 

Breslin wrote 16 books including:

 

“Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?”

“World of Jimmy Breslin”

“World Without End.  Amen”

“Forsaking All Others”

“I Want To Thank My Brain for Remembering Me”

“Damon Runyon:  A Life”

“The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutierrez”

“The Church That Forgot Christ”

“Branch Rickey”

“The Good Rat

“The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight”

But he once told me that “Christ In Concrete” a long out-of-print book by an obscure Long Island writer Pietro DiDonato was “the greatest novel ever written.”  Breslin would know.

Dying is something you have to do all by yourself.

It’s a solo act.  There are no accomplices, compadres, colleagues or cohorts to accompany you. But James Earl Breslin was attended by several marvelous and unforgettable characters: (some real, some imagined, all magnificent) Marvin the Torch, the loveable arsonist … Fat Thomas, the bumbling bookie … Klein, the love-struck lawyer … Un Occhio, the scary mob boss who ran a candy store and kept a wolf behind the counter … Shelly, the bail bondsman who was a sucker for a sentimental song … and Pep Maguire, saloonkeeper in Queens.

So I idolized the guy.  I’m not sure he returned the favor.  At a dinner one night he announced “Forget the swell way he dresses.  You have to like O’Shaughnessy … he does so much for the poor of Mamaroneck!”

That’s not so bad, I guess … ?

 

 

 

 

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, the 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 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, another anthology. He has also completed “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo which has just been published. 

 

 

Contact

Cindy Gallagher

914-235-3279

cindy@wvox.com

 

 

Iona College vs. City Hall

Iona College vs. City Hall
A WVOX Commentary
by William O’Shaughnessy, Editorial Director
March 8, 2017

 

This morning … a word about Iona, Iona College.  In fact, I’ll offer several words on the subject, if you’ll allow me. First off: congratulations to the Gaels for making the NCAA Tournament. And you can be sure we’re cheering for Iona as they present themselves on the basketball court against the best in the country.  So much for Sports this morning … 

That’s an easy call.  And we really do wish them well.  Speaking of which: we’re capable of no such inclination concerning Iona’s zoning contretemps with the City of New Rochelle which has now resulted, as we’ve heard, in an ill-considered lawsuit filed by our own hometown college against our own City of New Rochelle.

In every telling and by every account, the Court filing unleashed by Iona has a mean-spirited odor to it in which Iona accuses the City of New Rochelle’s corporation counsel of violating ethical codes among other things. 

Especially troublesome to admirers of the College – and we are among them – are reports that Iona has threatened during negotiations to “embarrass” City Hall staffers and put them in an “uncomfortable” position. 

The legal strike against New Rochelle’s corporation counsel is really an attack on the stewardship of the present city manager and that gives us great concern.  New Rochelle has one of the best city managers in America, Charles Bowman Strome. He is really the chief operating officer of our municipality.

We have considerable admiration for Chuck Strome as he is widely-known. We’ve watched him grow in wisdom and age for several decades.  And thus please don’t hold it against him that he began his career in our city as the WVOX news director some 35 years ago. 

Not only is Strome adept at the tedious and demanding minutiae of governance … the rules and regs and jargon of municipal government … he also has a keen understanding and sensitivity to the uniqueness of the many disparate neighborhoods in our City. 

He is also skillful and adept at accommodating the egos of the present very “colorful” city council. It’s a tough job which also includes interpreting and sometimes “softening” the sharp-edged but often tone-deaf brilliance that cascades from the Mayor’s Office. 

We’ve said it before:  New Rochelle is sui generis which means it’s unique and able to be defined only in its own terms. 

As we see it, this whole current dust-up between Iona and the City is really, at its core, a neighborhood preservation issue. That’s the bottom line.  And we would urge Iona to take a deep breath and tone down the rhetoric in their attempt to merge, without any public input, those 11 lots which were once owned by the Christian Brothers.

The “conflict of interest” charge introduced by Iona is aimed at one Kathleen Gill who at various times worked for both the City and the College. She now serves as corporation counsel.  And the College apparently had no objection to Gill’s presence in the negotiations until she indicated that Iona was not above the law of the land, in this case, the zoning requirements.

We believe a good case can be made that the lawsuit is baseless and without merit and is in effect an attempt to promulgate and continue the threatening tone and rough tactics which Iona has been accused of displaying during recent negotiations with the City. 

We would surely welcome an opportunity to discuss this hot-button issue with college president – if he’s still the president –  Joseph Nyre who is on a very “unusual” one-year “sabbatical” … and there are thus real questions abroad in the land about just who is running the show at Iona these days. Dr. Nyre was never shy, we understand, about making his wishes known in the confines of City Hall on any matter involving the college.

But “sabbatical” or not, he has not at all been heard from in this unseemly dispute. The chairman of the current board of trustees is a very successful businessman – a billionaire – named Jim Hynes – and the vice chairman is the well-known and estimable lawyer David McCabe of the Willkie Farr and Gallagher white shoe law firm in Manhattan, which, incidentally, was Mario Cuomo’s old law firm. 

McCabe and Hynes are top-notch individuals and thus, one wonders, why they let this disagreement with the City escalate into personal attacks against the well-intentioned inhabitants of City Hall.

WVOX and the College go way back to the Brother Driscoll days and even before that.  But for your community radio station, ladies and gentlemen, there would have been a strip mall where the Murphy Science Center now sits … if WVOX had not intervened with the city council of the day. That was long, long ago. But not so long ago that any of us should forget how much Iona means to New Rochelle.  Thus we dislike – intensely – being on opposite sides of any proposition from the College which is an ornament and more than that – an icon – of our City.

This we know: there’s sure to be one hell of a ruckus in the City Council Chambers next Tuesday at 7:00PM when residents of Beechmont express their concern as well.

They’ll be singing the song of “Neighborhood Preservation.”

Theirs.  And yours as well.

This is a lot more than a little backyard zoning issue.

 

# # #

 

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, the 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 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, another anthology. He has also completed “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo which has just been published. 

 

 

Contact

Cindy Gallagher

914-235-3279

cindy@wvox.com

A Lamb, Smelly Shepherds and (Other Christmas Stories)


A Lamb, Smelly Shepherds

and

(Other Christmas Stories). 

Collected by William O’Shaughnessy

 

Another winter, another Christmas.  And every year the New York Daily News reprints a lovely and touching Christmas story about a little lamb who was placed in the manger to keep the Infant warm on a cold night in Bethlehem.  I look forward to it and admire its beauty and sweetness every year.  It was written by Karen Zautyk, a former member of the News editorial board.

O, little lamb, who made thee?

             by Karen Zautyk

lambIt was cold in the stable that night, and the animals were huddled together for warmth. The cows and the oxen and the donkeys.

And one little lamb.

Sad, scrawny little lamb, born lame and frail. Too frail to be out with the flock in the fields. The shepherds had carried it into the stable, where it would be safe from the wind and the wolves, for both the wolves and the wind came down from the hills with a fierceness in the wintertime.

The lamb had food and shelter, but that was not enough. It was lonely. Separated from its mother, it felt unloved. The other animals tried to be kind, but they had no time. During the day, they were busy working: The cows had milk to make, the oxen had earth to plow, and the donkeys had carts to pull.

At night, they were all very tired. They’d feed upon the fodder, and then go right to bed. None would talk, none would play. None would even sing a lullaby to a lamb that needed comfort. Every night the lamb would cry, and be told to hush, for its bleats disturbed their sleep.

Thus, that night, the lamb cried without making a sound, as it had learned to do. And it looked at the strangers who were sharing the stable. At the man, who held the woman’s hand and spoke to her so softly. And especially at the woman, who spoke not at all.

Huddled together, the animals slept, and eventually the lamb slept, too. And the night was silent.

But then, in the darkest hour, there was no more darkness and no more silence. There was the cry of a baby. And the stable shone with the brightest of lights and there were voices ringing in the air.

The animals, shaken from their dreams, were frightened. They stamped their hooves and tossed their heads and made their frightened-animal noises, but the light was so lovely and the voices so beautiful, it wasn’t long before they quieted and began to lose their fear.

And when the light had dimmed to a glow and the voices were only an echo, there in their manger, they saw the baby, and their eyes went wide with wonder.

The animals murmured but would not approach until the woman beckoned. Then, one by one, the beasts came forward. All, that is, except the lamb, which was only a baby itself and still terribly afraid. Forgotten by the others, it trembled in a corner and tried to hide beneath the hay.

But the baby in the manger was trembling, too. The cold of the night had returned, and the baby had started to shiver. When the animals saw this, they huddled closer about the crib.

The man took off his cloak and made a blanket of it, but the cloak was thin and threadbare and provided little warmth.

The woman held the baby to her breast. He shivered still, and she began to weep.

And the lamb, which knew what weeping meant, lifted itself from the hay. Though it was still afraid, it left its hiding place. It made its way among the legs of the bigger beasts, until it stood beside the woman, and it laid its head against her knee.

And the softest of hands reached down and stroked its wool.

And the gentlest of hands picked it up and tucked it into the manger straw, and tucked the baby in beside it, and covered them both with the cloak. The baby snuggled near, and smiled, and closed his eyes.

And the lamb was very glad it had learned to cry without making a sound. Because it was crying now and didn’t want to wake the child.

But the lamb wasn’t crying because it was sad. It was crying because, at last, it didn’t feel alone. Or afraid. Or unloved.

Then the lamb closed its eyes, too. And the woman sang a lullaby.

# # #

The Holy Season

When I start to feel overwhelmed by the “commercial” Christmas I also resort every year to two stunning descriptions of that night in Bethlehem.  One by Monsignor Ed Connors and another by Father John O’Brien.  They’re both gone now.  But their vivid recitations live on in memory … and in two of my previous books.  Father Connors, as he preferred to be called, and Father O’Brien, both retired with the gift.  I hope my friends won’t mind if I recycle their genius one more time.  

Has there ever been more powerful and beautiful recountings of the events of that sacred night so long ago that changed everything?  Well, I guess there was one … in a Book by a man named Luke.

But I can’t forget how the priest Ed Connors described it from the pulpit one Christmas Eve in 1993 in a Westchester church.

                                                                                               W.O.

 

The Star and The Smelly Shepherds

“I listened to a Jerome Kern lyric ‘I told every little star,’ and I wondered about that One Star, the Star of Bethlehem.

God is often not the God we expect him to be.  He came in poverty and weakness and in suffering, attended only by smelly shepherds.

This Christ, I tell you, is not what we expected. We find Him not in a palace, but in a cave. He comes not as a warrior king, but as a tiny, powerless infant. He is a strange kind of king who now has a manger and, one day, a cross for his throne.

 

When the song of angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the real work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoners, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers … to make music with the heart.”

                                   Monsignor Edward M. Connors, 1993

   

# # #

 

“For He would rather

die than live in eternity

without us …”

A Priest’s Last Sermon.

Before he left us in 2009, Father John O’Brien, the pastor of St. Pius X Church in Scarsdale, sat at his desk in the warm 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 a few years ago 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!

# # #

And one more …

… Christmas story, this from a failed baseball player with too many vowels in his name … who I miss every day.

Christmas Love

No word is more discussed, written about, thought about or misunderstood.

Everyone seeks it, and when it’s found, it makes everything else seem no longer worth seeking.

It costs nothing to give and it can’t be bought.

It’s best when graciously received and then passed on.

It brings with it warm smiles, deep contentment – sometimes tears of joy – and even a sense of justification.

Wise men analyze it; poets romanticize it, but no one improves upon it.

Our word for it is “love.”

Some of us believe it was personified nearly two thousand years ago in a manger, in a stable, far from here.

Others see it embodied in other symbols and other events.

Almost all of us celebrate festivals to it at this time of year.  In doing so we are reminded how good a whole year could be – if only we were wiser.

— Mario M. Cuomo

 

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, the 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 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, another anthology which will include this Christmas piece “The Smelly Shepherds and Other Christmas Stories.” He has also completed “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo which has just been published to favorable early reviews. 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher

WVOX and WVIP

914-235-3279 cindy@wvox.com

Cuomo Book/Barnes & Noble

Here’s an idea for holiday gift giving.  Our friends at Barnes and Noble have just re-ordered William O’Shaughnessy’s highly praised new book “Mario Cuomo: Remembrances of a Remarkable Man!”  It’s not due out until January … but you can order it right now for immediate delivery from barnesandnoble.com.  Bill O’Shaughnessy’s new Mario Cuomo book gives readers a deeply personal, behind-the-scenes look at the late Democratic icon, one of the most articulate and graceful men of the 20th century!  Early reviews call “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man” “a loving tribute to a magnificent political figure whose words and example continue to inform the conscience of our nation.”  Vice President Joe Biden said: “The minute I saw Mario Cuomo … I knew he was better than I was.”  And Tony Bennett said: “I’ve sung for five presidents … but Mario Cuomo is the greatest man I ever met!” Due next month from Whitney Media Publishing Group and distributed worldwide by Fordham University Press and Oxford. But available immediately thanks to BarnesandNoble.com: Mario Cuomo: “Remembrances of a Remarkable Man” by William O’Shaughnessy!   A great book about a great man.

WO Interview with Jim Lowe

 

In the halcyon sixties, WNEW ruled the airwaves in New York with its classy stable of disc jockeys including the great William B. Williams, who presided over the “Make-Believe Ballroom”; Klavan & Finch; Ted Brown; Pete Myers; Big Wilson; Art Ford; Dick Sheppard; Bob Haymes; Lonnie Starr; and Jack Lazare, host of the “Milkman’s Matinee.” And one more. The gifted songwriter Jim Lowe, author of the novelty megahit “Green Door,” was a member in good standing of that august group. Today all but one of those marvelous voices are silent. Only Jim Lowe remains on the radio. The delightful old song-and-dance man has cobbled together a small network of stations that still play classic American popular songs. In the New York area the “Jim Lowe Show” can be heard on WVOX and WRTN.

 

William O’Shaughnessy:  Once upon a time, there was a radio station called WNEW. Variety called it “the best sound coming out of radio in America today.” That was so many years ago.  Most of those WNEW voices have been stilled and are long silent. All but one. And he’s with us and still making beautiful music: the legendary Jim Lowe.

 

Jim Lowe:  Gee, after that buildup, I was hoping it would be me! Thank you, you old spotted dog! Good to be with you again, O’Shaughnessy.

 

WO: Jim Lowe, I have been a fan of yours since the day you left WNBC. You were doing weekends there and came to the mighty WNEW of sainted memory, and, as I recall, I ran into John Van Buren Sullivan’s big corner office and I said, “My God, isn’t he sensational?!?”

 

JL:   An unsolicited testimonial there—even then you knew! I had been doing one to four in the afternoon, Monday through Friday on WNBC, now the FAN. And then “Monitor” on the weekends on NBC Radio. So I came to WNEW in 1964.

 

WO: Do you remember John Van Buren Sullivan? He lived right down the road apiece, in Larchmont.

 

JL:   Oh, God, yes. As a matter of fact, he was very instrumental in my coming to WNEW.

 

WO: What was it like then at WNEW, in the glory days?

 

JL:  Bill, I’ve always said I think the four most important radio stations in the country, in the big days, were WNEW, WGN in Chicago, KMOX in St. Louis, and WSM, Nashville.

 

WO: You mentioned WGN. I just got a note the other day from Ward Quaal. Now there’s a legend! He had five secretaries and he ran this big Mid-west radio station which had its own official sign on a federal highway indicating their studios!

 

JL:   I worked in Chicago radio for four years, but not there. I was at WBBM (CBS) and at NBC, WMAQ.

 

WO: Jim Lowe, your big record was—

 

JL:   Green Door.

 

WO: You’re still making money on that, aren’t you?

 

JL:   I am temporarily between hits, Bill!

 

WO: You’re nice to visit with us in the Golden Apple, in Westchester. You live like a baron out in East Hampton, I’m told.

JL:   Well, maybe a baronet! I love it out there. I’ve had my house for thirty years. First it was weekends and then when I left WNEW I moved out full time.

 

WO: Neal Travis, of the Post, and Jim Brady, all the great writers, say you maintain a salon of all the musicians and writers who come by your place.

 

JL:   Well, there are a lot of people in the same boat I’m in, sort of semiretired people in the media. You know most of them: in communications, Jack Whitaker, the sportscaster, is a dear friend; and ex-movie directors like Anthony Harvey, who directed The Lion in Winter; Shana Alexander, and a whole passel of widows like Gloria Jones, James Jones’s widow; and Tee Adams, with whom I spoke last night, Charles Adams’s widow. As a matter of fact, I call my car the Widow Wagon!

 

WO: Jim Lowe, didn’t you just have somebody get knocked off out there in the fancy Hamptons?

 

JL:  People keep saying, “Did you ever meet him?” I had never heard of the guy before. But boy, he’s all over every paper now, and radio station, too. Never met him—

 

WO: But the fancy folks in the Hamptons say, “It never happens here, dear boy.”

 

JL:   Well, to my knowledge it’s the first murder that ever occurred out there. And the many years I’ve been out there we’ve had a few, oh, little “scenes” and “vignettes” here and there, but nothing like this.

 

WO: Jim Lowe, you don’t have to answer this, but I am dying to know how old you are.

 

JL:   Well, let’s put it this way: I’m thirty-seven. But I am playing the back nine now! And if I were on the back nine, I’d be about, say, on the fourteenth hole!

 

WO: You are still on the radio. We’re proud that WRTN and WVOX carry “The Jim Lowe Show,” a weekly program, and you’ve cobbled together your own mini network. How many stations have you got “The Jim Lowe Show” on?

 

JL:  Thirty-eight, Bill, maybe forty by now. We are in quite a few stations in the New York area. By the way, your station has a great signal. I get you going back out to East Hampton, all the way well into Suffolk County.

 

WO:  Are you in Springfield, Missouri, your old hometown?

 

JL:   Yes, I am! I am happy to say that I am in the “Paris of the Ozarks,” on the “Gentle Giant,” KTXR, and they play me at eleven on Sunday morning and eleven on Sunday night. As a matter of fact, I was home for an illness in the family, and it was about ten-forty-five at night. I couldn’t get to sleep, and I thought, Wait a minute, I think I’m on the air at eleven o’clock here in my hometown. And I turned the radio on and there I was babbling, away.

 

WO:  A lot of musical greats came from that damn place, Missouri. Hugh Shannon came from De Soto. What is it about the water out there?

 

JL:   Well, there’s something in the water, I guess. When I left the station at home, KWTO—“Keep Watching the Ozarks”—Chet Atkins and the Carter family were coming in, and Red Foley came in a year or so after that. It was a big not only country but pop station, too, back in the live days of radio.

 

WO: You used to call your hometown, your home heath, “the Paris of the Ozarks.” And what did you call your friends? You old—

 

JL:  Spotted dog! I don’t know why I hit upon that, it just had a friendly sound to it, a spotted dog!

 

WO: Say it again. You old—

 

JL:   You old spotted dog!

 

WO: Jim Lowe, who are some of the great singers around today? We lost the great Sinatra, we’ve lost Fred Astaire and Nat Cole.

 

JL:   Well, we can’t afford to lose too many more, Bill. Of those still out there, I love Ray Charles. Jack Jones is still around. A lot of younger singers are coming up, like John Pizzarelli, a great stylist, and there are still purveyors of our kind of music. I think it’s very important, and I salute you here at WVOX and WRTN for keeping our music alive. It’s my contention, Bill, that thirty years from now you’ll hear more of  what I lovingly call our kind of music.

 

WO: Jim, there are disc jockeys who are just disc jockeys, but you’re also a musician and a composer as well. Tell me what made Sinatra great, and Astaire, and Nat Cole. Why do we still love their music?

 

JL:   Well, I was listening on your station, WRTN, a little while ago, to a Sinatra performance at Las Vegas, and it hit me anew. Here was a guy who was not only the great singer of our time but also a wonderful raconteur. He had a great rapport with the audience. It transcended singing. He was a spirit, a persona, I guess.

 

WO:  Was he a nice man? Did you know Sinatra?

 

JL:   Yes, I did know him. As a matter of fact, he called me on my birthday at WNEW—this must have been 1981-’82—and he said, “Hey, Jim. Sinatra here. Happy Birthday.” I said, “Hold it. Hold it. Would you do that on the air?” He said, “Sure.” So I punched him up and he sang it to me. And guess what? I lost the tape! Yes, I did know him. As everybody, I guess, knows, he had two sides. He was on the one hand a wonderful, wonderful human being—warm, caring, he took care of a lot of people, like Mabel Mercer, and he helped take care of Bob Eberly, who was a great singer. He was with Jimmy Dorsey. He did “Tangerine,” all those things. As a matter of fact, Sinatra left the Tommy Dorsey Band in ’42, earlier than he wanted to, because he had heard that Bob Eberly was leaving Jimmy Dorsey. That’s how popular Bob Eberly was. Sinatra helped take care of Bob Eberly. And Bob told me the most astounding thing. He said, “I never met him.” I said, “I can’t believe this,” because they were like running 1 and 2, 2 and 1, back in those days. But then I got to thinking, in those days maybe Jimmy Dorsey was up here at Glen Island Casino, maybe Tommy was at the Astor Roof, so I guess it’s possible. Bob said it was true. But anyway, Sinatra helped take care of him.

 

WO: Reminiscing with Jim Lowe, who hails from Springfield, Missouri, the “Paris of the Ozarks,” and we’re talking about the old days at WNEW of halcyon memory. Your new show, “The Jim Lowe Show,” appropriately named, comes each week from the Museum of Broadcasting, right down near CBS in Manhattan. You pack them in there!

 

JL:  Well, because of the guests we have. And I think the most prominent guest—granted, he’s not a singer or musician—you brought to us personally, and that, of course, was Mario Cuomo. You even came down there that day, Bill, for a cameo.

 

WO: He’s a singer. Don’t let Cuomo fool you. He’ll get your head crazy. Can he carry a tune?

 

JL:   Can he carry a tune? I hope so, because he sure knows a lot about our kind of music.

 

WO: You and Mario Cuomo were talking about favorite songs, and I remember he mentioned “Stranger in Paradise” and “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” What’s your favorite song? When you sit out there in the Hamptons and go over to that record player, what do you put on?

 

JL:   One time about fifteen, twenty years ago, on WNEW, I said, “Tomorrow I am going to devote the entire four hours to my forty favorite songs of all time.” And I knew I was doing ten an hour. I got off the air and said, “Oh, my God, I left out ‘Sophisticated Lady!’” So I really can’t name one song. I could name a composer, Jerome Kern, as my favorite. He wrote, I think, the greatest of all American popular songs: “All the Things You Are.” He also wrote “Showboat” and “Roberta.” But my favorite lyricist was a guy that he worked with only once, Johnny Mercer. They did a movie together in 1942 called You Were Never Lovelier.

 

WO:  How does that go? Do you remember?

 

JL:   “You were never lovelier. You were never so fair.” It’s early in the morning for my voice, O’Shaughnessy.

 

WO:  So Mercer was the greatest lyricist.

 

JL:   Yes, I think he was, because he could do it all. He could do great ballads. He could do rhythm songs. His lyrics had a great sense of humor. And, speaking of characters, there was a character! Fabulous human being. Unfortunately he had a little problem when he was drinking. Not that drinking itself is a problem. But John tended to be a Jekyll and Hyde.

 

WO:  Didn’t he run Capitol Records?

 

JL:    Yes. There is a case to be made that he is the “Florentine” man of all American popular music, because not only was he this great lyricist, he could also be a composer, as in the case of “Dream” “That’s the thing to do.” But he started Capitol Records with Buddy DeSilva, and also, during and after the Second World War, he was a prominent vocalist, a record-seller himself. He had a lot of big hits.

 

WO: You play the piano. When you sit astride that Steinway, what songs do you like to play? What are some great melodies, Jim Lowe?

 

JL:    Well, I like the stuff that Jimmy Van Heusen wrote. Things that move along in sort of a swingy style. I like Van Heusen, Kern. And I like all the giants: Gershwin, Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter. Oh, Cole Porter you could talk about for the rest of your life!

 

WO:  What’s your favorite Cole Porter song?

 

JL:   I think probably “Night and Day.” It was his best song. As a matter of fact, he always said it was.

 

WO: “Night and Day” goes.

 

JL:   “Night and day, you are the one. Only you, beneath the moon and under the sun.” But he always said that song really ruined him, because it came so early in his career, in 1931, and he realized he could never top it. He wrote some great, great songs after that, of course, but it’s just almost the perfect song.

 

WO:  How about “I Get a Kick out of You”?

 

JL:   Oh, I love it, too.

 

WO: Or “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”?

 

JL:   “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is sensational. In the lyrics of one of his songs, he says, “Under an August moon, burning above.” Any other writer would have said “shining above.” But he says, “Under an August moon, burning above, you’d be so nice to come home to.” That phrase is the song.

 

WO: Bobby Short is still around, still at the Carlyle, playing wonderful songs.

 

JL:    And making a fortune! He deserves all of it!

 

WO: Tell me about that song that made you a fortune. How did that go? “The Green Door”?

 

JL:   “Midnight. One more night without sleepin’. Boom, boom boom, boom.” As I said, I am temporarily between hits. That was 1956!

 

WO: How the hell did you ever write that song?

 

JL:    Well, actually, you know something, I didn’t write it. I had the hit record, the only record, and it’s associated with me, and I’m happy about that. But Charlie Greon, he was a songwriter himself. He was my manager and a publisher. He and Joe Seeda were my mentors. And Charlie hated the thing, “Get out of here with the ‘Boom, boom,’ and don’t come back again!” A guy by the name of Bob Davie brought this melody in and we fell in love with the melody. And Charlie and I took it home to our respective houses and tried to write lyrics and nothing happened. But then a guy by the name of Marvin Moore came in and Charlie and I looked at his lyrics and we said, “Oh, that’s it!” We went into the recording studio that night and boom! Pun intended!

 

WO: How many records did you sell?

 

JL:   Close to 3 million. But it’s still selling.

 

WO: Still get a check every month?

 

JL:   Yeah, it’s kind of a nice little annuity. And it’s recently been in several big compendiums of the 1950s.

 

WO:  Were you a musician and a singer before you became a legendary disc jockey?

 

JL:  No, that came late in my career, as a matter of fact. My grandfather had this big music store in my hometown. It was the biggest music store in that part of the country, three floors. The first floor was a forest of sheet music and records and musical instruments. The second floor was pianos. And the third floor was where my drinking uncle, Uncle George, started the first radio station in that part of the country. It was before the FCC, so you could just turn it on anytime, day or night. He would turn it on late at night when he had been drinking. And one night he brought the chimes up that they were trying to sell from the first floor. And the paper that afternoon, the Springfield Leader and Press, said, “Late tuners-in in the Ozarks heard ‘Big Ben’ chiming at three o’clock.” Well, it was Uncle George with the chimes!

 

WO:  Do you still have kin back there in Springfield, the “Paris of the Ozarks”?

 

JL:   Yes, but they are dwindling. I lost my beloved sister-in-law just this last summer. She and my brother had been married since I was a kid. I was really closer to her than to my brother, actually. I still have my brother, and two nieces, a great nephew—in addition to being a good guy, he is a great nephew, but my grandnephew is what I am trying to say.

 

WO:  Jim Lowe, you’ve made a living in recent years, a very good living, playing wonderful great American popular songs. You talked about Mercer, you talked about the great composers. Anybody writing stuff today? Anybody like a Matt Dennis around, writing sweet things?

 

JL:   When rock ’n’ roll first came in, in the middle fifties, we thought it was a phenom that would be up, over, and out in two or three years. Of course, it has lasted longer now than even the “Golden Era.”

 

WO: Why?

 

JL:   Bill, I don’t know. I think there are a lot of factors involved. That’s a very interesting question. I think a couple of things happened. When rock ’n’ roll came along: the would-have-been Cole Porters and George Gershwins did one of two things. They either quit writing or they tried to keep on writing. But they just couldn’t write in that genre.

 

WO:  So, do people just not like to hear the words anymore?

 

JL:   I guess. I mean, what words? When you can understand them, you wish you hadn’t! Particularly with rap, whatever that is! But the Cole Porters, the Ira Gershwins, the Johnny Mercers, can make their point without getting “blue.” And it was actually more, obviously much more sophisticated because of that, but more meaningful, more on target.

 

WO:  Do you sit at your piano in East Hampton and try to write?

 

JL:    No, I gave up trying to write a long time ago. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even start singing until I was in Chicago. I wrote a song called “Gambler’s Guitar.” It was the first song I ever wrote. And in order to get it recorded, I recorded it myself, on Mercury Records. So I was 1 for 1. I thought all you have to do to write a hit song was sit down and write a song. I came to the Brill Building in New York and found out differently.

 

WO:  You’re walking along the beach in East Hampton, it’s a perfectly splendid day in the fall; what song is in your head, Jim Lowe?

 

JL:    Oh, it depends on the time! I tell time by songs. If it’s fall, then my favorite song is “Indian Summer,” or maybe “September Song.” If it’s winter, it’s Irving Berlin’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” If it’s spring, “It’s spring again, and birds on the wing again, start to sing again, love’s old melody.” If it’s summer, “Summertime,” by Gershwin. So I guess what I like at the moment is what’s happening with the weather at that moment.

 

WO:  Jim Lowe, we love you. Thank you.

 

JL:   Bill O’Shaughnessy, I love you, too. I have since we first met at WNEW. May I give away the year?

 

WO:  You were awful nice to a young Irish kid.

 

JL:   1964. And you and I struck up a conversation in the hall the first day I was there, and you were always very generous to me, and have remained so to this very day.

 

WO: I ran in John Van Buren Sullivan’s office, the general manager, and he was sitting there with a cigar and I said, “This new guy, Jim Lowe, is unbelievable.” He said, “What’s so great about him?” And I said, “He called me an old spotted dog!”

 

JL:    On first meeting, O’Shaughnessy!

 

 November 6, 2001

 

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, the 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 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, another anthology which will include this talk at the Dutch Treat Club. He has also completed “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo which has just been published. 

 

This Jim Lowe interview was in “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” …

 

 

 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher

cindy@wvox.com

(914) 235-3279

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.