Let me share a little story with you.
When I first moved to Boston in August 2006, one of the first people I met was an Irish man named Richard “Dick” Barry. Dick had extraordinary stories, and among them was that we fought in the RAF in WWII at just 18 years old. After the war, Dick moved to the States and never returned to Ireland. He loved telling stories and I loved listening to them.
During the 1960’s, Dick met his sweetheart in Brookline MA. A few weeks before their wedding, Dick wanted to surprise her with the news that he had bought them a home in Brookline. On the day he secured the mortgage, he told me that he “ran to see her as fast as I could.” As Dick approached her apartment on Powell St. in Brookline, there was an ambulance outside. There he received the news his fiancé had died suddenly — he never told me from what. He only spoke of his fiancé twice to me.
This was one of the many 100’s of stories Dick told me over the years I knew him but I think this was the story that defined him. When I met him, he was a steely old man who desperately tried to keep people out of his life, but there were times I would feel like Dick was letting me into it a wee bit. I felt he wasn’t always this closed and this incident made him angry at life. Dick was in his element when telling stories, he would get excited and the gift of the gab and that Irish story telling way, that only Irish people have. This is how I remember him most. Telling stories, recalling happier times, remembering happier times, times with his fiancé perhaps.
Dick never married, or as he told me “didn’t bother with all that stuff again.”
On Saturday January 26th, I received the news that Dick was found dead in his apartment. He had been dead for over a week before he was found and this has made me extremely sad. I have actually been over come with sadness about it. When I used to bartend at O’Leary’s, Dick would come in every night around 11pm and drink 2 or 3 or 4 12oz bottles of Heineken and tell me tons of stories. Sometimes come midnight, he was my only my customer so we would talk for hours. I would walk him home on occasion, especially if it was icy out, at the end of my shift at about 2:00am. I did this many times over the 6.5 years I knew him. I did it as a customer before I started working at the bar, as a a bartender, as someone who just wanted to make sure an old man got home safe, and as a friend.
My friendship with Dick was not always rosy. He had a fierce temper that would rare from time to time. I even banned him from the bar one night because of it. However, a few months later, we made up, he apologized, I apologized, and he got back to his story telling ways and me to my listening.
Dick had no immediate family, lived alone, and all of his close friends passed many years ago but he had cousins that he spoke fondly of. He became a friend to me, and I to him. I shared my very first thanksgiving night and Christmas Day in America with Dick at his home in 2006 where we drank beers and watched old westerns on Christmas day. It’s something I will never forget. It’s how I choose to remember him.
His funeral was on Monday, Feb 4th, in St Teresa’s, West Roxbury. It was so nice to see 20/30 people there that came to pay respects to an 87-year-old man that most people there barely knew.
Dick was a man who chose to live his life in solidarity but he also choose to let a few people glimpse into his life and to share it with him. Dick was a man forgotten by society, but in many ways he wanted to be left alone.
Dick was witty, cantankerous, hilarious, serious, full of stories, full of life — a complicated individual who, as it turns out, made me a better person. The last time I saw him together was after Christmas. We drank a Heineken and talked about things I can’t remember, it was just general chat and that’s okay.
I ask that you offer a special moment in your life for Dick, he was a deeply religious man but I know many people are not. So if it’s a prayer, a silent thought, or if you could make your next drink a Heineken, his favorite drink.
It’s also a telling reminder to check on those that live alone, some like Dick may not openly admit that they want to be checked in on, but ultimately I wish I had checked in on Dick just one more time.
May he rest in peace.