Charlestown Says Farewell to a 'Legend of a Townie'
Friends and neighbors reflect on the loss of Peter Looney, a lifelong townie and community leader who died on Thursday.
If there was ever a mayor of Charlestown, there's no doubt that Peter Looney would have been it.
Looney, 69, died in the early morning hours on Thursday, Aug. 11 after a battle with lung cancer. Word of his death made its way around the neighborhood within hours -- a testament to how attuned Charlestown has been over the past year to Looney's health, how significant the news of his death was and the plain fact that just about everybody knew him.
Over his lifetime, Looney -- a Charlestown native with a fierce Townie pride -- had his hands in dozens of community initiatives. "If you needed anything, you went to him," said Michael Charbonnier, a Boston police officer, Charlestown resident and friend to Looney. "The message he's left behind is that you help your neighbor."
Looney had a soft spot for children and teens, but friends reflecting on his life say that Looney had compassion for anyone in need. Throughout the city of Boston, however, Looney might be best known for his fight against substance abuse in Charlestown -- a legacy that lives on in the community group Charlestown Against Drugs and the Charlestown Recovery House.
In the 1970s, Looney and other community leaders decided to take back their streets and tackle the drug problems that the city, the police and other agencies were struggling to understand. With priests from St. Catherine's Church, he would patrol the neighborhood's housing projects at night and counsel teens.
Around the same time, he helped create the Charlestown Neighborhood Council and presided over the advisory board for a decade. And with his close friend Kathy "Cookie" Giordano, he started the cable access show Charlestown Live as a way of broadcasting the neighborhood's positive news.
During the holiday season, he organized the Charlestown Christmas for Kids, which brought warm winter coats and hats to children in need. He helped the local food pantry provide a free Thanksgiving meal to every family that would otherwise go without.
And the list of contributions goes on and on.
On Thursday, several of Looney's friends, colleagues and neighbors submitted comments to Patch -- their thoughts and memories of Looney.
"Peter was so much more than just a friend. He was a Charlestown icon and represented what is so special about his place where we live. For now we have lost some of our brightness but the fundamentals he leaves behind and the goodness he brought will return in the actions we try to duplicate and the memories we share," wrote Jim Mansfield on Charlestown Patch's Facebook page.
Patch user "MM" left this comment: "You are an amazing man and will truly be missed. Charlestown has the perfect angel watching over us!"
Councilor Sal LaMattina, whose district represents Charlestown, said "I'm going to miss him. He was someone I could call for advice. ... Peter made me feel right at home in Charlestown. He's always stood out to me as someone always there, always willing to help, particularly children and teens. ... He bridged Charlestown. That's what I really loved about him."
“If you cut the guy,” Looney's friend Billy Boyle told Patch earlier this year. “I think he bleeds Charlestown blood.”
"Peter was a prince of a man! He will be missed by so many," Donna Henderson O'Brien wrote on Patch's Facebook page.
This spring, a committee of Looney's friends and civic leaders organized the re-dedication of the Union Street Playground -- in Looney's name. Although Looney's health was challenged, he made it to a ceremony on a Saturday morning in April. A crowd of his friends, relatives and neighbors turned out to honor him. Looney beamed as Mayor Thomas Menino publicly thanked him for her service.
Later, Looney submitted a column to Patch, publicly thanking the community for its support.
"Never did I think such an honor would come to me. Seeing so many family members, old friends, fellow union workers, former co-workers, fellow committee members, neighbors and elected officials overwhelmed me with pride and humility," he wrote. "Thank you all for taking the time on a busy Saturday morning to attend the event. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, one that I, and my family, will never forget. I am so proud to be from Charlestown, 'the town I love so well.'"
Looney attended Charlestown High School and joined the Majestic Knights Drum and Bugle Corps, for which Looney played horn. After he graduated from high school, he married Mae Sullivan, with whom he eventually had two children, Michelle and Peter, and volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army Reserve in a non-combat position. Then he moved back to Charlestown, where he became a legend of a Townie.
He leaves behind his wife, their daughter Michelle and her husband Tom O'Leary, their son Peter and his wife Diane, and his grandchildren Brendan, Molly, Nolan, Brooke and Meadow, as well as countless other friends, neighbors and relatives.
Visiting hours will be on Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011 from 2 to 6 p.m.
Relatives and friends are invited to attend Looney's funeral on Monday, Aug. 15, 2011 at 10 a.m. from The Carr Funeral Home, 220 Bunker Hill St., followed by his funeral Mass in St. Mary's Church, 55 Warren St., at 11 a.m. Interment will be at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden.