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Remembering My Dad on Father's Day

Looking back on the lessons Dad taught, in life and in his untimely death.

Approaching another Father’s Day, I remember that terrible day in 1960 when my father was taken away from his family. He died a hero, no not in a conflict as a soldier, but as a neighbor helping a neighbor.

It was Nov. 9, the day after President John F. Kennedy was elected president. My father tried to stay up late to watch the televised reports on the election but, like so many, didn’t get the final result until the next morning. He was so thrilled to see the first Irish Catholic elected, and the fact that this man came from Boston and had spent time in our home at house rallies dating back to his first run for Congress in 1946 made the victory that much sweeter.

That Wednesday was a perfect fall day. Temps were mild and the sun was shinning. Off to work he went at the old MTA, now the MBTA, where he was active in trying to form a union for its employees. His was a guard on the trains and was lucky enough to get on the Orange line where he only had to hop a train at Thompson Square and check in at the old Sullivan Square station to start his split shift covering the rush hours. Every day he would “clock out” and come home for lunch before the afternoon shift began.

Getting off that noontime train that day, he waved to the collector in the toll booth and down the stairs he went and through the turn style. He must have been thinking how great it would be to put his feet up for a while and catch up with my mother on all the latest news on the election. But that never would happen, and a hero was born.

Coming out of the turn style he was faced with a terrible crime. There in front of him three young men were trying to molest a young girl. My father broke it up and chased two of the lads down Warren Street catching up to them at the bottom of Cordis Street, where we lived. He grabbed them by the scruff of the neck and dragged them down to the old Station 15 Police Station in City Square.

He was able to tell the officer at the desk why he wanted to deposit these two thugs in his care, and then fell to the floor suffering a heart attack. Although he was rushed to Mass. General, he didn’t make it and died at the age of 46. My mother was left with three teenagers and a six-year-old to raise on her own.

With no witness to the crime remaining and the fact that it was 1960, when no decent woman would admit to being attacked in such a devastating manner, the young men never went to trial and the case was closed.

The next few days lay vividly in my mind. Back then the tradition was to hold the “wake” in the home of the deceased. It went on for three days and three nights as a typical Irish send off. There were so many visitors, a police officer had to be stationed outside our house. The funeral Mass took place at our beloved St. Mary’s Church, the family parish for over five generations. Traveling to the cemetery, we watched a “T” train escort his body to Sullivan Square where another picked up with the procession into Everett. All that happened was a true tribute to a wonderful man.

In life, as in death, he taught his children the true importance of life: love of God and family, love of your neighbor, to live with integrity, give to others in need and when you can do for others, do it and forget it, but if others do for you, remember it always.

The next time you travel through Thompson Square and see the memorial placed there in honor of Edward “Gus” Whelan, now you will know the meaning behind this special dedication to my father.

I think of you, Dad, every day. If you are lucky enough to still have your father with you, honor and treasure him, if not, remember him today with a happy thought and a prayer for all he gave you.

Happy Father's Day.

carol whelan June 19, 2011 at 12:58 PM
Thanks. That was a sad, touching, yet beautiful recollection.
Donna O'Brien June 19, 2011 at 02:55 PM
What a beautifully written tribute to your dad. Indeed, the true importance of life is captured in your memorable words. May we all hope to live by those gestures every day. Thanks for sharing this with us.
Karen Giordano Catizone June 21, 2011 at 01:07 AM
Great job Mom!! I am so proud to be able to call him MY Grandfather! Every time I've walked through the park bearing his name it fills me with pride-and sadness-in the heroic act he did that day. I love to tell people that don't know the story who he was, and what he did and why the park is dedicated to him. While I never did get to meet or know him, I do feel in a way I have. My Mom, and his three other children-Margo Buddy and Andy have all shown their father's traits to me over my life time. You may not have had him long, but it was apparently long enough to continue to carry his legacy of just being a good decent person to others. I am not only proud to be able to say Gus was my Grandfather, but that all of you are my family...

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