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RIP Tom O’Leary: Peabody loses its Champion of the Underdog

23 Oct

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

When I heard the sad news, I instantly flashed back to the first time I ever met a good guy named Tom O’Leary, and suddenly I felt better. In fact, thinking about that first meeting, made me LOL.

Tom O'Leary

Tom O’Leary

It was somewhere, sometime back in 1997 when this lanky, friendly gent, who immediately reminded me of my Boston Irish grandfather (the line back then was that he had the “map of Ireland” on his face), approached me, and stuck out his hand.

After some brief introductions, the jokes began flying, including the one that made me chuckle again the other day after I heard that this fine man, this “Champion of the Underdog,” had passed away at the age of 78.

“The thing about me,” Tom began back then, in a voice that was both gruff and loveable all at the same time. “I used to be nervous and jerky. But now … I’m not nervous anymore.”

In the years that followed, and as we developed a friendship, I’d hear the same line over and over again as Tom endeared himself to others. And each time, the corny joke, his joke, made me laugh just as hard as I did the first time that I heard it.

He was a genius at using self-deprecation to endear himself to those he came across in a lifetime of helping all those he came across.

At this point, I should also mention that one of my great regrets in life was losing touch over the years with Tom, and his wonderful bride Marsha. My separation from this very good man isn’t his fault whatsoever, and is rooted in personal reasons on my end only. Long story, short, it’s one of those “life is too short lessons.” You’re going to regret it when they’re gone, and I definitely regret that I didn’t keep in touch with Tom O’Leary the past 14 years.

In Yiddish, the word is “mensch,” which means a person of integrity and honor. And Tom O’Leary was most definitely an Irish mensch.

He ran unsuccessfully for Ward 5 Councilor a couple of times, and we the people missed out on being served by a guy, who I believe would have been an outstanding advocate for the neighborhoods when it came to quality of life. The mess that is Route 1 when it comes to excessive and intrusive development would have never happened under Tom O’Leary’s watch as Ward 5 Councilor. That would have been a given.

But the loss of people all over Ward 5 was the gain of those who live in mobile home parks from Peabody to Cape Cod. Fighting for the rights of families and seniors seeking to hold onto their homes became Tom’s lifetime crusade, earning him the moniker of “Champion of the Underdog.”

He never got elected to public office, yet he was always there for the little guy, whether that meant being a rock on resident rights when it came to serving on Peabody’s Rent Control Board, or simply inviting people into his home for some good advice and the “best cup of coffee in Peabody.”

For me personally, that meant him pouring his heart and soul into two of my campaigns for office. I didn’t win, but my family and I have always been grateful for what he did for me.

In recent years, I understand that Tom’s health kept him from being able to do what he loved, which was being a pain in the neck to the powers that be when it came to defending resident quality of life. But after seeing him briefly at the Kiley School polls during the election two years ago, I also saw that he never lost his gregarious, make-you-feel-good personality. When I saw him that day, which turned out to be the last day I ever saw this very good man, he made me smile again with his giant trademark of a laugh. I gave he and Marsha a brief hug, and then walked away feeling I had lost out by not having them in my life for more than a decade.

It makes me feel sad today that this was the last time I saw him. It makes me sad that I didn’t stay in touch all of these years. It is indeed a life is too short type of lesson.

But surely, the little guy in Peabody is way better off for having had Tom O’Leary on his side.

Rest in peace, my friend. You were a good man of very high integrity, and more importantly, you were indeed the Champion of the Underdog.

(If you would like to pay your respects, here are the details for Tom’s services.)

Best wishes on a fast recovery for Councilor At-Large Anne Manning-Martin

18 Aug

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Councilor Anne Manning-Martin

Councilor At-Large Anne Manning-Martin

Over the years, we’ve been friends and foes, agreed on some issues, disagreed on many others. But one thing I will always say or write is that Anne Manning-Martin always votes in the best interests of those residents she serves as a councilor at-large.

So, with that, I just wanted to wish Anne a speedy recovery from major back surgery, and hope that she’s back doing the business of the people of Peabody soon as possible.

After all, let’s face it, there are only two current Peabody City Councilors who are always on the side of the people they represent: Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz, and Anne.

By the way, the back surgery Manning-Martin underwent, was no minor matter.

“I really wasn’t supposed to walk again. It was kind of a Hail Mary operation,” Manning-Martin told the Salem News this week. “I just consider myself lucky and blessed.”

And Peabody residents will be lucky to have her back in there fighting for them again real soon.

D-Day 70 years later: Thoughts for those who made the greatest sacrifice for our freedom

6 Jun


“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force. You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.”

— General Dwight D. Eisenhower

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

It’s something I tell my kids to consider each time they’re stuck in traffic, behind a very elderly gentleman, who might be driving annoyingly slow. Before you feel the urge to wave your arms and lay on your horn, consider that the gentleman causing you some minor inconvenience might deserve a lot of the credit for everything you hold so dear.

VETSeventy years ago today, he might have been an 18-year-old kid, seasick and terrified as he waited for the gate to drop on his landing craft. He might just be a member of the Greatest Generation, young men who charged onto a Normandy Beach, and fought for freedom’s foothold while watching their buddies die all around them.

He may have not only courageously fought to save the free world, but then come back home to help build the United States of America into the greatest republic on Earth.

Today is the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, arguably the most-important date in the history of the Free World. It was the beginning of the end for tyranny in Europe, and today should be a moment of reflection on the immense sacrifices that took place on blood-stained beaches called Omaha and Utah.

I heard somewhere that 20,000 World War II veterans are now dying each day as the years cause the inevitable.  But it’s not too late to still thank them for your freedom.

To the still surviving  “Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force,” thank you for what you did to give my family and I the opportunity to live without fear, to live  free, and be able to follow our dreams. And to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, you’ll always be in our prayers.

Godspeed to a guy who defined everything a local weekly newspaper should be; Tom Grelish, dead at 63

2 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

He was the perfect old-school local newspaper publisher, equally comfortable with posting Little League scores as he was with taking on powerful politicians. He believed in a mix of community news, pictures of Brownie troops and senior citizens at a dance. But also wouldn’t hesitate to take on any politician, who deserved a swift boot in the butt in the pages of the Peabody Citizen, a weekly newspaper that became ingrained in Peabody’s cultural fabric.

Tom Grelish: Legendary Peabody newspaper man

Tom Grelish: Legendary Peabody newspaper man

When Tom Grelish, editor, publisher, friend, devoted father and husband — and the last of the great local “characters” — passed away unexpectedly Saturday night, an era ended for our burg and for local newspapering. He was only 63.

I’m not sure what the future holds for the Peabody Citizen, a weekly through which Tom Grelish defined the phase “local newspaper,” but with his passing things will never be the same when it comes all the Peabody news that’s fit to print.

If Tom could speak to us now, he’d probably say, in his legendary self-deprecating style:  “Big deal. The village just lost its idiot.” He once proudly showed me a key chain he had with something similar written as a slogan.

It was something that showed off his sense of humor, but make no mistake, Tom Grelish was a serious, and well-respected journalist.

Peabody has lost a journalistic watchdog. I’m sure there are plenty of places still left to post bake sale announcements, local sports scores, and other community news. But there will never be another Tom Grelish to tell it like it is while holding many a political scoundrel accountable.

In doing so, Tom never discriminated. You could be a close friend and an elected official, but if you did something really dumb as an elected official, he let you know about it in his weekly and much-read “Just Thinking” column. Before opening The Citizen in 1993, Tom had been a legendary local sports writer for the old Peabody Times.

But, perhaps, this local guy with ink in his veins, earned legendary status in the 1990s when he used his small, but mighty weekly paper to take on one of the most-powerful politicians in Peabody’s history.

Just when Mayor Peter Torigian had managed to control all of the local media spin, and totally influence every editorial written about Peabody in the Salem News, along came Tom Grelish. At first, Tom was just telling the truth about Powerful Pete, and his very controlling ways, even dubbing him the “Emperor.” And when Torigian got his revenge by not allowing The Citizen to benefit from a lucrative legal notice ad business, it become Grelish vs. the City of Peabody.

When local businesses and residents come before the City Council for special permits and variances, they are required – at their own expense – to publish a legal notice in any local newspaper of their choosing. But during Torigian’s rein, the city wouldn’t offer residents and businesses the option of posting their ads in The Citizen. What it meant too was that residents would be forced – at a higher cost – to publish their legals in the Salem News, a paper that always painted the Torigian Administration in a very positive light.

While Tom Grelish was hailing Torigian as the Emperor, Salem News editorial page editor Nelson Benton was throwing roses at the mayor’s feet.

Tom Grelish fought this legal ad injustice in court, and not only won the right to run the ads, but also took the city for thousands of dollars in damages.

“It was a very big moment not only for The Citizen, but for small newspapers everywhere. We got national attention for that one,” Tom told me last fall. “As a newspaper guy it was a pretty proud moment for me. The citizens of Peabody also got a much less-expensive choice for their legal ads.”

And local, small-town newspaper publishers everywhere could thank him for being a champion of the little guy.

It was an all  glorious,  all-American journalistic run that ended much too soon. This space definitely owes its “chutzpah” to Tom Grelish, who will continue to inspire us to hold elected officials accountable to the people who put them in office.

My sincere condolences to Patti, John, and Jackie, and the entire extended Grelish family.  

I’m positive that Tom’s up in heaven right now getting ready to pen his latest “Grelish’s Goulash” sports column, or a “Just Thinking” column where he’ll poke the “Emperor” once more.

— 30 –

… my friend


If you would like to attend Tom’s services, here is the information:

 (Relatives and friends are kindly invited to gather on Thursday at 9 AM from the Conway, Cahill-Brodeur Funeral Home, 82 Lynn St., Peabody, followed by a Funeral Mass at 10 AM in St. John the Baptist Church, Peabody.  A visitation will be held on Wednesday from 4 – 8 P.M. in the funeral home.  Burial will be in Cedar Grove Cemetery, Peabody. His family suggests those who wish make a donation in his name to a Peabody Youth Sports group, or Peabody High School Athletic Department. )


Phil Lavoie: Peabody loses one of its truly good guys

12 May

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

In the 1970s, when you first became a teen-aged dude, your first form of rebellion, your first effort at independence usually involved what was on top of your head.

Once hitting 13, it would be no more getting haircuts with your old man, who liked to take you to his old-school barber and say “make him look decent.” That statement usually meant you were going to walk around for the next month looking like a character from “Leave It To Beaver.”

Phil Lavoie ... passing of a great guy

Phil Lavoie. The passing of a great Peabody guy

But something changed for me when I hit 13. Something new and totally different opened on Lake Street next to Muntsy’s Subs. No more haircuts with the old man. I was going to “Headquarters For Men,” at the time a new wave of men’s hair stylists, who would allow you to leave their shops looking less like Jerry Mathers, and more like Derek Sanderson.

Phil Lavoie didn’t flinch when you told him you wanted your hair to still cover your ears, and didn’t argue later on when you wanted to experiment with a mullet.  With this approach, this new school barber built a loyal customer base. Keep the ears covered when I was 13. Shave it up close to the scalp and over the ears by the time I reached 40.

“Headquarters,” which moved from the Muntsy’s Plaza to a location further down Lake next to 7 Eleven, and then back to the plaza recently, has for more than 30 years been a West Peabody institution. Its proprietor was the ultimate Peabody guy, who not only knew how to please his younger customers with everything from mullets in the ‘80s to Mohawks in the ‘90s, but also was an old-school barber when it came to conversation with adult customers. Great with the jokes, or the gossip of the day, or social commentary, Phil not only gave great haircuts, but he made it a pleasure to visit him and his sidekick Annie once a month.

This past Friday, Phil Lavoie passed away at age 65.

I was in his shop for a haircut in early April, and never had an inkling that he was even ill.

His wife Linda, and their two children have lost a terrific husband and dad, and Peabody has lost one of its most-popular and much-liked citizens.

Rest in peace, my friend, and thanks for the memories.

If you knew Phil and would like to attend his services, here are the details.

West School honored for its patriotism, support of troops

5 Feb

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

The flag flies high at the West

The flag flies high and proud at the West School

Although we like to get into the meaty side of the issues here on The Eye, we also like to take time out to celebrate nice accomplishments in our community.

So, today we’re pleased to inform you of a noteworthy honor bestowed upon my Alma mater, the West Memorial School.

This morning, US Department of Defense representatives will be at the Bow Street School to honor those at the West with the  prestigious Seven Seals Award, an acknowledgement the DoD created to recognize American employers for patriotic support for soldiers serving in the National Guard and Reserves, and their families.

Massachusetts National Guard Staff Sgt. David Nicholson, a West parent, started the ball rolling on having the West receive this award when he wrote a letter to the DoD. In the letter, Sgt. Nicholson praised Principal Tom Cornacchio “for his patriotic assemblies, for his attention to the condition of the flag outside of the school, and for his daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance over the sound system,”

The students at the West also learn about the Gettysburg Address, have school ceremonies for Patriots Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and are sending care packages to U.S. soldiers overseas.

Sgt. Nicholson, a West School alum, is a former member of the 18th Army Airborne.  He is about to depart on another tour in Afghanistan with the Mass. National Guard.

In these days when some public schools in other communities are cautious about celebrating patriotism for fear it might offend someone, it’s nice to see that Peabody still knows how to celebrate love of country, and appreciate those who protect our freedom.

Congrats to Principal Cornacchio and the entire West Memorial School community. Way to go, Wildcats!

And to Sgt. David Nicholson:  Thank you, sir, for your service.

Peabody’s Mitsopoulos in nationals of prestigious academic competition

31 Jan

By Eye on Peabody

Christina Mitsopoulos (center) poses with some of her teammates

Christina Mitsopoulos (center) poses with the Notre Dame Academy teammates on her panel.

Congratulations to Peabody’s Christina Mitsopoulos, a junior at Notre Dame Academy of Tyngsboro, who was on the winning team in the prestigious “We The People” state academic contest recently at Harvard University.

With the win, in this contest that tests a student’s knowledge of history, the Constitution,  and law, Christina and her NDA classmates advanced to the nationals at George Mason University and on Capitol Hill  in Washington. DC, in April.

A very well-rounded student, athlete and performer, Christina is also on the NDA track team, and is a champion dancer with the Bremer School of Irish Dance.  She hopes to study law someday.

Help support Peabody’s Fire and Police Memorial

21 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

When most people are running away from a dangerous situation, the brave men and women of our police and fire departments are running toward it.

I think of this adage in a huge way each September 11th, a day when hundreds of brave first responders made the ultimate sacrifice. And, we were reminded of it a week ago today when police and fire departments responded to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Peabody Fire and Police Memorial

A look at what the new Peabody Fire and Police Memorial might look like

Closer to home, and in just two days, we’ll memorialize the loss a year ago of one of Peabody’s finest, firefighter James Rice , who died as the result of injuries he sustained while fighting a blaze on Peabody’s Hancock Street.

Why am I bringing this all up today?

Well, it’s time for us to come together as a community and honor our own local heroes. It’s time to support the construction of the Peabody Fire and Police Memorial.

A joint effort between representatives from Peabody Fire and Police, and the Mayor’s office is underway to build a memorial that would look very similar to the photo posted here.

PFD Captain Dale Kimball is one of the organizers of the effort, which includes being able to raise $100,000 in private donations.  The city will donate land on Perkins Street.

What I’m asking all Eye readers to do today is click through to the website and consider making a donation to these efforts, or sponsoring a brick that will be placed around the memorial.

It’s a great way to saying thanks and show that you appreciate these people who keep you safe each and every day.

Nice video report in Patch on Peabody’s vigil for Sandy Hook

21 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher


Click on the image to be taken to the video report from last night’s vigil in front of Peabody City Hall for the Sandy Hook school shooting victims.

In case you couldn’t be there, here’s an excellent video account from the Peabody Patch of last night’s vigil in front of Peabody City Hall for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

Hats off to Patch Editor John Castelluccio for reporting on this, and posting this video. Very well done, John. This is how all mainstream media should act in situations like these. Chronicle important events, but don’t be part of the story or sensationalize.

This video simply shows you what you missed, if weren’t able to attend.  No more needs to be written by me: the video tells the story.

A night of honor for six of Peabody’s firefighter heroes

19 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

FFIt was an evening of honor for the Peabody Fire Department last night at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, as several of our brave firefighters were honored at 2012 Firefighter of the Year Awards,

Firefighter Jim Rice, who made the ultimate sacrifice when he lost his life a year ago while battling a fire on Hancock Street, received the Medal of Honor, the highest honor presented at the awards ceremony. Jim’s wife Amy, on behalf of Jim and their children Alyssa, Katelyn and Ryan, accepted the award last night from Governor Deval Patrick.

But it was also an evening to honor five additional Peabody heroes:

  •  Deputy Chief Eric Harrison, who was a captain last December, received a Medal of Valor for his actions while going into the building on Hancock Street with his team in an effort to save Firefighter Rice, who had become trapped.

The Peabody Patch today does a really nice job with full details from last night’s ceremony. You can check it out by clicking here.