Storyworth: Who has been one of the most important people in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?

| October 14, 2022 | 0 Comments
Mary Beth and Me (when I was younger and skinnier)

So many people. I could write a book about the people who had major impacts on my life. For purposes of this question, I’m going to set family aside, since by definition, they have had the most impact on my life. But that’s all of our jobs, to positively impact members of our family. Non-family members who intervene positively on our lives are, I think, a special breed. So I’ll focus on that category. And I will start with a list and finish with the person who had the greatest impact.

Professors David Hunt and Louise Smith from UMass Boston were uniquely responsible for getting me through undergraduate college. Without them, I would have had a fine career at Stop & Shop Supermarket and would probably still be living in Roslindale.
Father Walter Miller, a priest at Sacred Heart Church in Roslindale, helped me navigate adolescence. He was flawed, but I loved him and he loved me. He tried to help me with the college thing by getting me a scholarship at St. Mary’s College in Winooski Vermont, which I foolishly declined. And he officiated at my marriage to Rita. He left the priesthood under a cloud and has since died. But I remember him very fondly.

Martha Boudreau was my boss at FleishmanHillard. She helped me succeed at a job for which I was not perfectly suited. But I would not have lasted 17 years without her. She also paid me more than I was worth, which helped me put Danny and Bridget through college.

Abbot Aiden from St. Anselm’s Abbey had a huge impact on my spiritual life, both through his counsel and, maybe even more, by his example. He was a walking saint. Smart, devout, witty, incredibly honest and very, very humble. We spent hours together talking about everything under the sun. Early in our relationship, he counseled and comforted me. Later, I comforted him.

One of the enduring memories of my life came after I got a call from his caretaker, Rowena, to tell me he had enterred hospice. I dropped what I was doing and immediately went to visit him. He was in a bit of a fog and really couldn’t talk. Rowena whispered in his ear that “Bill Black is here.” He didn’t seem to understand her at first and seemed puzzled. He looked at me and she whispered it again and he broke into a wide smile. That smile is an image and memory I will treasure forever.

When I got home from that visit, Rita, Danny and Bridget all said they wanted to visit him, too. The following Sunday, we went over to the Abbey. We got all dressed up and brought gifts, including his favorite candy, Trader Joe peanut butter cups. When we arrived, one of the monks told us that Abbot Aiden had died 20 minutes earlier. Though not unexpected it was a massive blow to our family. They invited us to visit his chamber where he lay. We all sat silently in a kind of vigil. I think of him a lot to this day, many years after he died. And I miss him.

But the non-family member who had the biggest impact on the course of my life was Mary Beth Cahill. The biggest turning point in my life was when I signed up to volunteer for Barney Frank’s first campaign for Congress. I was what they call a “walk in.” Someone who just walks in off the street to volunteer. I’ve since worked on many campaigns and came to realize how unusual that is.

I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. At the time, I was finally completing my undergraduate college degree after eight bumpy years. I was working the midnight to 8 am shift stocking shelves at Stop & Shop Supermarket, where I’d worked for ten years. My first job for the campaign was to collect names from phone books in a random but systematic way for the polling operation. It was tedious and I spent endless hours on it. The other campaign staff couldn’t believe the amount of time I spent at it and my willingness to do so. They didn’t realize that the tedium of this job was like a vacation from stocking shelves in a supermarket in the middle of the night. Bottom line, I got noticed.

Mary Beth was the Field Director for the campaign and she took me under her wing. I’m sure she was instrumental in getting me hired into a paying job at the campaign. She became a friend unlike my neighborhood friends in Roslindale. She actually cared about me and didn’t mind showing it. Showing that kind of affection was anathema in my neighborhood. I’d never had a friend like that. It was nice.

When the campaign was over, Barney offered me a job as a caseworker in his office in Newton, Mass. I had hoped to go to Washington, so was a bit disappointed. But it beat Stop & Shop. Two weeks before Barney’s first term would begin, Mary Beth called to offer me the job as computer operator in the Washington. This was a job for which I was utterly unqualified. I’d never touched a computer and didn’t even know how to type. Notwithstanding these obstacles, she convinced Barney to bring me to Washington and I was over the moon. It was the single most significant positive development in my life. Everything good I have today flowed from that moment.

And, as a kind of icing on the cake, it was Mary Beth who essentially nudged me and my now wife, Rita, together that first summer in Washington when Rita arrived as a summer intern. 

The thing about Mary Beth is that I am not unique. There are likely scores of people who can tell a similar story to mine. She has a knack for plucking people out of obscurity and nurturing them along to achieve success that they, themselves, never thought possible. For me, I had a lot of help along the way, but nobody had more impact than Mary Beth.


Category: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply