Snowstorms Bring Out the Best in People

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Waiting for the bus outside the New England Medical Center the other morning, a lady I recognized from the Chinatown community stopped and said, “Hello Mayor Flynn, how are you? I saw you the other night at the Chinese New Year’s Party.”

“Were you in the hospital?” she asked, pointing to the hospital. “I hope you are all right. We like seeing you around Chinatown.”

“I’m fine,” I said. “My wife and I were visiting our sister-in-law, Joanne Coyne from Dorchester.”

Still waiting for the bus to arrive a few minutes later on Washington Street as the snow was coming down, a retired Boston public school teacher recognized me.

He said:  “Ambassador, what do you think about the big flap between Senator Warren and President Trump? I remember how spirited you and Councilor Dapper O’Neill were at City Hall, you guys could really go at it in debate. But the next thing we heard was you and Dapper were at Amrhein’s or Foley’s Bar having a beer an hour later. Even when you two disagreed with one another, it was spirited and fun to watch. But you always seemed to end up friends. What’s happening in politics today?”

He continued:

“Politicians worked together. Our public school kids and parents never had better allies than you and Dapper. The way I looked at it, both of you were elected by the people and that’s who you were answerable to. But that’s not the way it is in Washington today. Democrats hate Republicans and vice versa and they both hate the press.  Frankly, I don’t care what politicians think about each other, but it’s not good if the public doesn’t respect both the press and our elected officials. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is in America today.”

Our conversation ended.  But the unscheduled unofficial press conference was not yet over.

While getting on the City Point bus and heading to Southie, a lady in her 60s and wearing a Patriots football hat and jacket said for all to hear, “What a game, huh?” I enjoyed listening to the ensuing conversation, but I was hoping that nobody would recognize me and draw me into the conversation.

Yet that wasn’t to be.

A young college student got on the bus at Broadway Station and stood beside the seats my wife Kathy and I were sitting in. Looking out the bus window with the snow coming down heavily, I could tell he wanted to strike up a conversation so I put him at ease by asking him what he thought about the Pats game.

But it was almost as if he didn’t hear my question. Instead, he said:

“Mayor, you were known for driving around the city in snow plows. The snow plow drivers and people loved it, but I heard something about you and snowstorms that I wanted to ask you. As a kid you were always shoveling neighbors’ sidewalks, especially the elderly. But a story I heard was when you were playing college basketball in Philadelphia, you left your hotel at 6 a.m. to walk down to the Philadelphia Arena [the Palestra] to help the custodians shovel the snow for a big afternoon Holiday Tournament doubleheader. The custodians would then let you inside the arena to practice shooting basketballs till the fans arrived. That afternoon, you broke The Palestra college scoring record which had been held by Oscar Robinson from the University of Cincinnati. Weren’t you tired from shoveling snow and shooting basketballs since 6 in the morning?”

“When you’re do something you believe in, you never get tired,” I replied.

I haven’t heard that story in a long time, but sometimes when it’s snowing, I think about it.

Another story the snow reminds me of took place in February of 1978, before I was mayor of Boston. My son Ray and I were driving home to South Boston from the Beanpot college hockey tournament at the Boston Garden. Boston was experiencing one of its biggest snowstorms ever and the MBTA had shut down. We saw two high school boys walking home so I stopped and picked them up and drove them home. Both later became good friends of ours. One was Joe Ross, who would later become a State Trooper, and the other is now Boston Police Commissioner, Bill Evans.

Taking up the collection at St. Brigid Church on Sunday, I was struck by how many elderly people braved the icy streets. We could barely push the baby carriage through the frozen snowy streets. But not surprisingly, a couple of senior citizens helped me push my grandson Braeden up the hill.

Maybe snowstorms help us become better citizens, make new friends, and even become better basketball players.


Raymond L. Flynn is the former Mayor of Boston and a former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.