For more than four decades, late summer in Falmouth has been defined by the Falmouth Road Race. The 7.1-mile journey, which originated as the fanciful brain child of local legend Tommy Leonard as a bar sprint from the Captain Kidd in Woods Hole to the Casino in Falmouth Heights, has become an amalgam of superlatives—it is one of the world’s best athletic events, one of road racing's top fundraising occasions, and one of the most inspirational undertakings around. So many stories of hope and triumph, so many encouraging traditions and sustaining relationships, and so many ordinary people doing extraordinary things have come to define this weekend-long event.
I had the good fortune to spend Saturday, August 16, and Sunday, August 17, with old chum and FCTV guru Kevin Lynch as we attended many of the race events and recorded the sights, thoughts, and tales of the weekend for a show for Falmouth’s hometown TV station. We started off our coverage by spending some time at Dave and Bob Jarvis’s Quarterdeck Restaurant, where the organizers of the Falmouth Walk were busy preparing for this now-legendary event, which raised more than $30,000 for local charities like Gosnold on Cape Cod and the Falmouth Military Support Group. Founders Tommy Leonard (of course) and retired Boston man-in-blue Ed Burke regaled us with stories of their time together when Ed was walking the beat in Boston and Tommy was slinging beers at the Eliot Lounge. If you see Ed around town, ask him how easy it is to get a horse into a bar.
(I’ll give you a clue: it’s easier than getting him out after he’s had a few drinks.)
From the Falmouth Walk, we traveled to Falmouth High School, where the Health & Wellness Expo was bustling with runners, families, and my top-notch producer, and I had an enjoyable visit with Falmouth’s hometown astronaut, Sunita Williams. Sunni’s family, including her sister Deena, live here in Falmouth. We had a chance to visit—and it added immeasurably to the day to have someone who has been around and above the globe spend some time reflecting on the exceptionality of our community.
During the expo I was able to catch up with race president Scott Ghelfi, who was brimming with excitement—and gratitude—for the more than 2,000 who make the race the success that it is. Scott is a positive and effusive face of the race, and brings a commitment to the Falmouth community that helps this race stay true to its roots as an event based in pride and dedication to the Falmouth community. As evidence of that, over the two days, I shared a quick glance or a smile with volunteers like Ed Giordano and Johnnie Netto, who continue their volunteer service from the early days, when Rich and Kathy Sherman were joined by John and Lucia Carroll as the organizers of this renowned event.
On race morning, Kevin and I headed over to Lawrence School as thousands of bleary-eyed runners boarded school buses just as the sun was peeking over the eastern horizon. The aforementioned horse whisperer Ed Burke has made a science of herding more than 10,000 runners into orderly queues to get them swiftly and safely to the starting line in Woods Hole. Kevin and I boarded one of the buses and had a great chat with the hopeful and perhaps jittery would-be finishers, including Main Street mainstay Akku Patel, who left his perch behind the register at 7-Eleven for the day to fulfill a challenge from a friend and run the race. A check of the results shows that Akku placed 10,837th out of 11,184 finishers—but he finished and fulfilled a personal dream and goal. Akku is symbolic of the thousands of stories of personal achievement that make this race a tome of triumph and so much more than seven miles of running. The brother and sister team of Finton and Aoife Callinan looked ready to run from Falmouth to Fenway, never mind from Woods Hole to the Heights. They were both racing to support the Cape Cod Center for Women, Aoife having raised more than $6,000 to support this vital Falmouth-based nonprofit.
As we waded through the throngs of personified anticipation, soaking in the varied visages ranging from steely determination to abject fear, I had the good fortune of a visit with past neighbors and permanent friends Greg and Sandee Parkinson, also running to support the Cape Cod Center for Women. They were joined by sons Christopher and Andrew. Sandee is a perennial fixture near the front of the pack, but eschewed a prediction on her place in the family competition. Good thinking. I think I promised one of my books for the top Parkinson finisher—so stop by the house, Christopher, and pick up your prize.
In a post-Boston Marathon bombing running world, security is a somewhat unheralded but nonetheless omnipresent reality. Falmouth Police Captain Jeff Smith took a few moments to share his thoughts with us and was representative of a well-orchestrated security effort that deserves our gratitude and praise. Along the route, from the smiling duo of Sean Doyle and Doug DeCosta at the start of the race, to stalwart veterans Kevin Kinsella and Tom McGuire, to visiting officers from surrounding communities, our hometown was well-protected and represented.
Kevin and I hitched a ride aboard the lead female runners press truck, and caught a glimpse of the thousands of fans and supporters who line the route to cheer and bring inspiration and enthusiasm no matter if the throngs run, walk, limp, or shuffle by. I spotted old friends John Kelleher, Steve Hough, and Kevin Smoller enjoying the day. Falmouth’s famous scribe, Ted Murphy, and excellent educator Diane Funfar were also seen along the route. The South Shore was represented by Hanoverite John Barry, and former Stop & Shop mainstay John Brand’s smile was wide, no doubt in supporting his daughter Lori and son-in-law Don Thomson, as they ran together and completed their trek. I took a moment to cheer another Hanoverite, Claire Reilly, as she darted past Norwell standout Rob Bergquist.
I was able to chat with one of the five legends who have run every race, and my brief visit with Brian Salzburg was indeed a treat. I didn’t get to chat with pal Dan DiNardo, as he was hard at work volunteering with the medical corps, tending to those who wilted a bit. I did grab a hug and a handshake with native Falmouthite Steve Lawrence, who not only ran a great race, but cooked a mean post-race meal. I have wonderful childhood memories of singing at a player piano with longtime friend Joe Dowick; now I have new memory of seeing him check an item off the bucket list by crossing the finish line.
As we made our way onto the post-race gathering on the ball field, the hugs, smiles, and tears were as plentiful as the hot dogs and Yasso frozen yogurt. I shed a tear watching Kevin clutch his son Kevin, after the younger version of Kevin Lynch crossed the finish line in a truly inspirational feat of completing the race months after having life-saving lung removal surgery. My Quarterdeck circle then became complete after sharing a brief but enjoyable visit with former Main Street maven Rita Pacheco and hearing stories of success from her children, Reece and Rebecca.
Our whirlwind weekend ended (of course) with a snack at the hot dog tent, run efficiently and expertly by the Falmouth Band Parents and led by proud mom Cathy Lemay. As John Marderosian heated up the hot dogs in the steamy abyss below, he nonetheless took a moment to catch up and share a smile.
That’s what this entire weekend is all about. Thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of people, descending on this very special community, for one very special event, on one very special weekend, to share one simple, but very special thing—a smile. That smile can be a smile of victory, a smile of support, a smile of recognition, or a smile of gritty endurance, but at the end of it all, that’s what everyone who comes to Falmouth gets to take home.
I lost a longtime friend this week. He’s been a friend since my youth. For years, he made me laugh just at the right time. He brought me comfort during my sometimes awkward teenage years, and showed me that it’s okay to be unique, eccentric, spastic, and all those other tags and labels that were stamped on me with and without my permission in my younger years. They say he died from his own hand, butI believe he was murdered, killed by two sinister and insidious cousins, both ruthless serial killers.
I never actually met my friend, but spent countless hours smiling and laughing with him throughout my life and am profoundly saddened by his tragic death. My friend was Robin Williams, and his ruthless killers are the diseases of addiction and mental illness.
I am neither a coroner nor a police officer—and I certainly don’t have access to the investigation into this week’s heartbreaking event, but there is little doubt in my mind that those murderous cousins were lurking in the bedroom where Robin Williams died.
He was courageous enough to discuss his addiction and mental illness in public, and by doing so helped demystify these terrible diseases of the brain so that acceptance and understanding in our sometimes still unyielding and uninformed society could slowly but hopefully steadily increase. The oft-used cliché is appropriate here: perhaps Robin Williams died so that others may live. His death is highlighting the need to talk about these issues, to understand them better—and to understand, accept and embrace those among us who, like Robin, contribute immeasurably to our society while privately managing their disease.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five Americans lives with mental illness, and one in 10 lives with addiction. Given those statistics, thousands—not hundreds but thousands—of Falmouthites, our friends, neighbors, colleagues and family members, live with one or both of these treatable but potentially debilitating and deadly diseases.
I have another friend. I’ve known him for a far shorter period than I knew Robin, perhaps four or five years, but this friend I’ve actually met. We’ve enjoyed many engaging conversations, and he, like Robin did, lives with both addiction and mental illness. He is diagnosed as being bipolar, a moniker at which he bristles, equating it with the racial or mysogynistic slurs used by previous generations. Because there is still an unfortunate (but gradually waning) stigma in public identification as an alcoholic, addict, or mentally ill person, I’ll call my friend George.
This week, after Robin’s death, George opened up about his hopes for greater understanding, here in Falmouth and across our nation, for the millions of Americans living in our midst, working daily to keep those murderous cousins at bay.
George can identify with the depth of Robin’s pain and anguish, and the peaks of his mania. Like Robin, George inhabited a place so dark and lonely that he, too, contemplated suicide, looking up at the ceiling in the basement of his Mashpee home and simply deciding that, for that day, the rafters were too low to accomplish a hanging and deciding to live another day. He noted to me that, “People like
Robin and I who experience the stigma of having been clinically diagnosed with bipolar disease are battling a prejudice that’s not supposed to exist in our enlightened society. Racial and gender discrimination are simply not tolerated in our schools and workplace—in fact, federal law mandates quick and dire consequences for any behavior that discriminates in the workplace.”
George lives with that labeling each day, but this former California resident, who actually met Robin in a nightclub in the 1980s and saw his genius in person, is hopeful that Robin’s tragic demise, and his own willingness to encourage a dialogue here locally, may help another of the thousands in our community feel comfortable sharing their struggles as well.
George continued our chat by quoting from an iconic 1970s song that encapsulates his views about the lives of those living with addiction and mental illness. The song, “She’s Come Undone” by the Guess Who, provides both a window and a warning for us all:
She’s come undone
She didn’t know what she was headed for
And when I found what she was headed for
It was too late.
She’s come undone
She found a mountain that was far too high
And when she found out she couldn’t fly
It was too late.
It was indeed too late for Robin, but it’s not too late for George and so many others living in our community. George finished up by adding one more thought: “He [Robin] shook me up right at the right moment; he’ll never know he saved my life but he did.”
By openly having a dialogue and raising awareness and acceptance in our community, we can together do the same.
I got to know Troy this week, and what I saw was a disappointment. This once-great pillar of strength and vitality has withered and declined. No, this is not a column about self-discovery and self-awareness; I actually traveled to Troy, New York, this week and saw the remnants of what was once one of the most prosperous and vibrant cities in the United States.
As Donna and I strolled through the quiet, sullen streets one evening, I marveled at the majestic, almost triumphant architecture, which belied the cavernous and numerous empty storefronts within, yearning for their former glory. As we scanned the skyline from the waterfront, you could almost hear the din of the city’s previous splendor, with the streets lined with reveling diners, plying merchants and eager artisans, all making this small city of 75,000 a triumphant urban center.
During the early 20th century, Troy was a leading producer of steel and garments, a teeming economic hub, shipping its wares on the Hudson River to the Northeast and beyond. As its leading industries—its soul and its very identity—moved elsewhere across the country and across the globe, Troy lost its focus, and the greatness that defined this lynchpin of New York’s capital region also moved elsewhere. Today, the population has declined by more than a third, and the city is searching for ways to bring back people and their passions, pennies, and penchants for success.
The story of Troy, although tragic, is simple. The pulse—the economic drivers—of Troy moved out, and malaise moved in. Troy continues to struggle day to day to return to its former greatness—or even some semblance of it.
The existence of Rensselear Polytechnic Institute and Russell Sage College provide a modicum of an economic engine, but Troy remains on the sorrowful end of an identity crisis.
There is a lesson in Troy’s fall, one that is applicable and timely right here in Falmouth.
We have a durable and inimitable identity. From our effervescent visitor-based seasonal economy to our year-round foundation in oceanographic research and health care, from our enduring agrarian roots in Hatchville and East Falmouth to our emerging cultural capillaries through creative ventures like the Jazz Fest and the Woods Hole Film Festival, Falmouth thrives and survives because its people share a commitment to its success.
On our local boards sit a mix of passionate natives and dedicated newcomers who share a common obligation to the success of the Falmouth ideal.
Recently, a couple of those local boards have been faced with a simple request that, while appearing to be modest and straightforward enough, is actually a regulatory Trojan horse, replete with danger and the makings of decay that plague Troy.
When the planning board looked askance at a recent proposal by Cavossa Disposal Corporation to expand trash pickup operations, seeking to commence emptying dumpsters adjacent to residential areas as early as 2 AM, it correctly noted and voiced concern about the impacts of this urban proposal on our suburban town. The members aptly noted that neighborhoods would bear the burdens of traffic, noise, and commercial activity during a time of day when tranquility is a key quality. Out of the Trojan horse that is this proposal would most assuredly emerge a desensitization to the quietude of Falmouth’s neighborhoods and a chipping away—however subtle—of Falmouth’s identity. When the first garment factory closed in Troy, perhaps no alarms of urban decay were sounded, but perhaps they should have been. This proposal is decay for the sake of the dollar, and the planning board was both correct and courageous in opposing it.
At a previous hearing on the subject at the board of health, residents who live near sites that would become late-night dumpster dumping zones expressed opposition, noting that a town bylaw was passed specifically to avoid this breach of serenity. The board of health, much like the villagers in the ancient city of Troy, balked at those protestations. They have wheeled this seemingly innocent proposal into our midst—and invited the calamity that lies within into our community. If trash pickup is allowed at 2 AM, what’s next?
This Troy doesn’t want Falmouth to become that Troy—or the more modern New York version. Let’s heed Troy’s lesson and keep our identity—and our tranquility—intact.
The imagery of a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly, of the plodding, slogging, uninspired worm-like being altering its outward and inward state and turning into a high-flying, beautiful work of nature’s art, is an oft-used metaphor to describe a metamorphosis in peoples’ own lives. Who among us has not felt like the caterpillar, plodding and slogging through our days, only to experience some sort of metamorphosis and be transferred, transported, or even transcended into a new, more brilliant and glorious state?
Author and Falmouth transplant Jim Butler certainly has, and he is sharing his story—his metamorphosis—with folks from Falmouth to Frankfurt. As I sat with Jim at his apartment overlooking Falmouth Harbor on a tranquil day recently, I looked out over the gentle surf in Falmouth Harbor as the synthetic sound of waves offered further tranquility from Jim’s laptop, and noted that this Falmouthite’s passion for life and gratitude for his metamorphosis were palpable.
Jim’s journey and his rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-gratitude story are chronicled in his new book, “Metamorphosis in Black,” where he exposes with a genuine and self-deprecating honesty his voyage to the dark abyss of substance abuse, his struggle to emerge from that dimness and despair, his outward and inward success and triumph as a sober man, his relapse and return to the abyss, and his recent re-emergence—his flight out of the cocoon of dependence, desolation and despondency.
The book is a chronicle of a life of contrasts: from his escape from the jail of his inner-city youth to his time in jail; from his struggle to find meaning in his alcohol-saturated adulthood to his contentment and awareness in his golden years in Falmouth. From his life on the streets of New York to his travels to New Bedford, resulting in Jim’s eventual “metamorphosis in black” that led him to today’s day-at-a-time life on Falmouth Harbor, Jim’s tapestry of tumult is a lesson for all ages in the ravages of addiction and the blessings and opportunities of a sober life.
Jim’s journey began in Harlem, where he was raised by a strong but loving mother in a tight-knit but limiting neighborhood, where survival most assuredly meant violence. His book records in vivid detail his early years and presents a revealing look inside the self-obsession of the alcoholic mind—even before the fuel of alcohol was introduced. It is a fascinating self-analysis of great potential dashed by great struggles, of soaring hopes crushed by plunging anguishes.
He looks back at the scourge of heroin and other drugs in Harlem in the 1960s with sociological disdain, convinced that narcotic distribution in Harlem was part of a “diabolical plan” to “neutralize black empowerment” by unnamed conspirators. While this conclusion is not backed by any facts or empirical evidence in Jim’s book, it has certainly fueled his outlook today, as he is convinced that he was able to “escape the plan” of those cruel societal architects to enjoy the life he has today, with a firm and determined purpose to help others avoid his pitfalls.
With the burgeoning challenges of heroin addiction and the increasing frequency of deaths at the cruel and unrelenting hand of opiates in our community, Jim’s story is both timely and important. And that is, Jim believes, why his metamorphosis has brought him here to Falmouth. Attracted by what he calls the “lure and allure” of Falmouth, he looks with “wonderment and gratitude” at his newly adopted home, where his spot overlooking Falmouth Harbor provides him the freedom to spread his message of hope and recovery. And spread it he does. He travels widely throughout the commonwealth, selling books and sharing anecdotes on his failures so that others may succeed.
Jim penned his book when he got sober the most recent (and he hopes, one day at a time, the last) time, powered by a not heretofore seen energy and enthusiasm for a fresh chance to emerge from the cocoon. During his most recent bout with the disease of addiction, Jim became a recluse, forsaking family, friends, and even his professional chef d’oeuvre, the “Weekly Compass,” an independent newspaper he published in New Bedford and which drew wide acclaim, including a certificate of special recognition from then-Congressman Barney Frank.
Today, Jim is content simply speaking of his gratitude and his re-entry into life here in Falmouth, and his appreciation for the Miller House and Flynn House, local members of the Gosnold family of treatment centers, for providing him the time and place for his metamorphosis of temperance to blossom.
Jim Butler’s failures led him to misery. His successes led him to Falmouth. His book, available locally at Eight Cousins, provides us with the opportunity to learn from both.
I love to sing. I sing in public, I sing in the bathroom while I’m brushing my teeth (that can be messy), I sing while I’m cooking, and even while I’m working. At the office, people know when I’m coming down the hall, as my sounds precede me. As a result of that happy propensity, and an ill-advised governmental policy, it’s unlikely that I’ll be traveling to Winnipeg any time soon.
The Executive Policy Committee in Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba and that province’s largest municipality, recently approved a bylaw outlawing singing on city buses. Outlaw crooners can even be subject to a $100 fine if caught humming a few bars on the bus.
As silly as this idea sounds, it clearly had the support of some governmental decision-makers who were either unaware of the absurdity of the proposal when applied outside of the boardroom, or fully aware of how foolish it was and just did it anyway. Either way, it was a bad decision. Sometimes, government just does that.
As much as I love to sing, I also love to read. I’ve been an avid reader since the age of 5. I can fondly remember Marsha Zafiriou, the librarian at East Falmouth Elementary School, affectionately dubbed “Mrs. Z” by the bibliophiles who would descend into this comfortable corner of Davisville’s educational edifice, encouraging me to challenge myself with ever more interesting and exciting choices to take home and absorb. My love of linguistics, my affection for information, and my esteem for encouraging others to share their thoughts, was cultivated in those early days by a librarian who cared—and who was available to spend time with a young and eager book lover.
Alas, as with the Executive Policy Committee in Winnipeg eliminating the gift of music on public buses, the recent decision by school superintendent Bonny Gifford to eliminate the gift of reading by cutting the librarian position at one of our public schools was just as foolish and just plain bad. Her announcement that the library teacher at Lawrence School would be eliminated, while other new positions are being created, left me—and many Falmouthites—singing the blues. It’s a good thing I wasn’t on a bus in Winnipeg when I read the news.
As a governmental budget professional, I am well aware of the challenges of sometimes scant public dollars available to fulfill the many missions and demands of a public entity, but leaving a library without a librarian is akin to leaving those music-less buses in Winnipeg without a driver. An outpouring of sentiment since the decision was announced buttresses the notion that this decision was conceived in the same sort of Winnipegian governmental echo chamber where the decision-makers say “it’s a good idea” enough times that it reverberates. I’m sorry, but it’s just not so.
Even Mrs. Z agrees. In a recent letter to the editor, the now retired librarian noted that without a dedicated library teacher, the school would be, “totally without the unique skill set of that profession and the space itself becomes a warehouse of taxpayer-funded resources without a trained person to promote and facilitate their use.” I couldn’t have said it better myself—but of course I couldn’t—because my love of language was nurtured by Mrs. Z herself. Future young Falmouthites may be denied that opportunity.
Many other respected and committed members of the community have chimed in to lament this out-of-tune idea. School committee member Judy Fenwick even took the rare step to leave her seat on the committee during a recent school committee meeting to speak during the public comment period and plead for the restoration of this critical member of the Lawrence School learning team. Scores of citizens, through e-mails, personal pleas, and letters to the editor, have noted a similar sentiment.
It’s not too late. The school year doesn’t start until September. Here’s hoping that the superintendent changes her tune.
When did we get so angry?
The local reaction—and angry overreaction—to the news that unaccompanied children detained by the federal government may be housed temporarily on Joint Base Cape Cod, paints a sad and sorry picture of the dismal state of the public discourse in our community, in our commonwealth, and in our nation—and is a stark reminder of the regretful lack of compassion and understanding by many in our midst who oppose the idea of providing refuge for children without even knowing the details of their proposed brief visit.
There is an angst and a discontent that pervades our global society today, from continent to continent, from community to community. International discourse has turned into international disarray. Our incessant bombardment from the 24-hour news cycle provides constant reminders of the unrest and upheaval in the name of hatred, anger and disagreement, from Damascus to Donetsk.
Here at home, many have joined that chorus of negativity, using the potential of briefly housing immigrant children as a club to pound home their partisan message, and ignoring the simple facts that to date, no children have come to our peninsula in search of kindness, and that said request for kindness, even if fulfilled, is temporary. A collection of naysayers has turned a humanitarian issue of compassion into a political issue of opposition.
I have always seen our community and the larger Cape community as an antidote to the madness over the bridges and across the oceans. That is, until this inimical display of fear and anger in response to the news that our local military installation may be a temporary site to provide food, shelter, and medical care to abandoned children demonstrated the ugly underbelly of rigidity and intolerance here on our peninsula. A demonstration at the Otis Rotary this week sent a clear and unwelcoming message that when it comes to compassion, the Cape is a closed campus.
I am sad. I am disappointed. Yet, I am resolute in my optimism and hope that the dark forces that have polarized our community on this issue can be neutralized by hope and compassion. The demonstration of kindness and faith by many Falmouthites who held a rally of their own this week, buttressed by the simple theme that “Compassion is a Cape Cod value,” reignited a sense of community in many that had been dampened by the week’s events.
Yes, compassion is a Cape Cod—and a Falmouth—value. That simply, but powerfully, says it all. We can debate immigration policy and point fuming fingers of blame to a wide variety of politicians and policy makers on this issue, but the counter-protesters got it right. This isn’t about whether George or Barack shoulder the blame. This isn’t about masking political opposition as political activism, as the protesters from the Otis Rotary attempted to do. It’s about children having fled oppression, violence, and despair for hope, the simple hope of a better day in the greatest nation on Earth. They will not linger here in the United States and here on Cape Cod, but the way they were treated before they even arrived will.
While these kids will likely not get the opportunity to immigrate here like many of our ancestors, they deserve to be treated humanely while they are here on our soil. Many preceeded these youngsters in their quest for a better tomorrow. Their journey was memorialized in a poem:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Sound familiar? That excerpt from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus is inscribed on a plaque at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. There are no disclaimers of a minimum age, length of stay, or nation of origin. Maybe we should have a copy engraved on the Bourne Bridge to remind the kindness opponents of those simple concepts, and of the fact that compassion is indeed a Cape Cod value.
Sometimes, a good idea sounds even better when considered against the backdrop of a little local history. On Wednesday, as I enjoyed the ebbs and flows of the sea of humanity that passed before me at the Falmouth Village Association’s super-successful Arts & Crafts Festival, I listened intently as two long-time locals, who have seen more than 160 years of Falmouth history between them, shared their perspective on Falmouth, its people and its history.
Phil Stone and Andy Dufresne have been cutting hair in Falmouth, and with it, listening to ideas and sharing stories, for a combined 120 years or so, and have been living in Falmouth for even longer. As I manned my booth at the street fair, selling books and sharing stories with passers by and Phil (who doubles as my Dad), Andy stopped by to say hello. What unfolded was as fascinating and interesting as the people highlighted in the book I was selling (no wonder Andy and Phil are both in there). They took me and a few other Falmouthites who noticed their familiar faces from the barber shop on a vivid ride down Main Street, from the days during World War II when Phil’s dad Frank Stone opened Stone’s Barber Shop and uniformed troops were plentiful as they visited from Camp Edwards, to the post-war boom in town in the 60’s and early 70’s, when the level of activities at nearby Otis was at its peak and Main Street was bustling with night clubs, restaurants, and new Chevrolets sold by Harvey Clauson, to today’s varied and thriving retail and restaurant mecca.
The theme of their delightful verbal tome of Falmouth history was change. They noted again and again how many establishments have come and gone and how a few institutions, including their family-owned barber shops, have withstood the winds of change and the tempest of time. Long-time Falmouthite named McDougall stopped by at one point and shared his reminiscence of pulling together a few redeemable bottles at his family’s boatyard to obtain the 12-cent admission to the Falmouth Theater where the Carpet Barn is now (look closely enough at the building and you can still see the name engraved on the façade) . He shared wonderful wartime stories of his mom doing her part and manning a set of binoculars near Great Pond to scan for enemy craft. I soaked in decades of Falmouth history and local color in a few minutes, briefly pondered how fortunate I am to be able to share moments like that, and thought about a similar conversation that may take place at the Falmouth Village Association’s street fair in a few years – or a few decades. What will be the change that those vendors, family and friends fondly recall (or lament)?
As I looked around, I saw a village thoroughfare booming with commerce, and I listened to the din of buying and selling creating a symphony of success for the dozens of vendors – and for our community. I saw an already thriving downtown rocketed into the next dimension of accomplishment. Then my thoughts turned immediately to Gen. John Flanagan. The late general, a successful businessman, professor, author, and former Chair of Falmouth’s Transportation Management Commission, was roundly criticized for his vision of a Main Street looking just like it did this week. When he proposed making our downtown thoroughfare pedestrian-only in the summer months, many (including this scribe) offered jeers and catcalls, even calling this plan ‘outrageous’. Like many ideas with their basis in bold and avant-garde thinking, the change represented by such a radical proposal was just too much to handle. Like the change that created so many wonderful memories for Andy and Phil, though, this change’s time may have come. Indeed, after my lesson in history from Andy, Phil, and Mr. McDougall, I now know that Gen. Flanagan was right. The time has come to seriously consider closing Main Street to pedestrian traffic in the summer. The opportunities this would present for additional retail space, additional civic space, and additional economic and cultural activity are only limited by the imaginations of the people bold enough to pursue it.
Last week, an editorial on this page lamented the lack of parking and the lack of a comprehensive vision for our downtown. The physical infrastructure improvements have been made – resulting in the success that allows us to contemplate the next generation of enhancements. With a pedestrian mall on Main Street, parking could be diverted to Lawrence School and Mullen-Hall with the already successful trolley service making stops along its route to accommodate shoppers. The newly expanded mega-lot on Palmer Ave. created by the Steamship Authority could also be a great source of additional downtown parking to accommodate our new configuration. The pieces are in place to make it work. All it will take is someone to believe it and support it.
A generation ago, a group of forward-thinking public servants embraced change and transformed our village from a dying downtown into a flourishing destination. It’s time for a new generation of leaders to do the same by embracing the change sought by General Flanagan.
Vienna. Moscow. Paris. Mashpee.
Typically, Mashpee would not roll off the tongue as the fourth location in that set of worldwide cultural locales. However, thanks to the tireless dedication of Bill Dougherty and his team at the Falmouth-based non-profit organization Recovery Without Walls. Cape Cod and Mashpee will indeed join the list of world-class venues like the ones above, and others like Dublin and D.C., that will host the world-renowned vocal ensemble Chanticleer as they tour the globe this year. For one spectacular, melodic, and memorable evening, this amazing collection of twelve individually splendid and collectively superb male voices will share their gift of music to delight us all and to benefit Recovery Without Walls, Bill’s invaluable organization that provides a pathway to success to women in recovery – right here on Cape Cod.
A few months back, Bill sent me a note on Facebook and asked me to view a video of Chanticleer performing the American classic tune Shenandoah. I knew the song as one covered by Elvis that occasionally pops up on my satellite radio station, but had not heard of this male a capella group. I’m one of those people who can be moved by music – physically, mentally and spiritually. As I sat at my desk and listened to the beatific tones emanating from my speakers, I was moved to tears at the sheer magnificence and uncommon excellence in what I was hearing. I’m a fan and devotee of classical music – our family friend Helen had me listening to Beethoven on 33 LP’s when I was ten years old – but the sound of this amazing assembly of voices was exceptional to me. When Bill followed that teaser with the news that Chanticleer would me making a stop in Mashpee during their world tour, I knew that something special was happening – right here on Cape Cod.
Recovery Without Walls (www.recoverywithoutwalls.org) is experienced in fundraising. Bill’s laudable work helping women transition from the woeful grips of addiction to the wonderful gifts of everyday life is funded largely through events like their annual volleyball tournament, tennis tournament, and golf tournament, and of course, charitable donations. However, they have never organized a visit from a world-class performer, much less one that has been called “the world’s reigning male chorus” by the New Yorker magazine. Consistent with their mission and commitment to helping women thrive, not just survive though, they leapt into action and have publicized, marketed, and organized this event for next Thursday with the energy and flair of veteran event planners. When I visited Bill’s office in Falmouth this week, a corner had been transformed into a mini-box office, with a mock-up of the performance center at the Mashpee High School where the event will be located, ticket sales logs, and marketing material typical for the BSO, not RWW. But that’s the beauty – the true value of what RWW provides for its clients and all of Cape Cod. Women who receive support from Bill and Recovery Without Walls are instilled with the building blocks of becoming engaged members of society – a measuring stick far beyond the simple “yes or no” of whether or not participants achieve long-term sobriety. Bill measures success as women who stay substance-free, but also register to vote, gain employment and further their education, volunteer in their community, and help sustain RWW through their own charitable donations. Those donations are shared with eighteen other non-profits on Cape Cod, a cross-pollenization of good will that teaches clients and donors that active recovery has no walls – or boundaries. “People want good,” noted Bill during our visit, encapsulating his undying commitment to the betterment of society, one recovering person, one day at a time – right here on Cape Cod.
That commitment to a loftier definition of success pervades everything about RWW, including that commitment to organizations that partner and support their work. Realizing the special nature of this concert – and the work of RWW – the Cape Cod Symphony and Cape Cod Conservatory lent their marketing muscle to the concert, and what has resulted is an evening typical for some of the cultural centers of the globe – right here on Cape Cod.
“They are, to put it directly, one of the world’s best.” That’s what the San Francisco Chronicle said of Chanticleer. I think the same is true of Recovery Without Walls and Bill Dougherty. What a gift that we can enjoy and benefit from them all – right here on Cape Cod.
The late Bill Owen, long-time director of the Falmouth Department Works, was a self-proclaimed ‘road guy.’ Bill loved roads. He had a sixth sense about how to cost out road projects, how the roads were constructed, and how best to maintain them. He could look at a road like Beethoven would look at a Stradivarius and be able to instantly identify its quality. I can remember sitting at the large oak conference table in his office in Town Hall and marveling at his hand-written spreadsheets and ledgers, calculating with pinpoint accuracy the costs associated with maintaining Falmouth’s 400 miles of road.
When I had the honor to speak at Bill’s memorial service, I mentioned that his skill – and passion – that led him to be a leader in his industry and one of the most respected ‘road guys’ in the Commonwealth, was both his gift to Falmouth and his lasting legacy.
Today, a new generation of DPW leaders – today’s skilled and passionate public servants – are seeking to make their mark on our community. Like Bill, their passion shines in their work and is embodied in their projects that not only improve our community, but creates their own lasting legacy.
Edwin ‘Rocky’ Gomes is such a leader in our community. Rocky has worked for the DPW for most of his adult life, rising through the ranks and assuming the moniker of Superintendent of Trees, Parks, Forestry and School Grounds upon the retirement of another local legend, his mentor and my friend, Brian Dale. Like Bill and Brian before him, Rocky’s skill and passion is his gift to Falmouth. And as Bill was to roads and Brian was to trees, Rocky is a ‘park guy.’ When I met with him and a couple of his rising stars this week, he noted that he and Brian shared a vision to modernize the focus and performance of the Department. “This is not your grandfather’s DPW,” Rocky noted, speaking with an Owen-esque passion and purpose that made me proud to be a Falmouthite.
Rocky not only creates, though, he inspires his team to do the same and has assembled like-minded public servants who share his vision to create a better tomorrow. Tree Foreman Jeremiah Pearson and Parks Laborer Chris Bennett are the rising stars with whom I visited. They shared with me their latest opus, the improvements to Main Street’s Peg Noonan Park. A decade and a half ago, the park was the centerpiece of the Main Street revitalization. It fulfilled its intended purpose and became a gathering spot, a civic and social hub for occasions and community events, its grounds and its bandstand well used.
Due to the success of the space, however, the park became tired. Rocky provided Jeremiah and Chris a wide creative berth, and armed with that support from their leader, they went to work. A trained arborist with a creative flair, Jeremiah designed the upgraded park and created improvements to provide blooming highlights each season. “He excels,” noted Rocky of his shining supervisor. He sure does – and did on this project. Chris joined the town recently after landscaping in the private sector for more than 20 years, seeking simply to translate his pride in this community into action by giving back and improving it one day, one project at a time. He joined Jeremiah and together they transformed the tired and wilting park into a vibrant restored civic space. While you may not recognize a beauty bush by name, you’ll be able to spot it when it follows the azaleas and hydrangeas as the late-season dash of color in the park. The core of the park’s improvements is the installation of a seven-son tree, a fairly new species that blooms in September and will act as a perpetual reminder of Sept 11. The improvements also included upgraded electrical services, a newly constructed performance patio (with thanks to Sheriff Jim Cummings and his work crews), a lit pathway to the public restrooms, and cobblestone accents that will provide a link to the Library Lawn, continuing a verdant accent in a vibrant downtown.
The improved Peg Noonan Park is not some theoretical tender valley in West Virginia or mountain range in Colorado – it’s our real-life gathering space in the heart of our downtown for Falmouthites and visitors alike. Many days, I’ll walk down and sit on a bench near the peace rock and just enjoy the backdrop of humanity and its beautiful noises passing by. Today, I and we have Rocky and his team to thank for moments like that.
Bill would be proud. Rocky the park guy’s passion has inspired valued employees like Jeremiah and Chris to leave their own legacy for us to enjoy – every day.
The success of the evening was indicated by the multiple drippings of short rib gravy on my notepad. I’ll readily admit that I dipped into dinner before, during, and after it was served, occasionally dropping a splash on my notes for the evening. It’s not easy to cook, write, and sneak a taste of your handiwork all at once, but I couldn’t resist and I’m sure my gracious and gregarious hosts wouldn’t have minded even if they caught me stealing a forkful (or handful). It was a night of laughs, liveliness, libations and...food. Lots of food.
The setting was the lovely and comfortable West Falmouth home of Bob and Melissa Hamilton. The occasion was dinner cooked by me and music provided by local a cappella group Notescape. The beneficiary of this wonderful event, other than all who attended, was the Falmouth Education Foundation. Bob and Melissa purchased the dinner and music at the FEF’s annual auction along with their friends Laura and Dave Peterson, and Tracy and Chris Quidley.
For several hours, we cooked, laughed, and shared stories. Expertly aided by my parents, Phil and Donna Stone, and my permanent sidekick, Donna Buckley, we prepared a feast befitting a foundation. That’s what this evening was really about. Although the dinner was to benefit the Falmouth Education Foundation, what I observed and was offered as another pleasant and indelible reminder was that the people in attendance, from those who helped me cook to those who serenaded us after dinner, to the hosts themselves, together—along with so many others—form the foundation of our community.
The Falmouth Education Foundation is yet another example of the mosaic of humanity that makes up our incredible town—and what makes it a community. People like Melissa and Bob Hamilton, who work full-time jobs, Melissa as an elementary school teacher at Mullen-Hall, and Bob as a coastal engineer for the Woods Hole Group, yet take time to donate to organizations like the FEF, spend time coaching youth sports, and still value quality time spent with friends, form a firm community foundation that allows organizations like the Falmouth Education Foundation to thrive.
As the two Donnas skillfully prepared a grilled shrimp appetizer brushed with an aromatic basil-infused olive oil, I visited with our partygoers. Phil filled their glasses with prosecco and I listened intently as they shared stories of their community—our community—and how fortunate they feel that they’re part of it. It is all of us who are fortunate to have folks like the Hamiltons, Petersons, and Quidleys as part of our community foundation. Bob reminisced about his and Melissa’s move to Falmouth in 1995. Both hailing from Baltimore and committed to its environs, they came as young newlyweds (and youthful sweethearts) to stay for a year as Bob became settled in his new job. They never left. They laughed as they explained their first wedding anniversary at the Barnstable County Fair (Bob is a hopeless romantic) and how Falmouth has transformed from a place where you couldn’t get a pizza after 9 PM to a vibrant, bustling cultural epicenter for Cape Cod.
David, a fifth-generation Falmouthite and Falmouth High School classmate of mine, then shared his insight into the reasons behind his accomplished wife’s need to cheat off this scribe in catechism class 30 years ago. I (and I suspect the Lord) have both forgiven Laura; her work on behalf of humanity long ago overshadowed this youthful indiscretion.
After a salad of locally grown Coonamessett Farm greens with homemade croutons and a Dijon vinaigrette, the main meal of braised short ribs, pommes Parisienne and haricots verts (simply put as meat, potatoes and green beans) was served to the delight of all, including the cooks who, like me, were able to manage a taste here and there.
Chris had arrived a little late, scurrying to get there from his art gallery on Nantucket (he is rumored to have stopped at Burger King on the way), but was greeted warmly by Tracy and all others. As the short ribs became even shorter, local music stalwarts Notescape entertained and engaged our sextuplet of hosts, During an interlude while Notescape rested and our helpers served strawberries and whipped cream, I chatted with local music legends Peter Clark and Tom Goux, each noting to me the importance of music and the arts to a sound education and the importance of folks like the Hamiltons, Petersons and Quidleys to a sound community. As they completed their serenade with songs we all fell in love to, I asked everyone to offer a word to describe this magical and memorable evening. “Exquisite,” noted the art gallery operator, noting that in his line of work that’s a word he chooses judiciously.
Melissa offered a toast to “the most amazing friends,” as I thought to myself that, yes, folks like these—all of them—are the most amazing friends, indeed. Friends of each other, friends of the Falmouth Education Foundation, and Friends of Falmouth. We are fortunate for our friends.