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Remembering Longtime State House Reporter Kevin McNicholas

Among all the falling-sky lamentations written about this business of reporting news, few if any mention one of its enduring gifts.

Older reporters with few exceptions treat younger ones as prized pups, generous with tales and insights and the encouraging words that fight off the lousy slow days. It’s a self-sustaining thread that’s kept unspooling through the industry’s turbulence, thanks to the generosity of the veterans.

When you have a guy, then, like Kevin McNicholas in your press corps – waiting out late-starting news conferences with you, dropping by after an interview to trade laughs about the most recently mouthed inanities, to point out a decades-old happening of contemporary relevance – he’s more than just another colleague or a competitor. More than anyone on Beacon Hill the last several years, Kevin McNicholas was a vivid and vibrant reminder of the history of the place.

Kevin passed away Thanksgiving Day after a rapid bout with bladder cancer, one that had him confronting the end with what one of his many friends wryly termed an “Irish fatalism.” He was with friends and family, and had taken in a stream of visitors during his last days.

The dean of the State House press corps, Kevin’s questioning style at the uncountable press conferences he attended was to drill for the practical nub of the matter, often either bluntly or with a little finesse disarming the politicians of their platitudes and quizzing them in very practical terms on how they intended to pull off what they’d just described. It wasn’t always the first question, but it was often the one that drew out the essence of the story.

He had the voice of an old-timed radio broadcaster and the good-natured professional detachment to match. The voice was a deep, booming affair, that bit off the ends of syllables and crescendoed as it neared the kicker of the tale.

And Kevin had stories, and knew how to share them, ones he unearthed covering Frank Sargent or Freddy Langone or from the older reporters who’d fed him the scoop on Chub Peabody or James Michael Curley.

He recounted stories about the Governor’s Council in the only manner with which one can describe that odd entity, with a little slapstick and the wry tone of the cuckoo’s-nest observer.

“When I came to Boston, not knowing much of anything, he was always happy to share his knowledge and insights – knowledge some of which was invaluable, just a terrific institutional memory,” said Carl Stevens, the WBZ Radio reporter who knew Kevin more than two decades and, along with Glen Johnson of the Associated Press, talked bedside with him at Mass. General Hospital often this week.

“He was his own highlight reel,” Stevens said. “All you had to do was punch in a year and he’d say, ‘Oh yeah, this is what happened that year.”
He loved swimming, skiing, and a good party, though it’d been 16 years since he’d left behind the drinking that was industry standard in a more freewheeling time. Whenever a reporter would leave the press corps – for another beat, another outlet, another job – Kevin would unfailingly make the scene at the farewell event, the dean discharging his duties in happy and congratulatory fashion.

At those fetes, he’d have the same types of stories he’d share outside a committee hearing, brimming with chuckled recollections about the malapropisms of the Boston City Council or the long-settled feuds that so often enliven the capitol.

The voice would rise, clipping off words and nailing the quotes just right. His eyes would crinkle and he’d laugh.

This program aired on November 26, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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