The Remembrance Project
Lives of those among us.
People read obituaries avidly. Alongside the famous deaths in the newspapers, there are the small print columns about the equally loved but lesser-known. Ordinary people who have lived extraordinary lives. Elissa Ely reads between the lines, finding men and women around New England whose stories should not go untold – the lives of those among us.
Is there someone you know, who has died within the last year or so, you would like to suggest for The Remembrance Project? If you’d like to speak with Elissa Ely about a loved one who has passed, send a note or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’re two little old people here at the flat edge of the earth,” John Fahy said of his home with wife of 41 years, Emily. They traveled, they cooked, and they wanted for nothing, because they had one another.
“I’m just a humble carpenter,” Charles Donnelly, Jr. used to say. Actually, he was a master craftsman, restoring hundreds of wooden doors and windows in Beacon Hill and Back Bay.
Some men have a public charisma that electrifies crowds. John Harvey, Jr., was loved for his lower-wattage but unfailing devotion to family. Every decision he made in life pointed at all times in their direction. They were his center of gravity.
Balanced on a scaffold, usually with a cigarillo dangling from his mouth, Mike Heffernan painstakingly restored slate roofs around the world — in Hong Kong, Cuba, and Russia, as well as in Colorado and his own rural Vermont.
As a father of young twins, Peik Larsen was fearless. He took them while his wife worked — and joyous, meandering adventures ensued. He and the four year olds would spend hours buying a cooking pan, researching a recipe, and making beef bourguignon.
The world gazes warily on psychiatrists, worried that they possess preternatural secrets about human nature. In offices painted neutral shades, these mythic psychics — these omniscient beings — listen hard, sit silently, and don’t move much. Dr. Shervert Frazier lived in constant colorful motion.
Chris Jones started asking his mother about infinity when he was three. She can’t recall the details of what she said, but its non-specificity didn’t satisfy him. It was a question he asked for years.
No one writes about the life of a poet and musician as well as they write about themselves. Marcia Deihl was born in North Carolina, daughter of a pastor. “My father preached while I drew dancing harem girls,” one poem begins.
“This occasion of my personal extinction,” Colonel John Barr wrote, “is but a small matter, important only in that it affords me one final opportunity to appeal to my surviving friends and acquaintances, to think often on the extinction of our species — and to act accordingly.”
Doug Ashford bought records and CDs like other people buy morning coffee. Friends used to play a game with him they called “Stump Doug,” and over decades, in every style — from gamelon to Celtic to Zydeco to Dan Zanes to Richard Thompson to John Denver — Doug missed a musical fragment only twice.
Daryl Carr died on an icy night in the midst of a historically awful winter. He was 30 years old. As a Peace Corps volunteer, he had chosen to work in a Muslim country — a young black man, bringing with him the open difference of his race and the private difference of his sexuality.
Louis Chako died in Milton, Massachusetts, at 92 years old. His brother Arthur Chako died in November, a year earlier, at 88. Except for death and deployment during World War II, they were inseparable their entire lives.
There are those whose gift for giving has no end. When Susan “Supernice” Pernice was just an infant and her mother held her, patting her back, the shy baby used to reach up and pat her mother’s back in return. After her death, her liver and both kidneys were given to others.
Florence Hagins was a quiet storm of a Boston housing activist. She had been the first enrollee in a mortgage program begun in response to a historic study concluding that banks awarded loans on the discriminatory basis of race.
Fernando Morales kept his life lists in a set of Moleskine notebooks: dream vacations, future professions, college assignments, hours of the day for pain medication, and days of the week for chemotherapy.
Constance Lalikos helped deliver thousands of babies over 40 years as an obstetrical nurse. To patients and their parents she was always Auntie Connie. “You have a son,” she would tell new parents, “and he looks just like me!” Newborn daughters did, too. It was as if she were both Adam and Eve, spawning the world — though she never married or had children of her own.
Practicing Buddhism brought patience and peacefulness to Dr. Jerry Bass’s restless, intelligent mind. It enriched him personally as traditional therapies had not, and became—as much as any philosophy of non-attachment can—his passion.
Harry Gottschalk had many and varied careers over the course of his life. He was a farmer, a chef, an adjunct professor (though he had not been to college himself). He taught furniture-making in the North End – highly segregated at the time – and used to walk his non-white students to the subway after class.
Six mornings a week, at 5 am, Bill Scantlebury walked downstairs from the third floor of the family’s East Boston house, and started to mix doughnut batter for the family’s bakery on the first floor. It was a neighborhood fixture, since 1931.
Growing up in small-town Georgia, everyone knew someone who had fought in the Civil War. Rose Glandorf told stories about taking elocution lessons from Confederate widows in need of income. And darker stories, too.
Thelma Patricia Whalan was in young adulthood when — as she described it — she was “kidnapped” to a famous psychiatric hospital. It was her first psychotic break. That was where, as a patient, she met her future husband, and also developed her life-long hatred of psychiatrists.
David Hayes felt safest in the world when he locked his door, turned the radio to WBZ News, and kept 24/7 watch on events, which were, to his mind, inescapably dangerous. Some of his fears were based in truth. When he declared that zombies had hexed him because of his race, in the great scheme of history — growing up black, in Boston, in the sixties — this was the case.
Joanne Konig was a teacher: to her three daughters, her 10 grandchildren, and the hundreds of elementary school students who rotated through her classroom, with its hand-culled collections of shells, bird nests, sand dollars, and its bulletin boards under perpetual reconstruction.
In 1950, Gerry Williams came upon a description in a book: a potter sitting by the road, selling his wares. He had never touched a piece of clay, but the image of this craftsman, connected by his hands to earth, struck him like a shaft of light.
As Julius Stuck liked to point out, his life began when most people were dying of influenza. The life that followed was big; he believed in adventure. When he was 17, he eloped with his wife.
In her first marriage, Anne Parker learned firsthand that wealth did not create the circumstance of happiness. This was fortunate, because she and her second husband scraped by fiscally. But Anne became stunningly self-sufficient.
When Anne Wojtkowski became its first female mayor, Pittsfield had lost its primary employer, General Electric, and thousands of jobs. It was a city in danger of dying. When she left office, her hometown had a budget surplus.
For over 40 years, Bruce Harrington Gould had worked seasonally on the docks with other union grain shovelers, waist deep in the holds of Lake Erie freighters.
Richard “Doc” Tacelli had been trained as an optometrist. Some of his high-school students were also his patients — and at least one, in his AP Bio class, was his daughter — and they sent their squinting parents to his evening practice.
Kenny Ward preferred to keep his past private; he may have been from St. Louis, or Milwaukee, or Philadelphia. He may have been the youngest of 11, and there were some clues that he might have been a musical prodigy.
As a science teacher, Lawrence Dorey was full of expertise, but it wasn’t limited to science. He knew how to use a bread maker to teach fractions, or how to fit animal teeth and bones into skeletons. He also knew how to throw knives and swallow flames.
When Mansooreh Saboori was 19 and living with her large family in Tehran, the military appeared at their door. They removed some literature the Shah considered communist. They also removed her father. It was a moment of crossing over.
Bob Harmon had a theory about growing up, that seven was the age disbelief begins to set in, and he transformed each child’s threshold birthday into a tableaux.
Louis Soltanoff cheerfully viewed the world as a place in need of innovation. His prototypes were always right on the cusp of spectacular patenting; the timing always seconds from success.
After more than two decades of imprisonment on false charges, Bernard Baran walked back into the world and started over. He settled down with his boyfriend, spoke in law-school classes and Innocence Project conventions, and worked as a landscaper.
Few people can be quiet and charismatic at the same time. Evy Rosenblum riveted an audience by speaking softly and focusing utterly — whether it was on a large group or a small grandchild.
Gracie James loved storytelling, and the journal writing began in second grade, even before she could spell. Her journals kept her company — more accurately, she kept herself company in them — and she filled them for the rest of her short life.
At the small bed and breakfast that Mary Stevenson and her husband ran, their kitchen table might seat a couple of tourists, a woman whose husband had threatened her with a shotgun, and a refugee family from El Salvador.
As a professional guide, Eitan Green had summitted Mount Rainier over 40 times — always learning it, always studying it. Dreams of climbing began the day he rappelled with an eight-year-old’s determination down a small cliff in Northern Maine.
The formative experience of Martin Howard’s life was the one he never, ever discussed. Once a man has survived World War II, what’s left that could distress him?