... we roasted, toasted and fried up one of our own
When you're the "Roastee", you get to have a picture of your whole family (or most of it) at the top of the story. So this is most of the family belonging to Jim and Barbara Driscoll. That's Jim and Babs, in center, in black and white.
The SilverStringers' meeting of May 21 was significantly more important than any of the past 364 weekly meetings we've held, for two reasons.
First, it marked the completion of our seventh year in the production of the Melrose Mirror. And second, it meant we had a chance to roast, toast and fry up one of our own -- long standing member Jim Driscoll.
What is significant is the fact that these Stringers have stayed glued together for all this time, and have published certainly not less than a thousand articles in support of our Mirror. In one sense, we have outlasted our sponsors, the string of young graduate students at MIT's Media Lab who taught us about computers and publishing on the internet -- then went their own ways in life while we superseniors plodded on, trying to save the world with our hometown electronic newspaper.
That's Frank Callahan singing a roast, while Bernadette Mahoney can't quite decide if this is proper. Bernie, incidentally, took the part of Jim's ex-girlfriend.
You see, it was the Media Lab, in developing the software we use today, who came up with idea of a medium that could bring people around the world together, to get them to share thoughts and ideas, to become closer. Such a communications program could easily cross political borders, spread an idea of peace, growth and prosperity in a world still fraught with war.
Well, we Stringers did our part. We're still doing it, and the May 21st meeting showed that the plan is still working.
Not bad for a bunch of old geezers -- which, of course, we aren't.
Furthermore, the program has spread like wildfire around the world. For example, Italy has no less than 3000 copies being used in schools and community groups -- thanks to one of the Media Lab sponsors, "La Repubblica", a daily newspaper in Rome.
Jack Driscoll quinces his dialog, while John Averell can't quite believe the humor, but wife Shirley thinks it's hilarious.
Further, there are SilverStringer software being used in such far off places as Thailand, and Japan, and India. People are running with our communications software in Ireland, and Spain, Finland, Mexico, and Central America.
In Curtiba, near Sao Paolo, Brazil with a population of 1.8 million, some one hundred high schools are being introduced to "our" program.
The SilverStringers' program has been translated into Spanish, French, Portuguese, Japanese, Hindi and Italian. One version, the "Junior Journal", a publication of youngsters ages nine to nineteen, is supported by young citizens in 80 different countries. They have even overcome the language barrier!
"I suppose we have reason to be proud," Jim Driscoll said after his good-natured roasting in May. "We were the first guinea pigs, and we can't deny that the both the MIT software program and the advent of using seniors to prove it usable, brought more success than anyone could have imagined".
Stringer editor Louise Fennell and MIT guests Eric Blankinship and Missy Corley, getting a laugh from Jackie Wattenberg's script.
"There is no doubt that the SilverStringer project proved to be a boon at the Milano Senior center," Jim explained. "Those seniors who chose to take part -- and I bet we've had a hundred writers over the years -- are still young and vital and vibrant people. We proved that our volunteers, most of whom are in their 70s and 80s, are not over the hill yet."
"It's amazing to see the work that these people put out, " he said, "and even more important are the new, innovative ideas they have produced in continually modifying and updating the original program. They went from computer novices to technical innovators in a really short time."
Of course Jim Driscoll is one of those key people. He is a charter member, but actually, he was here before the SilverStringers. He was the key promoter for the local Council on Aging, in charge of raising enough money so that the seniors of this small city could have a nice place to meet, greet and be active.
COA Director Jack Beckley used the occasion to announce an expansion of the Center to include a computer lab, health clinic and reading room in developing the lower level. From the left are guest Karen Hall, Stringer Hector French, Jack, Stringer Dave Moreland and Chairman Marie Moreland.
He was responsible -- at least mainly so -- for raising $350,000 to make the conversion of an old carriage house into a delightful, homey, warm place for the rest of us. And that's how the Milano Senior Center came to be.
And now he has the fourth in the series of coveted "Melrose Mirror" awards.
Almost as a side note, Jim's younger brother, Jack, who was then retired as managing editor of the Boston Globe, was editor in residence at the Media Lab at MIT. That is significant to this roasting.
One Spring day in '96 Jack was seated at the table with a number of Media Lab faculty members, when the basic idea of this communications project came into being -- and it was Jack, after all the key ideas had been put into the package, that selected the Melrose Senior Center to initiate the new research program -- which only then became known as the SilverStringers' project.
Guests included family members Betty and Fran Connolly, Dom Scarpa and Bob Driscoll.
The end product of course is world communications. Getting along, and sharing peace. And that's what Jack, Jim, and two dozen of our compatriots, plus all those gurus at MIT, wanted to do. Spread the word. Peace. Show the world what an American hometown is like. Let's communicate on a grand scale.
When we started, about 30 or 40 people crammed into a conference room at the then-new Milano Center in downtown Melrose, to see what this fellow Driscoll had to offer. Actually it was both Driscolls, Jim and Jack. They were into this project jointly, now backed by both the Council on Aging in Melrose and the Media Lab in Cambridge. It was a convenient marriage.
They wanted us to be reporters, but they were clever in leaving a door open so that we could become what we were comfortable with. And it worked. Since that time, membership has remained fluidly at 25, and there are about ten of the original members still radically active.
In essence, we write this electronic newspaper that you are reading now.
Dave Driscoll, the youngest of ten, told in comedy how his oldest brother had become a hero.
Jim's appreciation-roasting came off well, and there was laughter and guffaws all afternoon. Writer Jackie Wattenberg -- who does those wonderful critiques of our city's symphony, drama and singing productions -- produced a script that involved most of the membership; she even wrote a script for brother Jack, who laughed so hard while getting it out that nobody understood a word of it.
Among the guests that afternoon were Eleanor Jenkins of Philadelphia, who is an avid reader of our Melrose Mirror. She found it while surfing the net a couple of years ago, and wrote to her daughter, Karen Hall (a relatively new resident of Melrose) to let her know what was going on in town. She had to see us in person, and here we were -- partying and putting Jim Driscoll on the hotseat.
Besides Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. Hall, special guests included many (but not all) of the Driscoll family. Betty and Fran Connolly, brothers Bob, David and Jack, daughter Julie and two grandchildren, Frankie and Danny, Pat and Dom Scarpa, and of course Jim's wife Barbara, who caught almost as much flak as Jim.
The jokes at Jim's expense were hot and heavy, and what made it funnier was that the actors had to stumble through a new script, were blowing their lines, embarrassing themselves while everybody hurrahed their discomfort, regardless.
Even Dave Driscoll -- the youngest of the clan and now Commissioner of Education for the Commonwealth -- told a long story on his oldest brother. Of course we had all heard it before, but David's delivery was delightful, and we laughed again.
It was a fine party, and it was our advisor, Jack, who keeps reminding us of the difference we have made in the world. In a program that started out with seniors, we have somewhere near a million people around the world participating in an experiment in global communications.
Like I said, not bad for a bunch of old geezers. Which we're not.
June 6, 2003