... a night to remember
Mayor Jim Milano with his two lifetime secretaries Kay McCarte (left) and Mary Rita O'Shea.
It was the gala event of the year - "The Mayor" Jim Milano's 99th birthday celebration.
About 150 people, all dressed in their finest, met and laughed with friends as they made their way through the hall to approach the honoree. Jim, handsome in his tuxedo, was genuinely delighted as he greeted everyone by name.
When Rotary president John Tozza told Jim about Rotary's plan to honor him with a birthday party to start his hundredth year he reluctantly agreed on two conditions. One, it would be in his very favorite building, Memorial Hall and, two, he could play his very favorite organ. Of course, President Tozza agreed and said that a portion of the funds raised would go to the Milano Scholarship fund.
Among the dignitaries present were two former mayors and one present mayor, former Melrose school teacher, superintendent and retired Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, David Driscoll, who had been Jim's campaigns manager when he ran for Mayor, State Representative Katherine Clark and former State Representative, now Secretary of Elder Affairs, Mike Festa.
Also, members of the Melrose clergy were present, including Reverend Larry Starr, pastor of the Green Street Baptist Church, who gave the invocation, noting that Jim had played the organ at his church, Father John Sullivan, present pastor and Father John Ronaghan, past pastor of St. Mary's Church, where Jim still plays the organ at the 4:00 p.m. Mass on Saturday, and Father Coughlin from the Blessed Sacrament Church.
After the dinner of chicken breast wrapped around cranberry stuffing, butternut squash and rice pilaf, cheesecake and coffee, catered by Turner's Restaurant, was served, the program began by Millie Rich introducing Mayor Rob Dolan, who said he was born the year Jim became Mayor and he graduated from college the year Jim left office.
He remembered how Jim came to his graduation party. and how Jim was almost always present at Melrose High School sporting events, especially the band competition that was held at the Malden stadium in the pouring rain (the show must go on) and the only one standing outside was Jim, his Melrose High jacket soaking wet and the rain streaming down his face, applauding them as they came off the field.
Dave Driscoll recounted how he and Peter Garipay decided that Jim should ring every doorbell in Melrose during his first campaign. So, map in hand, one or the other accompanied Jim and, as they went from one street to another, they colored in the streets on the map. Of course, they took turns and stayed on the sidewalk while Jim went up and down stairs (especially in the Highlands), encouraged him to go forward even if there was a "Beware of Dog" sign (he did get his pants torn once), found streets none of them knew existed and colored in the whole map.
Fr. Sullivan noted that Jim had said that he had played the organ for all of the pastors at St. Mary's, and that he was the ninth pastor. He also had heard that Jim played the organ at the North Station at Christmas time for the B&M. As it was the feast of All Saints, Jim, with his love for his city and church, his generosity with his time and talent, was truly a saint among us.
State Representative Katherine Clark, after congratulating Jim, read a resolution from Senators Richard Tisei and Tom McGee. With a great many "Whereases" it covered Jim's whole life back to his grandparents right up to the present.
Millie Rich then introduced the man who needed no introduction. He sat down at the organ and entertained us with his musical talent. He spoke about John Slayton who was the greatest benefactor in Melrose back in the 1900's. Thanks to him, we now have Memorial Hall with its wonderful organ.
Looking over at Rev. Starr he said that he noticed that he had never been invited back to play the organ at the Green Street Baptist Church to which Rev. Starr replied that he did not need an invitation, he was always welcome.
After Jim thanked his family, friends, dignitaries for coming, Millie Rich looked down at the Fire Chief John O'Brien and told him to cover his eyes as they brought out a cake with a lot of lit candles. As Jim blew them out in one breath we all sang Happy Birthday. The party was over.
December 5, 2008