Monday, March 16, 2015

R.I.P. Bill Bagley, Jr. January 8, 1944 - March 13, 2015; A portrait of a friend by Michael Laurano

A Portrait of the Young Man
January 8, 1944 – March 13, 2015

Bill Bagley, Jr. was by every measure and account an extraordinary person, well known and extremely well liked throughout East Boston, Winthrop and far beyond. As an adult his kindnesses and benefactions to others as a practicing pharmacist in East Boston and Winthrop, but not only as that, were many and most often known only to him and the recipients. I write now of the lesser known, the very young Bill Bagley, Jr. , the “Billy” I knew best.

After The War in 1949 when available housing for returned veterans and their new families was still hard to come by my family moved from a rented flat at 29 Wordsworth Street a mile or so away to the more comfortable 2 family house at 719 Bennington Street which somehow they succeeded in purchasing. In that move I left behind all my former childhood friends. The distance of that mile was a long way for a 6 year old. 

One lonely day playing in the field out in back of Bennington Street, now a lone John Cheverus public school kid in a virtual completely St. Mary’s parochial school neighborhood , I chanced to encounter another kid who lived several houses up the same block. A year younger than I he was the older son and namesake of a highly respected lawyer my Father knew. His name was William Morgan Bagley, Jr. and he was that day with his younger brother, Bobby. This new kid informed me that he was descended on his Grandmother side from William Morgan, a pirate. Duly impressed by that information as a 6 year old would be I did not then know that after a separation imposed by his parents, Bill and Grace, buying and moving their young family then of 3 children, Dotty, Billy and Bobby,  later to become six with the addition of Freddie, Tommy and Patty, to their own new home at number 670 down and across wide and even then heavily trafficked Bennington Street that he and I would at a later time become even better acquainted and then constant boyhood companions. It was a most fortunate meeting for me for I could not have been better befriended or better influenced during my childhood leading into young adulthood. Life as it usually will later presented different pathways to different places in the world for both of us. Billy eventually went afar from there. I for a long time at least stayed near. However, neither Billy or I ever forgot the strong bonds forged during those years.

Childhood play stopped and work seriously began the day we obtained our sequential respective social security numbers. Billy then gave up his occasional work on the clamming flats off of Harbor View where Dorgan’s boats set out each day as tides allowed. On his initiative we shared a more intensive and regular pre-dawn job on a Hood Milk delivery truck at the Heights Projects. Then came another pre-dawn job, a Sunday morning paper route. In the heat of summer, the bitter cold of winter and in all elements in between for several years we trundled a heavy wood cart with huge iron wheels up and down the hilly streets and vales of Harbor View and the Star of the Sea and Grace Church neighborhood . That trundle cart, reminiscent of something out of Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, was gratuitously made for us by Billy’s neighbor, Mike Santamaria. He was a musically talented barber who sometimes taught and as often played exquisite violin, mandolin and guitar in between administering haircuts in his first floor shop next door to Billy’s home. We sold the remaining Sunday newspapers standing outside of Star of the Sea Church and in doing tried to stay out of their way as emerging parishioners rushed out of Father Magennis or Father Leonard’s early Mass in a stampede for still warm jelly, plain and raised donuts and crullers across the street at the Bakery. Billy was an altar boy often serving weddings and funerals replete in white and black ironed surplice so the priests let us keep inside the mysteriously dark, holy and beautiful lower Church a huge wooden “paper box” Bob Shephard the long-time church sexton and parish Boy Scout leader had sympathetically constructed for us. It had the approximate dimensions of an oversized coffin. With the appropriate genuflections Billy and I solemnly carried “our paper-box” weekly out of an unused room at the rear of the church and set up shop near the steps outside. Before electrification that chamber hidden behind the pipes had housed the hand pumped bellows for the deeply toned wailing organ often played by one of the black robed and in every way wonderful Sisters of Mercy who taught at St Mary’s School where Billy and I were then both enrolled in Sister Bonaventure’s class.

Beginning in 1959 and for several years, again entirely on his initiative, Billy and I together working shifts alternately staffed the soda fountain counter at an Orient Heights pharmacy, “Byron at the Heights” operated by Louis Doodlesack. It was there and then, somewhere between mixing “frappes”, dishing hot fudge sundaes, and delivering prescriptions, at first by foot, later by car when we each learned to drive on the standard shift store car., Encouraged by Louie who suggested that path to both of us, Billy decided to pursue a career in pharmacy while I decided to go off in a different direction, the Law. Billy’s Dad helped me in that at every turn.

In between and through all of those years from mid 50s through the late 60s whenever he and I were not on duty working somewhere Billy and I in curiosity wandered together in all seasons the long streets, the then empty fields and marshes, the shore and the environs of our East Boston neighborhood. Later carried us even further away by Rapid Transit to his schoolmate Thaddeus Gontarski’s apartment in the Charlestown Housing Project where Thaddeus wildly played spirited Polish polkas on his accordion. Then, however shyly, off to co-ed dances at Dorchester’s B.C. High where Billy attended and graduated.

As wings spread wider we took flight by various means visiting many other curious places of an entirely different sort in the wider world beyond. Among those were weekly Greek dances at Gloucester Harbor with his N.E. College of Pharmacy classmate, friend, and later to be business associate, Harry Ofilos, a  boisterous German Rathskeller on the Bowery of New York,  noisy sing-alongs in a Yankee road house on the Turnpike to Newbury, and much more all now from a vanished time and place away. There were visits to the U.S. Capitol and House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. and homage paid at J.F.K.’s grave with Billy’s youngest brother, Tommy.  From our high school years onward Billy and I were frequently joined in our excursions and escapades by our respective classmates Jerry Viscione and Ralph Vertuccio, Jr.

When higher education for us both was finally finished our paths then diverged and we went our ways. Some few years back Billy, by then a citizen of the world, in conversation acknowledged that by reason of many present factors and realities that past life though fondly remembered, even if wished otherwise, could not be replicated. Billy volunteered, however, that whenever he rode the Blue Line through our former haunts of once empty fields, steep hills and glistening shoreline, in looking out of the rattling subway car windows he never failed to fondly recall that East Boston neighborhood, those houses, the people who had lived in them, those streets, the fields, marshes and hills, that shore, those experiences, the associations. I had to then and do now admit that whenever I ride the Blue Line in passing through that area I too turn in my seat and do the same. Always have and always will.

Time relentlessly moves on. It is now 2015 and even if 1955 seems more like last year to me the fact is that 1955 was sixty years ago. 

The sad news came late on Friday the 13th that after a very long period of serious illness during which he was sustained constantly by the devotion of his loving Wife, Carol, Billy had passed in Florida. It is now then time to write in truth and in gratitude and in tribute to his memory that the adult Bill Bagley, Jr. widely known and beloved as a treasured friend to so many in East Boston, Winthrop and the wider world beyond, was the same person when he was a boy, when he was the Billy that I was privileged to have as my boyhood companion now long ago. As the twig was bent, so the tree grew. Billy, the boy of many years ago became Bill, Jr. the man, a man of fine character, the man that Bill Bagley, Jr. was, a man above all willing to befriend and to help all.

May our friend, Bill Bagley, Jr. now be at peace and at rest in God's eternal embrace in the everlasting company of those dear to him. May the Precious Lord in whom he deeply believed and throughout his life emulated in a living faith by his own boundless charity toward others have as night drew near, taken Billy’s hand and gently led my boyhood companion, the cherished friend of many, home.

Mike Laurano

Michael Laurano, Bill Bagley, Ralph Vertuccio & Jerry Viscione