Tuesday, February 3, 2009

No, sometimes they don't.

So I’m rarely if ever stunned into silence by a reporter –especially when my caller ID gives me a few seconds advance warning.

I knew something was wrong late this morning when I answered the phone (something I don’t always do) and she robotically rattled off: "Phyllis Lehrer, Daily Hampshire Gazette/Amherst Bulletin,” …pregnant pause--and way more personably, "How are you Larry?”

I’ve only known Phyllis for, oh, 25 or 30 years--and after the first 10 or 15 she stopped rattling off the routine, ‘on the record’ reporter ID (besides, she’s a columnist). Phyllis wanted to discuss the sudden, tragic death of Eugene O’Neil, age 47, a former business neighbor of mine in South Amherst for many, many, years. And that stunning news was news to me.

He opened the Amherst Ale House, a townie bar, in South Amherst after Lenny Pratt moved his (townie) package store a couple hundred yards down the road. Back then (the late 1980's early 90’s) I was working 70-80 hours a week, as was he, so we would cross paths at least daily (not too mention nightly).

We had that mutual respect that comes from common folk working long and hard at what they love to do.

But then in 1999 we parted ways. I was a loud spokesperson (back when I only had a Amherst Bulletin Column) for the smoking ban in bars. Amherst inaugurated its ban just after the Northampton Board of Health crumbled under the withering fire of bully barowners.

At the time the Amherst Board of Health committee chair was a female physician (perhaps 99 pounds soaking wet); and when a consortium of male barowners dared to use a Martin Luther King Jr. quote to kick off their aggressive ‘repeal the smoking ban campaign’ I engaged full throttle.

The ban, just barely, held. Gene sold his beloved bar business, and I’m sure by the glares he gave me over the past ten years that he partially blamed me.

Last September his twins started attending the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in the same class as my 7-year-old daughter Kira. We had one of those awkward moments while picking up our kids when for a brief moment neither of us knew quite what to do.

I tentatively held out my right hand saying, “No hard feelings?” And, smiling, he shook it and responded in kind.

When Phyllis called I was heading out the door to pick up my 2-year-old daughter, who will also someday attend the Chinese Charter School. Jada had just yesterday started partial daycare at a state approved home in Hadley and I’m told the second day is the worst.

When I arrived, still reeling from the awful news, the sweet caregiver was cradling my somewhat distraught daughter whispering, “See, I told you: Daddy’s always come back”.


Max Hartshorne said...

Nice post Larry. I remember Gene, the shy barmaster, when he first opened. We joked that he had the same name as the famous playwright. Nice to reconcile years later, sorry for his family that he passed away so young.

LarryK4 said...

Thanks Max,
As I'm sure you know, a blog can also be therapeutic.

Anonymous said...


Neil said...

I think he was an alter boy at St Brigid's in his youth. Maybe?

dominique said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dominique said...

(corrects spelling error)
Gene created a wonderful community/local/townie bar. I spent many an evening there and always found friends, old and new, to discuss the problems and issues of the day. I have already missed the Ale House very much; now it is heartbreaking to lose Gene as well. Too soon taken from us all. My heart goes out to Lori and the little ones.

maryd said...

You said it well Dominique. Gene was such a nice person and The Ale House was a great place to stop in. Whether a quiet afternoon or a busy night, there was alway someone you knew and a good conversation.
So sad.

Anonymous said...

My friend Jason Hunter wrote a nice tribute to Gene O. on his blog at this link.


It is a tragedy, and I am shocked. Gene, you were too good for this world.

May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.May the sun shine warm upon your face.May the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, May the Lord hold you in the palm of His hand.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, I saw that...very nice.

I actually remember that tree.

Anonymous said...

Gene will always be reemembered to all who knew him. We became fairly close when we both worked at UMass in Hampshire Dining Commons, a "few years" back, later, reconnecting in the NASCAR Circuit. Gene made many friends and the loss is greatly felt. Thank you, Larry for posting this.

Until later..................