"Irish Sports Page"
28, 2003 William E. Sheehan Sr., aka "Whitey," who was
a toddler when the Red Sox last won a World Series, has died of
complications from two hip surgeries. He fractured his hip on his 87th
birthday, July 3.
Dad rejected feeding tubes, a third surgery and other aggressive treatments
that would have left him bed-ridden and dependent on others.
A Cambridge Fire Department Honor Guard, bagpipes and soft Irish music
marked his funeral on Thursday, Oct. 2 in Cambridge, Mass.
A long-time North Cambridge resident, Dad moved to a Medford apartment
downstairs from No. 1 son, John Sheehan, after 9/11 and after fugitive
look-alike James "Whitey" Bulger went on the lam.
Dad retired from the Cambridge Fire Department in 1977 on "the heart
bill" after some 30 years on the force. He slid down the poles at
the Porter Square (Engine 4), Sherman Street (Engine 8/Ladder 4) and Central
Square (Engine 1) stations and occasionally drove the apparatus by Verdun
Street so his kids could ring the bell, sound the siren and boast, "That's
He also had several part-time jobs to support his six kids, working as
a landscaper, plumber’s assistant and at other jobs that fit a firefighter's
changing work schedule, including delivering film in a Ford Falcon. His
favorite side job was at Slade’s Pepper factory, on the road to
Nahant Beach, where he picked flies out of the pepper with boxing gloves.
He was an avid reader of The
Boston Globe obituaries, which he called the “Irish Sports
Page,” and of the real sports pages where he followed professional
golf, the Red Sox and other Boston teams.
Dad taught his six kids that we could depend on him for a ride to the
skating rink, movies or park and for a safe viewing point for the Fourth
of July fireworks. Also never smoke in bed.
He let an adolescent Johnny take apart transistor radios and put them
back together and tried hard to stifle his anger when Johnny, helping
to paint the house during the Vietnam War era, used primer to draw a giant
peace sign on the Pemberton Street side of the house. He cheered on Billy's
losing high-school basketball team and traveled across the state and elsewhere
to see Robert at track meets.
He called Trisha "Kathy" and Kathy "Trisha" or sometimes
he just asked where "Trisha-Kathy" was. He and Ma supported
Joanie in innumerable ways as she fought breast cancer in the 1980s.
A classic Boston driver (before he totaled his car last fall), Dad stopped
at many green lights but not enough stop signs. He claimed to know a cop
in Chelsea who would let him drive the wrong way down a one-way street.
"I'm only going one way," he would say.
He was famous for taking "short cuts" that avoided red lights
but usually took him miles out of his way. "Even so, his back-road
wizardry in Cambridge and Medford was second to none," said his youngest
After being widowed four years ago, Dad expanded his cooking repertoire
beyond the hockey pucks he called biscuits and started a little cookbook
with recipes for chicken soup and tuna casserole. Mostly, though, he preferred
a meat-and-potatoes meal cooked by Trisha or Lynne or barbecued by Billy.
When he was still driving, he showed up at Trisha's house in Medford nearly
every day at 3 p.m. Was it the cooking or Moe's cigars? Or both?
He enjoyed dining with any of his kids or grand kids so much that he
once ate sushi in Vancouver, B.C., with Robert, Kathy and son-in-law Chuck.
"It's fish and rice, Dad. You'll like it."
"Isn't this raw?" he asked.
"No. It's cooked. You'll like it," we lied. He ate it.
Dad was a 1934 graduate of Rindge Technical High School in Cambridge
and worked as a machinist at the Charlestown Navy Yard for five years
before enlisting in the U.S. Army during World War II.
He followed his good friend Al Renault to war and married Al's sister
Alma in 1944, a week before he left for Europe. Traveling across France,
Germany, Switzerland and Poland, he participated in the Battle of Ruhrpocket,
the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of the concentration camp at
Auschwitz. A sharpshooter, he was awarded a Bronze Star.
Dad spent his retirement in North Cambridge and West Yarmouth, occasionally
driving to Florida to escape the winter weather.
He still amused himself and others with whoopee cushions, fake fangs
and other gags. A picture of the Last Supper hanging in his house in West
Yarmouth shows Dad as the 13th Apostle.
He is survived by three sons, John H. of Medford, Bill Jr., of Medford
and Robert of Cambridge; two daughters, Patricia Mahoney of Medford and
Kathy Dingée Sheehan of Bellingham, Wash.; and 11 grandchildren, including John H. Sheehan Jr., (fourth from left,
below) who married Rebecca MacDonald the day Dad died.
The groom's party and Sheehan family members smoked Dad's last pack
of cigars as a tribute to the missing grampy at John Jr.'s wedding.
A funeral Mass was celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 2 at St. John
the Evangelist Church, Mass. Ave., Cambridge. He was buried at Cambridge
Cemetery next to Alma with: plenty of bus fare in his wallet; his handwritten
MBTA bus schedules; long distance phone card; a pack of Phillies blunt
cigars (with matches); his squirting rose pinned to his lapel; a golfball;
a photo of Alma and him at their 50th anniversary; and a baseball signed
by all 11 grandchildren.