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Eulogy for Martin A. Coughlin (1944-2000) delivered by Frank Conte on November 3, 2000 at the Holy Redeemer Church in East Boston.  

Friends, neighbors, my fellow Americans.

I come here this morning with a heavy heart for I have lost my friend, Marty Coughlin. Indulge me, dear friends, if you will, for I will wear this heavy heart on my sleeve. This is what I must do. I come here wondering if the words I have composed for this morning can match the wonderfully forceful, spontaneous, oratorical skills of a man who spoke for those who could not speak; of a man who made us laugh and cry, who inspired us and angered us; of a self-made man who loved his neighborhood more than his own soul; and, who, in the end, showed what it is to be human. My words are limited in their power; they inevitably shortchange what Marty meant to us. I hope you’ll understand.

I have carried this heavy heart for almost a week now. I carried it as I walked up Chelsea Street thinking of our friend. I have carried it as I walked past the places Marty would take me to explain his ideas for this public project or that traffic plan. I have carried it as I drove, much as I did with Marty sometimes night after night, from Jeffries Point to Maverick Square to Central Square to Orient Heights to Eagle Hill -- through tunnels and over bridges. I have carried this heavy heart to the magnificent Madonna Shrine and looked out over East Boston and Logan Airport. And I imagined that there, atop Orient Heights Marty would take in this awesome view of Constitution Beach and Logan Airport and the Boston skyline. And I imagined Marty describing the way things ought to be. Where the planes should land; where the cars should go; where the people should be free to walk and where the kids should play. I imagined Marty showing me his wide vast arena.

This arena that was East Boston was not always a kind place to Marty; but it was a place that tested Teddy’s Roosevelt idea that I believe I once saw framed in Marty office: "It is not the critic who counts …but the man who is in the arena; whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and…who, if he fails at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

It was a pity that Marty couldn’t get himself elected. Analyzing all those glorious defeats at the ballot box, former state Representative George DiLorenzo was fond of bellowing to Marty paying tribute to his brilliance.

"Martin, if you lived in Dorchester, you would be the city councilor for Dorchester!"

"Martin, if you lived in West Roxbury you would be a great state representative for West Roxbury!"

"Martin if you lived in South Boston you could be a state senator from South Boston"

But Martin you live in East Boston and East Boston is Italian and you are Irish! What’s the matter with you?"

I think that’s when Marty came up with his universal one-size-fits-all campaign slogan: One of our own; one of our best. And henceforth Marty, to me, became an honorary Italian. I know this is true for he never missed a meal. Not only that. He starting thinking himself a connoisseur of Italian cuisine. He once visited a restaurant in Vermont and complained about the spaghetti. The waitress asked him well you don’t look Italian what the heck do you know about spaghetti? Marty argued he knew spaghetti; he lived in East Boston and those old Italian ladies were always feeding a then-very-thin Marty. If Marty couldn’t get himself elected at least he could tell a good plate of pasta.

As you know, Marty without an argument was like Coca-Cola without the fizz. In the 1980s Martin and I produced a talk show for cable television. Marty was a regular guest and I was the host. Each show would be a display of verbal fireworks. For a time Marty had his fans convinced that I worked for Massport simply because I played devil’s advocate. You showed that guy from Massport who's the boss they would say. He was a shrewd one that Marty, playing me for the fool. But it made good TV. Sometimes the programs got so hot and heavy that people could not believe that we could be friends off-camera. But this, after all ,was part and parcel of how we carried on even in Central Square where we would meet up with the gang with Gigi, Manny, Bobby, The Hawk, Sammy, Paddy and Myron and Charlie. Here we would debate the political events of the day, whether the MBTA be free or the East Boston version of how many angels exist on the head of a pin. And we two fools would give them a show and they could hear us all the way to Chelsea. We all knew that Marty could be stubborn and quite frankly that Marty could be an S.O.B. But we all knew deep down that he was our S.O.B. One of our own, one of our best.

But that was Marty in public. Some of us were lucky to know Marty’s private side. Marty will not be known only for his fiery opposition to trains, planes and automobiles in the wrong places. He will not be only known for his fight against the Airport or the Turnpike Authority. He will be remembered for his work with our youth.

When it came to helping young people Marty would jump through hoops. He would give you his last dime, make sure that you were fed, that you had a job and that if you didn’t have one a home. Marty would find a place for you to stay.

Marty would keep kids out of jail and in school. I know of one case where Marty put his own personal liberty on the line pleading with a judge that he would take responsibility for a kid he knew didn't belong in jail. Marty would know himself what it was like to be arrested; he was once fighting for our community. I remember during the days of busing, Marty worked the Projects – making sure that cooler heads prevailed.

His commitment to up and coming generations can not be matched. I remember many times seeing Marty at his typewriter filling out applications for jobs or applications for college or government forms for young people starting a business. There is an entire generation of young people my age who Marty helped. Marty would tell us we were important. He told us that if you were from East Boston you deserved every break, every fair shot -- just as much as any kid from Brookline, Newton or Wellesley or Wayland.

This came from a man who did not finish high school -- a man who gave up any idea of starting his own family because he embraced just about everyone he respected as a brother or a sister. Marty was proud of his family. Like him, I too came from a big family. And he would tell me how impressed he was with how two parents, Italian immigrants, could work hard and send all of their six children to college. Only in America we’d say. For Marty was a patriot in the best sense of the word. They don’t make public men like Marty anymore where a man’s word is his bond; just look at who’s running the country today.

Of all the aspects in Marty’s life I’d like to highlight an interesting element: the role that women played in his life. The East Boston women he knew, from Carolyn Orr at the Trinity House who showed him respect and encouraged him as a young man, to the strong willed women who showed him compassion and understanding and perhaps how to get the job done. Whether it was Anna DeFronzo, Anna Lane, Chickie, Mary Ellen, Alice or countless others, women strongly influenced Marty’s outlook. They fed him, they nourished him, they housed him and they inspired him. And no one did this better than our friend Fran Riley. When all was lost, when he was penniless and in despair there was Fran. If ever there was a brother-sister relationship to hold out as an example of love, it would be the special relationship between Marty and Fran. I know that your heart is heavy too. God bless you Fran Riley. God bless you.

We can go long into the night to recall our friend. So many stories so little time. And as I told you earlier, my words only have so much power, they fall short. My words would be incomplete without a humble attempt at lending eloquence to our friend. And so I found solace this week in the great British poet W.H. Auden. With sincere apologies to Auden I have taken some liberty with the poem with Marty in mind.


Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone
Silence the piano and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.


Let the aeroplane circle moaning overhead
Scribbling the sky the message He is Dead
Put crepe bows around the white necks of the public doves
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.


He was our North, our South, our East and West
Our working week and our Sunday rest
noon, our midnight, our talk, our song
We thought our love would last forever; We were wrong!


The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

We know that Marty’s untimely passing impoverishes us. East Boston has been diminished. We are lost without him. We feel cheated. Marty’s not around anymore to say, "Let’s go for coffee." The street corners of Central Square have lost their voice.

But Marty’s good works will always speak to us. And Marty’s spirit will always speak to us, inspiring us to improve our community.

We will memorialize Marty by naming some building or park or street or scholarship fund. This is most certain. For all great men are the common property of the country as they said at our great statesman Daniel Webster’s funeral. Marty was the common property of the neighborhood. But Marty wouldn’t want to be remembered this way.

Instead Marty, this powderkeg of passion, would want to be remembered for what he did. So I implore all of you to remember our friend. When an indifferent, big intrusive government tries to bully its way without rhyme or reason ask yourself, "What would Marty have done?" When big business comes in and starts pushing its way around in pursuit of a fast dollar without concern for our quality of life, ask yourself, " What would Marty have told them and how to get there." When City Hall doesn’t answer, when politicians hide, remind yourself how Marty got their attention. When we argue among ourselves, by all means let’s argue with passion, but then let’s step back and remember that we’re all in this together. I know that’s what Marty believed deep down inside. Maybe he didn’t tell you so.

And when some young man or woman shows up before you unable to tell you that he or she needs help – a job, a place to sleep, a kind word of encouragement, a guiding hand, a shelter from the storm put your arm around his or her shoulder and remind yourself just how much Marty overextended himself to do anything in his worldly power to help. That, my friends, was Marty Coughlin.

Many wonderful people have walked these streets of East Boston but nobody has never left more behind than our friend. Goodbye Marty. We love you and may God bless you.


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