Savin Hill’s McNamara feted as Boston’s ‘Best Neighbor’

Lisa Hagen, Special to the Reporter
May. 3, 2012

Peter McNamaraPeter McNamaraFour years ago, Carlos Vargas, the president of Vargas & Vargas Insurance, had the idea to create Boston’s Best Neighbor award after reading a book about a similar program that honored California’s Best Mother on Mother’s Day.

With bad news on the economy and a foreclosure crisis in full swing, Vargas decided that the city needed to focus more on the good things and honor someone who went “above and beyond the call of neighborhood duty.”

On April 26, Savin Hill resident Peter McNamara was honored as the winner of this year’s Best Neighbor award for his dedication and commitment to the neighborhood. In total, McNamara received about five or six nominations sent into Vargas.

“Those letters really got me, and it was a pleasant surprise,” McNamara said. “I don’t think it’s all sunk in yet.”

He was honored at the Taste of Dorchester event last Thursday evening at the IBEW Hall, where guests sampled different food, appetizers, and desserts from about 24 neighborhood restaurants. The proceeds went to Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA) and its efforts for sustainable homeownership.

Vargas said this year there were about 44 nominations suggesting neighbors from Hyde Park, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain. People can make nominations by explaining to Vargas Insurance why they selected that person to receive the award and then they follow up with phone calls.

“It is a matter of who has the best story to tell,” Vargas said. “Some folks thought it was more like American Idol where whoever receives the most votes gets nominated, but we are just looking for a good story.”

The winner receives $2,000 and a plaque. The person who nominated the winner receives $500 as well as another $500 that goes to a charity they select, and the two runners-up each receive $250.

Originally from Beacon Hill, McNamara has spent the last 22 years living in Savin Hill, which he calls “a little piece of heaven.” His contributions to the neighborhood include snow plowing Savin Hill Avenue, housing people who were homeless during a fire, creating an online crime discussion page, and also helping to create the Savin Hill Historic Advocates, which gives communities access to private funding.

“I love this neighborhood, and everyone gets along pretty well,” he said. “It is a wonderful, diverse community with all nationalities, sexual orientations, people who lived here all their lives, blue collar, doctors, and lawyers.”

McNamara plans to donate half of his winnings to create a community garden in Savin Hill. The garden he envisions would allow disabled or elderly residents who can’t bend down to participate as well.
“I think that we have an obligation to take care of people and it doesn’t take much,” he said. “The best thing you can give is the gift of your time.”

Leslie Doyle, who has known Peter for 12 years, wrote the first nomination letter for McNamara and was selected as the winner. She said it was “gratifying to be instrumental” in his nomination, and she also receives $500 since he received the award.

Along with the myriad of things he has contributed to the community, she said he has also helped people with marital and emotional problems. Although she moved from Savin Hill to Cedar Grove, Doyle is still in contact with him.

“He always goes out of his way to help people less fortunate than him,” Doyle said. “I am really happy he is using some of the award money to help establish a community garden, which I think is a terrific idea.”

John Moran, from Grampian Way, also nominated Peter for the award. In his nomination letter, he emphasized McNamara’s contributions to the community, especially explaining the effectiveness of McNamara’s online crime alert system that recently prevented a number of house break-ins and led to the individual’s arrest.

“Peter is a corner stone in the mix that makes Savin Hill a very special, vibrant, safe place to live,” he said in his nomination. “He is a gifted action man full of ideas with the fortitude to see ideas become reality.”

Vargas said they are going to reach out to other neighborhoods for next year. He also said they might change the location to a different place if the winner comes from an area such as Allston, Brighton, or the North End.