'Spaghetti': A Eulogy for William A. McDermott, Jr.
Mar. 6, 2013
William A. McDermott, Jr. died on Feb. 27. His son, Liam, delivered the eulogy. His family shared it with the Reporter.
When I was in the second grade we were sent home every week with a list of words that we were to learn how to spell. As always, my Dad was helping me with my homework. He decided to throw me a curveball and ask me how to spell ‘spaghetti’. In my condescending, 2nd grade tone, I informed him that ‘spaghetti’ was last week’s word. Now, by a show of hands, how many people have ever sought advice from my father and given a similar response? Then you all know the look that followed. He put the list down and told me:
“You will have to spell ‘spaghetti’ for the rest of your life. Spaghetti is your word. You are going to have to remember everything you are taught. Your brain is a muscle—the most important muscle you have. It must be exercised; if you don’t exercise your brain, you will become weak.”
That was a lot for a 2nd grader to digest, but that has stuck with me for 27 years.
The truth is, we’ve all had those ‘spaghetti moments.’ Whether it was at the Little City Hall, the Election Commission, the BRA, campaign meetings, recounts, or in preparation with a client, my Dad spent his time teaching us all the things he knew.
1. Never carry on a conversation in an elevator—you never know who’s listening to you.
2. Never use your mirrors while driving, because it only shows what’s happening behind you. If you’re rear-ended, you aren’t liable.
3. If you want to advance yourself in an organization, but you aren’t required to attend an event, show up anyway. They can never fire a volunteer.
4. A victory is only as rewarding as your opponent is challenging.
I was asked by a reporter “Could you tell me where your father got his start in politics?”
I couldn’t answer…I couldn’t answer because how could this person not know where anyone in this city gets started? My Dad started on the front porch, the ball field, St. Williams CYO band, the hockey rink, and community meetings. You start at the bottom, you start in the trenches, you start making friends that will stand by you for life. You work hard.
And that hard work started with family.
He was a son, a brother, a cousin, a father, and ‘Pop.’ If you were to walk in to his small apartment in Southie, you would be amazed. His apartment was a shrine to family. If you walked in, you’d notice the family pictures on every wall and nightstand, but the pictures of his political achievements were displayed in the bathroom.
He called me ‘John’ more than he called me Liam. He so loved his brother, who took him into his home. I swear that John and Dad invented the book club; Oprah had nothing on them. At almost every family event, books were passed back and forth with lively discussion about each one. He loved his brother.
He was a father; boy was he a father. Over the past few days, so many of you have come up to me and Deirdre to tell us how proud Dad was of our achievements. The great thing was we already knew, because he told us. Deirdre was the absolute sparkle in his eye. He went to feises. He brought her to work with him; he brought her to recounts. At one recount, when Deirdre was 8, she actually taught participants how the process worked. He went to BLA baseball games to see her. She didn’t play; she was statistician. Honestly, who goes to a game just to watch someone keep score? Even during the 2004 DNC—the biggest political event in four years being hosted in his home city—he opted to spend the week on the Cape at the beach with Deirdre, re-reading Wuthering Heights during the day and watching the convention with her on TV at night.
If someone he cared about had an interest, he took it upon himself to learn about that subject and became interested in it himself. His sister Helen’s artwork adorned the walls of his apartment, even an art school project of hers that their father had kept. Just two weeks ago, we were looking at them and talking about her prints. He was bragging to me that some were originals and one was one-of-a-kind. He loved his sister.
He recently learned that someone in the family was interested in pirates. So, he went out and got this person the definitive non-fiction work on the subject—it was a 280 page hardcover book. His inscription, scribbled in ball point pen on the inside cover, reads: To Madelyn, a true pirate aficionado, Arrrr ‘Pop’.
Madelyn: three years old.
I can relate, at the same age he read me the unabridged Arabian Nights each night before bed. Note: it was not the Disney version.
A few weeks ago, even though my Dad was about to be embroiled in an upcoming Senate campaign, he took the entire day to take my daughters bowling. He was not a bowler—this was the first time he had put on bowling shoes in nearly thirty years. My 4-year old daughter, Bridget, stunned my father with a spare. He turned around and said ‘Wow, did you see that?’ I replied “Oh yeah, Dad—she’s pretty good.” For the remainder of the game, neither my father nor Maeve nor I could catch up to Bridget, even with the bumpers up. I was the first loss I’ve seen him enjoy.
That competitive spirit lives on with his grandkids. When on the phone with my daughter Maeve, he told her he was coming out to teach her how to play checkers. Even though she had never heard of the game or the rules, she proudly informed him “Okay Pop, I’m gonna beat you.” Of course, during that visit, when the girls lost interest and left the table, my father and I found ourselves in the throes of a checkers deathmatch. I don’t remember who one, but I bet he does.
No matter how many accolades he received for his professional career, they are no match for his reputation as a father and grandfather. He was a mentor, he was my father, he was my best friend, and we all loved him.
Everyone in this church knows me as Liam, but I am William Alfred McDermott III.