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My big brother is turning 70

My older brother, first in a line of the five children of Tom and Julia (Harrington) Mulvoy, turns 70 next month, the patriarch of an American Irish clan whose gritty founders lived in smoky huts far from any mansion’s candles, working the stubborn land in villages named Moycullen, Rosscahill, and Oughterard, and fishing the nearby waters of Lough Corrib some 20 miles outside Galway City.

From this milieu and over the Atlantic to Somerville, Massachusetts, emerged my father, then 12, only son of a widowed mother and big brother to three sisters. For all four of the immigrant Mulvoys, a strong commitment to the values of family life brooked no exceptions. “When you are older and need a hand, or maybe get in trouble,” my Dad used to preach to his four sons and his daughter from the head of the dinner table,” the only ones who will care will be your family, especially this one. Don’t ever forget that.”

Given that background, I want to take up the relationship of big brother/little brother that has obtained between the one-time Skippy Mulvoy and his brother Tommy since 1943, the year the latter joined the former in the back bedroom on the first floor of 22 Lonsdale Street, a two-decker in the heart of Dorchester.

My big brother never left me behind, never called me a pest, never let his mates tease me for long; he made sure I tagged along, was always my protector and my guide in our early years together. As we grew up on city streets and in neighborhood parks, I was his acolyte, glove-carrier, and bat boy for the Panthers, his team at Wainwright Park.

For all that, we weren’t twins; we had our differences, the most obvious one being how we presented ourselves. One-time Dorchester Reporter staff writer John Craig put it just right in a 1986 profile of the two of us in this paper: “If Mark is a singing telegram, then Tom is an office memo, cordial and precise.”

When Skippy went off to St. Mark’s Grammar School and then to BC High, I followed him the next year. After he had caddied for a year at the old Wollaston Golf Club in North Quincy, he introduced me to caddiemaster Bill Foley and said I could do the job just as well as he could. I followed him to the Heights of Boston College, where, now Mark Mulvoy, he became a fixture in Eddie Miller’s Office of Sports Information and, in short order, got me a job totaling saves at the school’s hockey games and rebounds at the basketball games.

The month after his graduation, he joined the sports staff of The Boston Globe, and six months later he was recruited by Sports Illustrated. Before he left for New York, I applied at the Globe, and after 20 months at WPLM Radio in Plymouth, I joined the Globe’s sports section as a desk editor.

Mark’s assignments at SI meant lots of travel (he flew more than two million miles on American Airlines alone) as he covered baseball, golf, and hockey, and then edited the magazine. My job meant working nights and overnights at a desk in Boston about three miles from my home. So he would invite me to travel with him when I had vacation time, and soon enough we were knocking on Jack Nicklaus’s door in Florida and having lunch and dinner and, occasionally, a game of golf, with athletes and executives.

On one occasion, a favorite memory of mine, I watched as Nicklaus would accept water on the course only from his wife and my brother as he beat Arnold Palmer in the US Open at Baltusrol Country Club, New Jersey, in 1967, a legendary match-up that we watched with Brockton native Herbert Warren Wind, the New Yorker magazine’s Hall of Fame golf writer who once had worked at SI.

In 1984, Mark was promoted to the Sports Illustrated’s managing editorship, the top editorial post at the magazine. I was named managing editor at the Globe in 1986, and for the next dozen years we talked family and shop every weekend. He worked Sunday into Monday putting out Sports Illustrated, and I worked most Sunday nights putting out the Globe.

There are calls back and forth every week now, the state of the Lonsdale Street Mulvoys being the priority, trailed by one-sided commentary on the Red Sox.

Such a productive fraternal relationship is hardly singular to my brother and me. The world abounds with such intimate back-and-forth among family members; my two other brothers and my sister have our own highly meaningful one-to-one connections each of which could take up an essay like this one.

Usually when I hang up after talking with Skip, I see in my mind’s eye the determined face of my Irish immigrant father from Galway and I remember hearing the words “family first, always” delivered with passion; no, with urgency.

And so it has been with his Skippy and Tommy and Bobby and Mary and Jim.