Massachusetts State Trooper Paul Barry, who cut a stern yet tender swath, was a man of decisiveness, an individual who always knew what he wanted and who had the resolve to attain it. As a young high school junior in Dorchester, he was attracted to an archetypal Dot girl four years his senior. Like Hermie in the Summer of ’42, Barry fumbled his way through awkward advances to lovely 21-year-old Maryellen Hayes at Camp Fatima in New Hampshire, a Catholic summer camp for special needs children and adults where they met while serving as volunteers.
“I didn’t give him a backward glance,” Maryellen said with a blush over coffee last month at Gerard’s in Adams Corner across the street from the Eire Pub. “I sort of patted him on his head, and sent him on his way.”
As much a strategist as a romantic, Barry pursued his interest through friendship, periodically taking Maryellen to lunch and making sure to regularly cross paths with her in the serpentine tangents of their Dorchester circles. One day, after learning she had broken up with a longstanding boyfriend, Barry delivered an ultimatum with the confidence and charm of a seasoned stud. “This is the last time we’re going to lunch,” he declared. “The next time we meet, it’s going to be for a date. I’ll give you three days to decide.”
Checkmate. Maryellen, whose close friends today good naturedly call her a “cougar,” took the bait and agreed. “You mean we can actually tell our friends!” a giddy Barry replied.
Within time, these two blocks of Dorchester granite, with family roots as deep into Dorchester as into Eire, were married and started producing offspring in typical Irish- Catholic fashion. First Nicholas, then triplets Emily, Alexandra, and Colin—a surprise trifecta of love.
Maryellen was somewhat reticent at first to tell Paul — a family burst of one to four in 13 months. Talk about Irish twins in spades. Ever buoyant, he replied, “This is awesome. Jackpot!” After that, the bell kept ringing, and in time Michaela, James, and Elizabeth arrived—seven in all.
It was bliss, albeit frenzied at times — a collective joy turned horror story early in the morning of June 15, 2006 when 39-year-old Trooper Barry’s cruiser drifted into the breakdown lane on I-495 in Wrentham, and struck the bed of a six-wheel dump truck parked close to the roadway. A citizen who was certified as an EMT was traveling behind him and immediately stopped to provide medical care. He was able to restore a pulse until another trooper and medical crews arrived. Paul was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. An autopsy later revealed that an undiagnosed genetic condition, cardiac arrhythmia, or abnormal electrical activity in his heart, had likely led to the crash.
The accident prompted front page headlines, a formal funeral procession of more than 800 troopers from around the country, outreaches to the family from Sen. Ted Kennedy, Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Gov. Mitt Romney and even California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose state had just passed landmark “line of duty loss” legislation.
In one erratic heartbeat, seven children were without a father, and a wife was without the love of her life, a woman of great faith who had thought she would never check the “single mom” card.
“I’m not a big believer in things happening for a reason,” she says today, four and a half years after the crash. “Things happen. Plain and simple. It’s how you react that’s a measure of a life. I find closure ridiculous. You’re never going to have closure. Why would you want to? You can close on a death, you can close on an event, but keep the relationship intact.”
And that’s just what the Barry family is doing in earnest -- right from the fallout of the accident, when the Trooper Paul Barry Family Foundation was created “to better the lives of children and families throughout the Greater Boston area, through the donation and administration of financial support to worthy causes adhering to the same spiritual, community, and family values that Paul held dear to this heart.”
It’s a legacy far more enduring than life itself for the Barry family, his fellow troopers, and the Dorchester community at large, all of whom will celebrate Paul Barry’s life on March 4 at a foundation fundraiser to be held 7 p.m. at Dorchester’s Florian Hall. The event, a night of dancing, cocktails, raffles, and the music of Mark Morris and the Catunes, will raise money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester. It is being organized by Maryellen and her close friends, Therese Fitzgerald and Mary Theresa O’Sullivan—a line up that sounds like the front row of a convent chapel.
Fitzgerald and O’Sullivan are with Maryellen this afternoon at Gerard’s. The three are inseparable these days, and that’s good for Maryellen, who delights in close friendships.
Closeness is the coin of Maryellen’s life, an intimacy that traces back to her paternal grandparents from Cork. Her late grandfather, James Hayes, was an IRA soldier imprisoned in Dublin in the early 1900s for espionage against the Crown. In a twist of irony, his childhood Cork sweetheart, Anne (Kingston), was Protestant.
“They smuggled letters in and out of prison,” said Maryellen, noting that her grandfather had fashioned a wedding ring out of a prison nail. Once he was released, they left Ireland for Boston where they were married; Anne was a nanny and James a hotel bellman during the days of “Irish Need Not Apply.” The couple, a study in caring and perseverance, had seven children. Their second oldest, Maryellen’s father, James, became a career Boston police officer and married a schoolteacher of French descent, Jeanne DeLorie.
Devout, compassionate Catholics, the Hayeses moved to Blanche Street in Dorchester near Clam Point where they raised four children—Maryellen, sister Susan, and brothers Michael and James. Maryellen’s dad, a driven, hard-working cop, went to sleep one night after playing racquetball, and never woke up. He was 38. Her mother still lives in the home.
“I thought I’d never date or marry a police officer,” Maryellen says, “I knew the toll it could take on a relationship.”
A jock of sorts, Maryellen played sports at her parish elementary school, St. Ambrose, then enrolled at the private Fontbonne Academy in Milton, “just over the hill” from Dorchester. She attended UMass-Boston, as did Paul, where she majored in business management. She then went to work for a Dorchester car dealership, a Dorchester auto body shop, and the downtown law firm of Choate, Hall & Stewart as an office manager.
But her real vocation — and the leaning of her husband-to-be — was to be a wife and mother and raise a family.
After school, Paul worked as a banker with BankBoston and Fleet, then, at age 31, he scratched an abiding itch and joined the Massachusetts State Police with a goal of becoming a trooper, a position he attained and held for six years. Ever supportive, Maryellen was expecting the couple’s fifth baby at the time Barry entered the six-month training stint at the police academy in New Braintree. After he was assigned to the Holden barracks, near his Route I-495 beat, the family moved to Franklin.
Thereafter life was tranquil until early on that calm summer morning in June 2006 when Trooper Neal Noonan, an academy classmate of Paul’s, came by to tell Maryellen that there had been an accident, and that she had to come with him quickly. A close neighbor watched six of the children as Maryellen took the youngest, Elizabeth, in a cruiser with Noonan to nearby Milford Regional Medical Center.
“Is he still alive?” she asked in the car.
“There’s a pulse,” Noonan said.
She didn’t have to ask more, and yet instinctively Maryellen Hayes Barry, with true grit and faith, thought she could fix it. “I began bartering with God,” she recalls.
Barry was gone by the time she arrived at the hospital despite extraordinary measures to save him. She could see the devastation in the faces of the doctors and nurses, who asked the young woman with the baby in tow if this was her first child.
“No,” she replied. “It’s my seventh.”
You could hear a pin drop.
Maryellen spent an hour or so alone with Paul for a last, wrenching goodbye. Still the caregiver, she blotted the blood from his face, and put bandages over his cuts. “I was trying to fix things,” she recalls. “I knew he was gone, but he was always such a well-groomed, immaculate guy.”
Back at the house later she told the children, assembling them in the living room, the gathering hub of the home. They all knew something was terribly wrong. “The accident was worse than I thought,” she said as they sobbed. “The doctors did all they could. Daddy has gone to heaven.”
The faith-filled Maryellen remembers the moment as if it were seconds ago. “I had to tell my children what happened to our wonderful family, that what we had, we didn’t have anymore! It was tough. They were layered in shock. It was like a Scud missile going off in your home. A father goes out and he’s supposed to come home. He didn’t.”
Days later, at a packed funeral service at Dorchester’s St. Mark’s Church, where Barry had been a parishioner, Maryellen told her children, “I know how awful and impossible this is for you, but I won’t let it rule your lives! Have the faith to know that even in the worst of times, you will have family and friends to lean on. You will go on. Have faith in God and in yourselves.”
Over time, Maryellen herself learned to let go and let God take charge of her life, with help from family and close friends. “At first, I was trying to do everything myself,” she says, “flying around with a cape. It got old.”
Reaching for a fourth cup of coffee at the end of a lengthy, emotional conversation, Maryellen Hayes Barry reflects on her promise. “I don’t want Paul’s death to define my children,” she says. “They all need to step up in life, as I do. Never use death as a crutch. Don’t throw the sympathy card.”
Greg O’Brien is editor and president of Stony Brook Group, a publishing and political consulting company based in Brewster on Cape Cod.