40 Bostonians We Love
This month, Boston Magazine marks its 40th anniversary, a milestone we celebrate by paying homage to our city, with a tribute to 40 people who have helped make Boston what it is today Â— and 40 more we think will guide it through the future. We also bring you a nostalgic look at all that's happened in those busy 40 years Â— and what we've lost to the unceasing march of time.
Edgar Watson Howe, an early 20th-century journalist known for his cogent wit, had this to say about love: “We cannot permit [it] to run riot; we must build fences around it, as we do around pigs.”
Howe might have had something there. Especially in a town as miserly with its emotions as this one, we tend to confine our love to our bedrooms, our relatives, our closest friends. That is, if we let it out at all.
In the following pages, we free love from its cage with profiles of 40 Bostonians we love. Of course, we couldn't list everybody we love. (We aren't Halle Berry.) We couldn't even list most of them. We had to stop at 40, which means that many deserving people may be left feeling unloved. Please don't: We know there are a lot more than 40 people in this city worthy of our affection.
But here's a group of admirable Bostonians Â— some well-known, some not Â— from a dimple-chinned quarterback to a motherly waitress in the North End, from a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet to a driver who cracks jokes on the Green Line. They keep Boston creating, inventing, growing, healing, learning, laughing, and competing. They make our city what it is. And we love them for it.
24, quarterback, New England Patriots
When Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots visited the White House after winning the Super Bowl, word surfaced that the baby-faced quarterback has political aspirations. He has our vote. Brady stepped in as quarterback of a supposedly average football team and made it something else entirely, something miraculous, unstoppable, and downright magical. Sure, Brady didn't do it alone Â— truth be told, we love the whole damned team Â— but his spirit and determination made those words something more than tired clichés in a locker-room pep talk: They came to represent what made the Patriots so irresistible (and invincible) this season.
54, film visionary
A massive audience got to appreciate Errol Morris along with us when the Cambridge filmmaker was tapped to prepare a memorable short for the Academy Awards that showed celebrities and others talking about films they love. Some of the films we've loved are Morris's. His genius lies in a bracing originality and the quirky nature of his subjects. In Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, he spun the idiosyncratic tales of a lion tamer, gardener, MIT scientist, and authority on mole rats. His documentary The Thin Blue Line helped overturn a murder conviction. Poetic and provocative, Morris has won many honors, including a MacArthur “genius” fellowship. He was dubbed “the most engagingly tormented of filmmakers” by the New Yorker. We hope he never stops engaging us.
50, wheelchair competitor
Stricken with polio as a child, Bob Hall helped pioneer wheelchair racing when he made his Boston Marathon debut in 1975 as the race's first officially recognized wheelchair competitor. “It was a sign that things were going to be different,” he says. “I wasn't viewed as just a handicapped athlete in a wheelchair.” He went on to become a national mile champion, two-time national marathon champion, and three-time national slalom champion and has held national records in the marathon, mile, and 400, 800, and 1,500 meters. But Hall's most memorable achievement was completing a 1,520-mile wheelchair trek from Florida to Boston in 38 days to benefit the Jimmy Fund. Now the marathon's wheelchair division coordinator, Hall also runs his own business in Cambridge, making everyday and racing wheelchairs widely considered the best in the world.
Margot Stern Strom
60, president, Facing History and Ourselves
Margot Stern Strom is a champion for anyone who ever wondered how a school history lesson could be so stunningly dry and impassive. And her message Â— that learning should involve participation and have a moral dimension Â— has never been more urgent. Which must be why the Brookline-based educational organization she cofounded in 1976, Facing History and Ourselves, has expanded to eight locations from San Francisco to Switzerland. Facing History makes a connection between students' studies and their lives. We love Margot for identifying the link between history and human behavior, and for helping an estimated million students annually and 30,000 teachers become compassionate thinkers.
MSPCA Angell Memorial Animal Hospital
Is your pooch dyspeptic? Does your cat require a cardiologist? The friendly, best-in-the-world veterinarians at 87-year-old Angell Memorial in Jamaica Plain make Doctor Dolittle look like an amateur. With more than 60 vets specializing in everything from avian medicine to ophthalmology, Angell can arrange an ultrasound for your chinchilla or treat your cat for hyperthyroidism. The first veterinary hospital established by a humane organization, it will also do so with compassion human patients only dream about receiving from their HMOs.
Since her award-winning debut collection, Firstborn, in 1968, Glück has been speaking of shattered emotions Â— both hers and ours. Several critics and contemporaries consider her the best American poet writing in the last 10 years or so. Her simple yet lyrical language and what she calls “the Unsaid” make her a modern poetical anomaly: relevant and readable. The longtime Cambridge resident has won nearly every major poetry award, including the Pulitzer for 1992's The Wild Iris and the National Book Critics Circle Award for 1985's The Triumph of Achilles. Today, Glück is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
54, Bruins great
Let's settle this: Ray Bourque was great, but Bobby Orr forever changed the way hockey is played. He redefined the modern defenseman Â— quick, graceful, always in attack mode, yet tough enough to take a hit. Orr won every award, broke just about every record, and flew through the air after “The Goal” Â— to this day, the most enduring image in NHL history. He led the Bruins to Stanley Cup championships and set the standard for the humble, classy athlete, always willing to sign an autograph or even push a fan's car out of a snowbank. When the Bs retired his jersey on January 9, 1979, the Garden faithful gave him an 11-minute standing ovation. Nowadays, Orr runs his own player-representative agency and does charity work.
66, Renaissance man
Kaji Aso tells people he's 86 because if he told people his real age, they'd never believe he'd had time to accomplish so much. A poet, teacher of Zen philosophy, painter with prints hanging in the MFA, and opera singer (audiences say he could hold his own against Pavarotti), he is also a rare thoughtful and gentle soul, holding court from a Fenway studio that offers daily art classes and weekly Japanese tea ceremonies. Aso's secret, he says, is simple: He sleeps only four hours a night, and he's never thought of marrying Â— though he has thought a lot about “not marrying.”
57, baseball guru
Peter Gammons, the venerable ESPN baseball guru, knows everything about the second-greatest game ever invented (after beer pong, of course). Need the scouting report on the third-string shortstop for the Montreal Expos? Gammons is your man. And, unlike ESPN basketball savant Dick Vitale, Gammons doesn't need to shout to get his point across. We can't imagine Gammons ever shouting about anything, actually, which makes him a perfect fit for the delectably slow, occasionally coma-inducing game of baseball.
46, owner, Ferris Wheels
Saying Jeff Ferris is just a bicycle-shop owner is like saying Clark Kent is just a newspaper reporter. Wherever bicyclists need help negotiating this bike-hostile city, he's there Â— organizing rides and bike-positive city events and turning up the heat at City Hall for the Emerald Necklace Greenway project, a grand plan to unite the original green space between the Back Bay and Jamaica Plain. He also teaches maintenance and repair classes, and when he's not on two wheels, runs races barefoot. (He's not quite faster than a speeding bullet. Yet.)
54, playwright and director
38, actress and singer
Often caustic but always authentic, playwright/screenwriter/ director/poet/essayist David Mamet has infused American film and theater with intelligence, wit, and his trademark sparse, clipped dialogue. His Oleanna and Pulitzer Prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross have been compared to the work of Arthur Miller and Samuel Beckett, while his screenplays for The Verdict, The Untouchables, and Wag the Dog have made him a Hollywood commodity. Still, he and his wife Â— actress, jazz/folksinger, and Cambridge native Rebecca Pidgeon Â— choose to stay put right here. “I just marvel at his smartness,” says Pidgeon, who has collaborated with her husband on 10 films.
48, harbor activist
Vivien Li is the main reason there will still be room for all the rest of us when and if the high-stakes redevelopment of Boston's waterfront moves forward. The outspoken director of the Boston Harbor Association, she has steadfastly pushed for a 43-mile unbroken chain of waterfront walkways called HarborWalk with seating areas, cafés, and other amenities, all to be finished by 2006; exasperated developers would prefer to sell condos with private, fenced-off waterfront access. Li succeeds because she knows the players, isn't afraid to take them on, and has no evident political agenda except to make sure developers comply with laws guaranteeing public waterfront access. Li and her organization have already gotten the city's beaches cleaned up and reopened. If she can get people to swim in Boston Harbor, she can do anything.
36, racquetball champion
Think the Patriots are Boston's first pro sports champs since the '86 Celtics? Think again. Cliff Swain, 36, won his sixth professional racquetball championship last month Â— and he's been ranked first or second in his sport every season since 1989-90 Â— except the two he skipped to take a gander at professional tennis. Swain tried racquetball for the first time as a 13-year-old in South Boston at the beachside L Street Bath House, and within a decade became the most dominant athlete in his sport's history, with a serve clocked as fast as 191 mph. More satisfying, perhaps, a couple of years ago he wrested his crown back from Sudsy Monchik, a mouthy young New Yorker who had bragged to Sports Illustrated that Swain was past his prime.
42, music rebel
Rock hipster Lilli Dennison has livened up many a joint around these parts by doing everything from serving drinks to booking acts. Dennison waitressed at the legendary Rat and went on to manage bands during the '80s garage-rock era. When she manned the old Green Street Grill, she talked friends into playing for free and turned Mondays into a happening scene. At the B-Side Lounge, she worked her magic at the turntable, spinning from private record collections and contributing to the B-Side's huge success. Her namesake club, Lilli's (since transformed into 608), had a rocking start, thanks to her many connections. Whatever's next for this charismatic hostess, one thing is certain: Wherever Lilli goes, music follows.
52, host of NPR's Car Talk
64, host of NPR's Car Talk
Where but on public radio could two burly, mustachioed auto mechanics with the ludicrous nicknames Click and Clack become a national phenomenon? Then again, the Magliozzi brothers aren't just a couple of grease monkeys lying under a car and dreaming of turbochargers: These two erudite MIT grads guffaw loudly while dishing out advice on blown head gaskets and other emotional dilemmas. (Last month, they offered their take on a marital dispute involving bad Massachusetts drivers.) After years of on-air lobbying, they were finally asked to deliver the commencement speech at MIT. Opening line: “Glad you could all come. [Trumpet sounding.] Shut up.”
To experience the real flavor of the North End, you want more than that garlic-laced red sauce. You want the waitress who talks with her hands, spills her life story in your lap, keeps the wine coming, distractedly hums a few bars when the accordion player waltzes past, and, when the meal is done and you've wiped your plate clean with the last piece of bread, kisses you on the cheek and sends you on your way, happily stuffed. Meet Patty Rando at L'Osteria on Salem Street Â— not just the quintessential North End waitress but also your surrogate mother, should you need one.
We realize that some of his own constituents may be more disposed to dislike the senior senator from Massachusetts than to love him. But the fact is that, at 70, Uncle Ted is still the state's most recognizable and influential politician, a multimillionaire who nonetheless consistently stands up for the little guy. He has fought for civil rights, education, healthcare, and the environment, even as persistent, embarrassing, high-profile personal problems nearly derailed his political career. Kennedy has survived and, in recent years, has avoided any hint of scandal. He's even proven to be a model of bipartisanship, working closely with Republicans, including President George W. Bush, on education reform.
Boston Fire Department
These days, fighting fires is the least of the worries of Boston's 324-year-old fire service. There's the newly omnipresent threat of terrorism, of course, and the potential for an accident or collapse along one of the world's most complicated engineering projects, the Big Dig. If there was such a disaster, Rescue 1 would be the first help summoned from its station conspicuously overlooking the Central Artery. These men have trained in abandoned subway tunnels, on the department's secluded Boston Harbor island testing site, even in a West Virginia mining school, preparing for scenarios not even Hollywood has yet imagined. Among the choicest assignments in the department, Rescue 1 attracts some of the city's most experienced and best-trained firefighters. Each is an emergency medical technician. They are the sons and brothers of firefighters, some of whom died in the line of duty Â— in the words of one former fire commissioner, a “premier outfit.”
24, Boston Celtics forward
Why do we love Paul Pierce? Because, like this year's Celtics, he has stubbornly delivered so much more than was expected. Watching Pierce explode at the FleetCenter for two-handed thunder dunks, three-pointers from beyond the Berkshires, and dribble drives through traffic has been a long time coming for a city starving for the next Russell, the next Bird, and (most important) the next championship. Pierce's work with charities all over town, and his sincere fan-friendly nature, cement his status as a winner.
48, chef, author, and owner of Jasper White's Summer Shack
What's not to love about the chef who trademarked the term “food is loveÂ™”? He's the guy other chefs turn to for cooking and business advice, a godfather of the kitchen. Beyond the fact that the Summer Shack, his barn of a restaurant, is a boisterous good time, White has literally and figuratively written the book on contemporary New England cuisine. His Jasper White's Cooking from New England showed the rest of the country not only that there is traditional cuisine in these parts but also that it's elegant and delicious.
39, molecular oncologist
In a city of doctors it's impossible to single one out, but if we must, it has to be someone on the brink of something huge. Golub, whose team at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is already credited with a breakthrough discovery in childhood leukemia, is now working with data from the Human Genome Project to profile every existing type of cancer, crucial information that could be used to figure out how best to treat them.
54, custodian, Harvard University
Shakespeare Christmas has the coolest name in Boston. The man behind the name is pretty cool, too. A 54-year-old Harvard music department custodian and president of the Spartan Cricket Club, he moved here from the West Indian island of Dominica in 1981 with the dream of sending his three kids to college. “I put my knees on the floor, empty the trash, and clean the toilets so my children will not have to do the same thing,” Christmas once told the Harvard Gazette. It paid off: All three kids did go to college, making Christmas the proud father of an accountant, a sociologist, and an electrical engineer.
Called the “Energizer Bunny of classical music” by 60 Minutes, the Boston Philharmonic's Benjamin Zander is a conductor in both senses of the word, throwing off bolts of electricity while giving motivational speeches (drawn from his book The Art of Possibility, which he cowrote with his wife), recording groundbreaking interpretations of Beethoven, and teaching students at the New England Conservatory and the Walnut Hill School, where he is artistic director of the music program. He has built the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra into one of the finest youth orchestras in the world, taking it on 11 international tours. And in 1999 he completed a 20-year journey conducting the entire cycle of Mahler's symphonies. “For those of us who are not musicians,” author Gail Sheehy says, “he can conjure up the spirits and pulses of life and put us under music's spell.”
43, MBTA Green line driver
What does a comedy-school graduate who doesn't like standup do with his training? Drive for the T, apparently. Rookie driver Paul Gerrish cracks up Green Line riders during the night shifts with shtick that includes pronouncing the stops in English and then in Boston-speak, singing ballads by Chicago, and reminding passengers that the hand in their pocket might not be their own. Sometimes he'll pretend the trolley is an airplane and proclaim the cruising speed is 25 miles per hour and the altitude is ground level. Okay, but we love that he tries to make the ride more pleasant.
68, basketball legend
Maybe it's the salt-and-pepper beard, or his unmistakable cackle, or the way he carries himself with quiet dignity. Or maybe it's those 11 championship banners. Whatever it is that accounts for Bill Russell, he's ours. No other city can claim a competitor like the man who acted after every game as if he had expected to win the whole time (even when he lost, which was not very often). The principal quality Russell brought to the old Garden night after night Â— unselfishness Â— is the reason so few of today's superstars will ever be as good as he. Whether they capture one title or eleven.
Cynthia von Buhler
27, performance artist
Like Boston's art scene, painter/ sculptor/illustrator/musician/record producer/performance artist Cynthia von Buhler is constantly reinventing herself. She turned her experience managing her husband's band, Splashdown, into a series of songs about an evil music executive; it was textbook von Buhler irony that a project about the ills of the music business would win her a Boston Music Award nomination this year. In addition to producing provocative paintings and sculptures, and illustrations that have appeared in the likes of the New Yorker, she runs her own record label out of the museumlike home in Allston she shares with her rock musician husband, Adam, and their cats. She fronted her own band, Countess, until it broke up in April. And just as her Castle von Buhler Records promotes musical acts that might not otherwise get noticed, von Buhler recommends other singers and artists she likes through an e-mail newsletter, and released a series of music and art compilations to raise money for the AIDS Action Committee.
41, owner, Bob the Chef's
How do we love him? Let us count the ways. There are the collard greens, “glorifried” chicken, ribs, pecan pie, and all-you-can-eat Sunday jazz brunch at his South End restaurant, Bob the Chef's. There's the jazz festival he whips together every fall in the South End, raising money for neighborhood development. There's the personal time he logs volunteering with Community Servings, Share Our Strength, and Action for Boston Community Development. And, oh yeah, there's that great ear-to-ear smile.
46, arts crusader
Susan Hartnett is essentially responsible for trying to preserve Boston's threatened artist community Â— no simple task in a city where arts funding is among the lowest in the nation and rents are among the highest. Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority's Artist Space Initiative, Hartnett has polled 10,000 artists to try to figure out how she can stop the exodus of artists from the Fort Point Channel area and other sections of the city. Before that, she worked tirelessly as director of the Boston Center for the Arts, which she helped transform into a thriving cultural force. Hartnett's energy and passion are the stuff of art.
48, doctor/ballet dancer
Shannon is associate chief of emergency services at Children's Hospital, an adviser to Congress on the effects of bioterrorism on children, and a husband and father. And last Christmas, the former member of the prestigious American Dance Festival also performed the role of both the mysterious Drosselmeyer in The Urban Nutcracker and Joseph in Black Nativity.
30, Boston Breakers midfielder
Lilly isn't flashy. She's never ripped off her shirt after scoring a goal on national television or dated Nomar. Instead, she's quietly become the best female soccer player ever. With her combination of skill, athleticism, consistency, and bulldog determination, she is the prototypical modern midfielder. Lilly, who serves as captain of the Breakers, is the world's all-time leader in international appearances, having played for the U.S. Women's National Team 228 times. She's won the World Cup twice, Olympic gold once. And while others get the press, Lilly follows in the footsteps of great Boston athletes like McHale and Yaz, just making sure her team comes out on top.
48, restaurant designer
In an age when food and fashion are practically synonymous, Peter Niemitz has a lock on one of their most dramatic collision points: restaurant design. As the designer largely responsible for taking Boston's restaurants out of the aesthetic dark ages, Niemitz has effectively upped our collective standard of living, hammering out stylish eateries in every size, shape, and concept. He can execute contemporary bistro (Aquitaine), cool California (blu), posh Euro (Clio), and old-boy steakhouse (57 Restaurant). Now in demand internationally, the remarkably down-to-earth Niemitz has nonetheless kept his focus on Boston Â— and on making sure our restaurants are all in good taste.
28, right fielder, Boston Red Sox
Of course we love Nomar and Pedro. But gritty right fielder Trot Nixon is the unsung hero of the Old Town Team. Well, not entirely unsung: Nixon won both the Boston Baseball Writers' Association MVP award and the 2001 Fans' Choice Award Â— a major feat in a town that boos even pitching ace Martinez. Slugging the game-winning ninth-inning homer against Roger Clemens in a game against the Yankees may have cemented his spot in Red Sox folklore, but Nixon hasn't rested on his laurels. He gives more than his all in every game by diving into the stands for fly balls, sliding into bases Â— for which he's revered as the quintessential “dirt dog” Â— and becoming a clubhouse leader off the field, in sharp contrast to divisive former teammates like Carl Everett. And his donations to charity are out of the park. When Nixon won an SUV last year, he sold it and gave the money to charity, including a New York firefighters' widows and children's fund.
31, fashion maven
When Gretchen Monahan opened her GrettaLuxe boutique in Wellesley two years ago, the conservative suburb hardly knew what hit it. Suddenly, its residents, better known for their oxfords and khakis, were learning all about Jimmy Choo and Marc Jacobs. Today the charismatic Monahan, who was trained as a hairdresser, oversees a beauty empire that includes day spas in Wellesley and Chestnut Hill and a new location in the Copley Westin that combines high fashion and salon services. For a woman with only a year at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology under her stylish belt, it's an impressive résumé that speaks to the Waltham native's knack for knowing just what's right for her customers. Monahan gently nudges her clients toward the chicest styles, best-fitting jeans, and most elegant evening wear, and does so without an ounce of pretension. And that's what makes her Boston's most beloved fashionista.
Paul F. Levy
51, president and CEO, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Paul Levy is not exactly a household name, but that's because we hear a lot more about politicians and executives who screw up than the relative few who actually seem to know what they're doing. Levy is the man who oversaw the cleanup of Boston Harbor, pretty much on time and more than $2 billion under budget (hello, Big Dig?). Now he's taken on the equally daunting job of curing the ailing Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which is hemorrhaging money so fast ($28 million in losses last year) that its bond rating has fallen to junk status. Known for his decisiveness and economic vision, he's also a soccer junkie who plays, coaches, and has spent his vacation time in Ghana organizing children's teams and distributing free soccer cleats to players too poor to afford them.
Big Dig Workers
Central Artery Project
Don't blame them for the price tag (it's now the most expensive highway in American history), or the politics (as if they care), or the noise (they didn't build their toys, they only use them), or the traffic (they don't like it, either). They were hired for a job Â— essentially, to build a new Boston Â— and that's what the construction workers on the Big Dig have been doing, 24/7, for more than a decade, and counting. You have to admit, it's pretty cool to see that bridge lit up at night. You don't have to like the Big Dig to appreciate it as a construction marvel about to transform this town like no other single engineering feat since the Back Bay was filled in 150 years ago.
44, comedian, actor
Denis Leary is, as far as we can tell, mad. We figured we should include at least one madman on this list, and while we flirted with the idea of loving Lenny Clarke, too, we decided against having two crackers from the same show (ABC's comedy The Job) representing Boston's formidable contribution to American comedy. Is Leary easy to love? Nope. Are we scared of