Speeches Provide Window to History  
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Friend John J. McNally Jr., known for his service to three U.S. presidents, starting with John Fitzgerald Kennedy and including Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald R. Ford, has a new book.

Mr. McNally, back in Webster after presidential service stints in the Washington, D.C., area, and with retirement time mostly at Hilton Head, S.C., has drawn from his experiences, creating a compilation from hundreds of speeches he delivered as a presidential emissary, as a federal officer with the Small Business Administration and as an informed citizen.

The collection, titled “My Thoughts and My Words,” is drawn from venues throughout the United States, even sermons delivered at Catholic churches in South Carolina, Virginia and Massachusetts, including St. Joseph Basilica in Webster. A devout Catholic, Mr. McNally was named a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem in 2005. I know of only two others in town, the Rev. Michael J. Roy, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church; and Joseph A. Borski Jr., the CPA and Webster town moderator, who have been inducted into the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

While Mr. McNally’s religious bent is part of the story, the speeches relate mostly to the man, his mostly Irish humor and personal experiences, and surely the brush with John F. Kennedy.

John J. McNally spent years working for others, for President Johnson and his efforts to bridge the national trauma in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination; and for President Ford and his efforts to spur a grass-roots movement to combat inflation. His biography will probably say that he left Webster as a young, married man, a professional real estate appraiser, and became a White House assistant to the presidential winner whose cause he championed.

The book has a sub-theme that starts Nov. 22, 1966, in Meriden, Conn.: “The Fifth Anniversary of the Assassination of President Kennedy”; “Dedication of the Worcester, Ma., Memorial to President Kennedy on July 13, 1985”; “The 20th Anniversary of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Nov. 22, 1983, to a Youth and Public Policy Conference in Providence”; and the “40th Anniversary of the Assassination of President Kennedy,” delivered in November 2003 to college groups in Georgia and South and North Carolina.

While these and other Kennedy assassination presentations were keyed to the time spans following the national calamity, Mr. McNally never speculated on the impossible: What if the good lord above had spared Kennedy’s life?

The furthest he took this was at the conference in Providence: “We can be sure that whatever might have transpired certainly would be in the best interest of not only his country and his God … but in the interest of his fellow man throughout the world.”

If I’m hesitant to tread upon Mr. McNally’s thoughts and words, it’s a matter of respect, and probably because I sometimes have difficulty with words myself. Still, it is interesting to note that a good number of Mr. McNally’s bon mots were delivered in his home domain, meaning Worcester, where he grew up, and Webster, where he and his wife, the late Irene Kokocinski-McNally, raised a fine family of five sons and a daughter, now with 16 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

One of Mr. McNally’s first talks as staff assistant to the president was Sept. 27, 1961, when he introduced U.S. Sen. Benjamin Smith to the Webster Democratic Town Committee. It was a great night for Webster’s own, who took time from a national register of Democratic programs and the developing philosophies of our young president to remember local luminaries, including state Sen. Joseph F. Gibney and state Rep. John P. Ivascyn, now both deceased.

In a way, the program was a preview to the career of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who’d be elected a year later, and whose recent death is still mourned.

There’s no way to condense John J. McNally’s lifetime of political morality and thoughtful messages. His collection of speeches, not including the welcoming addresses given to thousands of White House visitors, might be seen as his gift to the ages. The Kennedy Memorial Library, in which many of Mr. McNally’s papers already fill storage indexes, will undoubtedly be one of the repositories for his “Thoughts” and “Words.”

Webster’s Edward N. Szymczak says recent reports about World War II visits to Webster and Dudley by sailors stationed at the Navy base in New London, Conn., brought his own “small world” story to mind.

Mr. Szymczak was in the service, stationed or visiting on Guam in 1957. Seated in a bar, he struck up a conversation with another sailor, and dialogue swung to hometowns. He was from a small town in Massachusetts, Ed told his acquaintance of the moment, and reaction was immediate. He had been to the State Line Casino on Schofield Avenue and the 440 Club on South Main Street. “Wanted to know if I knew about them.”

The State Line was a well-known entertainment venue, a regional favorite for decades, one of the places frequented by New London sailors on their wartime visits to the area. While the 440, mostly a bar and dine place, had its day, it didn’t have any longevity to it.

Both venues have long since disappeared. The Schofield location has a strip mall, and the 440 site is now a parking lot for a hair salon.

I’ve long thought only three local men — John Hoye, Alden Fish and Edward Lesse — graduated from the former Webster Academy, the secondary school once located at Colonial Park on Webster Lake.

Now, Bruce L. White of Killdeer Island says he earned his diploma from the private school in 1970. He doesn’t recognize the academy for its education of privileged students, but for its excellence. Webster Academy was his ticket to college. The school provided a good program, and its teachers made college possible, says Mr. White. They also made his time there enjoyable.

Others from town also attended Webster Academy, transferring to other schools, Mr. White says.

-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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