Very often, the people we remember most in our lives are the ones who were the toughest on us — the ones who wouldn’t let us skate by with a lack of effort, and weren’t impressed with our attempts to BS our way through life.
We’ve all experienced such people. They recognize something inside us that we may not even know we have, and they work like the devil to pull it out of us.
Much of the time, these people are teachers and coaches. And they’re much more effective than our own parents because they see us much more objectively, and they don’t feel the instinct to make excuses for us.
The real good ones can seem uncompromising, but at the same time, they care. They may often seem as cross and harsh as U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks conducting goal line-to-goal line skating drills. But nobody’s prouder when all is said and done, and nobody’s more eager to give credit where credit is due than they are.
They understand that while they worked diligently to pull it out of you, at the same time you had to want it badly enough to allow yourself to be pushed.
Dick Lynch was such a man. I grew up during the days of Swampscott athletic glory, and while I didn’t deal with him as a football player or a gym student, I knew, and still know, plenty of people who did. And the portrait of him is always consistent. He was tough. He was uncompromising. He demanded your best and let you know in no uncertain terms when he didn’t think you were giving it. And he didn’t care who you were either.
But there had to be close to a thousand people in and around Swampscott who cared who he was. That’s the number of people who filed past his coffin at St. John the Evangelist Church in Swampscott Wednesday night. Another 300, according to Brian Field of Solimine Funeral Homes, filled St. John’s for the funeral Thursday.
Just the idea of having a wake in the church, as opposed to a funeral home, was a telling acknowledgment of how much of an impact Dick Lynch had on people’s lives. In some cases, it was tough to put into words.
The line inside the church snaked almost all around the entire perimeter as people from all aspects of Swampscott life — with a heavy concentration representing the years he taught and coached at the high school — came to pay their respects.
Even among those waiting two-plus hours to offer their condolences to the family, there was a consensus that Lynch was the real deal, both as a coach and a person.
I spent most of my 2-hour wait with former English High great Ed Toner, whose family later moved to Swampscott around the same time the Jaurons did. It wasn’t Lynch’s coaching, or his legendary toughness, that Toner talked about. It was the many years Lynch, Toner, the late Jim Hegan, Frank DeFelice, and others, would all be at the 7:30 Mass on Sunday mornings at St. John’s. From those simple moments, lifelong friendships are forged.
Fran Sheehan, who was the bassist for the rock group Boston in the 1970s and ’80s, was there. Aside from being a rock star, Sheehan was on the 1968 Boston Tech Tourney champion Big Blue basketball team that Lynch coached.
Dick Lynch would not have commanded this tremendous demonstration of respect if he were just another screaming coach who didn’t back it up with some show of humanity. That’s the secret with memorable people. Sure, they’re taskmasters and very often you are scared to death of them.
But the other side of the coin is that they end up as your biggest advocates. And Lynch was as big an advocate for those whom he coached or taught as there was. As his son Mike said, the only trophies he cared about were the kids he coached, and nothing made him happier than to hear about their accomplishments.
At a wake with that many people, there are bound to a fair amount of them who haven’t seen members of the family in a while. They want to offer condolences, but they also want to offer just a fleeting glimpse of personal connection too. As you can imagine, some of those personal reflections can take a few minutes.
People were so eager to reminisce with the Lynch family about their husband and father than at one point, as evening turned into nighttime, Mike Phelps, representing Solimine Funeral Homes, had to urge the throng of people to do their collective best to keep the line moving out of deference to the family and all it would have to endure, both that night and on Thursday.
And in a curious sort of way, that might be the most apt tribute of them all. People want to be there, and they wanted to share, and remember, and mourn this very classy man with his equally classy family.
As my friend Paul Halloran said Tuesday, we live in a world where the word “great” is thrown around too easily. But in this case it fit. Dick Lynch was a great man.