Appreciation: Jim Clancy was a catcher in the wry

LYNN — It was as if the entire scope of Jim Clancy’s life was funneled into Solimine Funeral Home on Broadway Thursday, where people waited patiently in a massive line that snaked through a myriad of rooms, reminiscing about one of the city’s true local legends.

There was talk about his reputation for helping people as an assistant clerk of courts for Essex County, or the 1969 Connery Post 6 American Legion team that won a state championship, and came within a game of going to the World Series, for whom he was a catcher.

There was laughter because, as more than one person said, he was one funny SOB. And there was poignancy. His brother, Edward J. “Chip” Clancy, the former mayor of Lynn, simply told people as they came though the receiving line, “that is my best friend.”

There were so many sides to Jim Clancy. Aside from his official job with the court system, he was a devoted family man — a father of three children (Kevin, Michael and Coleen) who were raised and educated in Lynn. He was the son of Edward J. “Nipper” Clancy, one of the city’s legendary baseball coaches. And, he would have been the first to tell you that he was the quintessential Irishman (indeed, he was Lynn’s Irishman of the Year in 2013).

But those who knew him best say what shone through all of it, acting as connective tissue through all the different facets of his life, was his ability and willingness to make people laugh and put people at ease.

“He had about 40 or 50 one-liners that, no matter when you heard them, were always funny,” said Thomas H. Driscoll Jr., clerk of courts and magistrates for Essex County. “My staff loved him. He had a way of putting people at ease and making them comfortable.”

In fact, his wife Marjorie said he kept his sense of humor right up until the time he died Sunday at the age of 66.

“He knew,” she said. “His first reaction, after he found out, was to say ‘I guess I’m not buying any green bananas.’ That was Jimmy. He never lost his sense of humor. Right up to the end, he had that Irish humor.”

There was Jimmy the court officer, who once said of a particularly incorrigible defendant, “his probation officer hasn’t been born yet.”

There was Jimmy the baseball coach, who, on many occasions, would congratulate an umpire for getting a call correct by saying, “even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

And there was Jimmy the Irishman. His brother may have been mayor of Lynn but Jimmy was mayor of the Hibs (Hibernian Hall). His Irish heritage shone through everything.

“There wasn’t an Irish song he didn’t know the words to,” his wife said. “And our children know them all too.”

As a child, Clancy saw his father coach some of Lynn’s most celebrated baseball legends, among them future Red Sox star Tony Conigliaro. So when he was old enough, he, too, became a ballplayer. He was captain of St. Mary’s, where his father had coached, and starred on the 1969 legion team as well.

“He was quite a character,” said Billy Surette, one of the players on that team. “He was a great guy. Good family man, and a great teammate. No matter when you were around him, he had you laughing.”

Jimmy was indispensable to his brother during the years he was mayor, in whatever capacity was needed — especially when it came to running the Nipper Clancy Baseball Tournament every Memorial Day weekend. That was so popular that when the brothers decided to discontinue it a few years back, there was such an outcry that they had to reconsider. It is still a holiday staple today.
“You have to come here and see this,” said Thomas M. McGee, Lynn’s current mayor, who attended Thursday’s wake. “Anybody who is anybody in Lynn is here, or is planning on being here.

“This is such a tremendous cross section of his life,” said McGee. “I mean, I’ve known him for many years, and he could really make you laugh. That’s what he did best.”

Laughter, family, Irish music and loyalty wound their way through his life.

“He was always singing an Irish tune,” Driscoll said. “I know he was a big Boston sports fan, but more than any of that, he was proud of his heritage, and really proud of his family.”

When Lynn’s Dan Dill graduated from Classical and enrolled at American International College, there was Jimmy Clancy, his Connery teammate, to greet him.

“He took me under his wing,” Dill recalled. “He took me to meet everyone, even the coach. He paved the way for me, and made my introduction to college very comfortable.”

Driscoll tells similar stories.

“He would take young clerks aside, maybe go out with them after work, and talk about being an assistant clerk,” said Driscoll. “He’d give them a rundown on how things worked, he’d watch them, talk to them about different aspects of the job.

“He was really focused on loyalty to the courts, and loyalty to the office,” said Driscoll, “which I thought was very cool.”

Driscoll said that while Clancy loved to tell stories and make people laugh, he was all business once he set foot inside a courtroom.

“In the courtroom, he kept it professional, and that’s what he taught all the other clerks,” Driscoll said. “He had that level of respect. He’d never call a judge by his or her first name. It was always ‘Your Honor.’ He had such a profound respect for the court system.”

Dill simply said Clancy’s death is a real loss for the community.

“There are not a lot of Jimmy Clancys around,” he said.

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