Opinion

Jourgensen: Tony was larger than life and lived for others

I always liked seeing Tony DeMarco and the late Joe DeNucci around the State House early in my career and it never took long for someone to fill me in on their boxing exploits. When I came to Lynn 31 years ago, Tony Pavone’s was among the first names I heard around town and his legend endures.

Pavone’s 1997 Daily Evening Item obituary called him a “noted boxing trainer.” But that description didn’t bring to life the character of the man and his contributions to hundreds of people across Lynn and beyond the city’s borders.

He fought at GE Field at the age of 17 and went on, according to his obituary, to fight for the Police Athletic League and the Trojan Athletic League before coaching young boxers at the Boys and Girls Club of Lynn when it was known as the Lynn Boys Club.

Pavone relished and made a name for himself in a world inhabited by characters with names like Beezer Downing, Buzzy Kirk and Pip Kennedy. The list of boys he schooled in the pugilistic arts included Pete Pedro, Bob Sonia, Ray Kirk, Walter Gauvain, Joe Wall, Guy Ventura, Phil Melanson, Joe Doyle, Dick Titus, Jeff Nash and Joe Ray.

Like a character in a boxing movie, Pavone was duking it out in a street fight in 1930 when boxing manager Dick Russell spotted him and urged Pavone to fight at GE Field. The great Rich Fahey writes about how Pavone took up Russell’s offer and fought three fights and won decisions on all three, pocketing $15.

Pavone turned pro in 1937 and shared this recollection with Fahey 46 years later.

“I was sitting in the Waldorf Theatre eating popcorn and watching a Western. Billy Brennan had a fighter take sick before one of his cards in Salem and he and Al McCoy were looking for me. They finally had the usher page me at the Waldorf. I agreed to fight but I didn’t have any trunks so I had to borrow McCoy’s. I knocked out the guy in 29 seconds and made $30.”

You can’t make it up.

His career may have been the stuff movies are made of but Pavone never cast himself as the boxer who might have had a shot or who got passed over for the big pay day. He channeled his energy and enthusiasm into giving young people a passion and demonstrating how boxing can be a source of discipline, personal growth and character building. “He was good for kids who were down and out. He became their father in a way …,” said Ray “Buzzy” Kirk, who boxed most of his childhood for Pavone.

A friend who knew Pavone said he loved and lived boxing and wasn’t hard to spot around his Chatham Street home tossing air punches as he walked, dreaming of fights to come and the boxers who would fight them.

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It was fun spending an hour with Rehab Five operator Roger Baker last week at his Peabody home and headquarters where he has a museum’s-worth of firefighting history. He is installing a fire pole in his house and his mantle centerpiece is a great aerial photograph of a Boston waterfront fire shot almost a century ago.

He told this funny story about a brothel owner operating in 1920s Lynnfield who decided to garner a little respectability by buying the town a brand-new truck. Baker claims the now-vintage pumper is still parked at the South Lynnfield station.

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Good friend Marge Callahan waxed eloquent about Jimmy Leonard, recalling how she was the former Lynn school superintendent’s classmate at St. Joseph’s Institute. Jim always had Marge’s back when she worked for the school system and never failed to make kids laugh. “He was a tough kid from Union Court who overcame a difficult childhood. He says sports saved him,” recalled Marge.

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