Jourgensen: The real McCoy

(Laurie Swope)

It’s Dave McCoy’s smile that I remember best. It lit up rooms and it embraced me in a warm light of welcome whenever he aimed it at me. David W. McCoy Jr. died at the age of 64 last Sunday and his funeral is Saturday in St. Stephen’s Memorial Episcopal Church.

I met him while working as a young reporter covering Lynn City Hall in the 1990s. The job required frequent conversations with the late Patrick J. McManus, Lynn’s former mayor and McCoy’s boss beginning in 1997 when McManus appointed McCoy to be mayoral chief of staff.

A Lynn native who, it seemed to me at the time, knew everyone in the city, McCoy was the perfect choice for the top aide’s job. McManus was a unique personality who, by turns, was brilliant, mercurial and blunt. He did not suffer fools gladly and he had an uncanny ability to fit people into a job where they could excel.

The roles he assigned Steve Smith and Jim Mazareas, respectively, to lead the Water and Sewer Commission and School Department, set the stage for changes in both departments that continue to benefit the city today.

His decision to appoint McCoy as his top aide was all the more inspired because it encompassed a degree of self perception that McManus wasn’t always known to embrace.

McCoy, like Mike Marks who also worked for McManus, knew how to translate “McManus-speak” into language that the rest of the world could understand.

When Pat McManus unveiled a big idea — and he came up with plenty of big ideas — his thinking wasn’t always well received by veteran city employees who had seen mayors come and go through the corner office in the seat of local government described by the late William “Chub” Fallon as “the big gray building.”

McCoy had the ability to talk to people and get them to look at the pros and cons of the mayor’s proposals. Because he knew so many people from all walks of life in Lynn, he could relate to someone immediately on a personal level.

But McCoy also backed up his role as mayoral go-between with a solid résumé. A former Metropolitan Police officer and, later, detective, he served as a ranking officer with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell campus police department and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology police and also served with the Governor’s Auto Theft Task Force.

Diplomacy and the listening skills that come with it are a big part of police work. Men and women who patrol local streets wearing a uniform and carrying a firearm know consensus and compromise, not argument and contention, are the keys to evaporating violent situations and avoiding tragedy.

McCoy was a great diplomat simply because he was a nice guy who made you feel like the most important person in the room when he met you. Even when he was having a hard day, he lit up that big smile and asked how you were doing.

He respected former Mayor McManus as a friend and boss, but he could latch on to a disagreement or tense situation and inject it with just the right amount of humor required to move it forward to a positive result. The ability to turn the negative into the positive is a skill precious few people possess.

McCoy’s obituary published in Wednesday’s Daily Item listed “M.A.S.H.” as his favorite television show. If you knew McCoy, you quickly realized why he liked and laughed with the dedicated bunch of fictional military doctors and nurses doing their jobs with humor and self deprecation.

Trapper John and Hawkeye had little use for the spit-and-polish military but they took their roles as lifesavers seriously. Dave McCoy took his badge and service to his city seriously. But he never met a problem or situation that couldn’t be resolved or improved with a little humor and one of those broad McCoy smiles.

The world would be a better place if we could have more Dave McCoys in it.

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