What's a nice Irish girl doing in a place like this?
Last Friday, the nation watched the stunning fall from grace of Bridget Anne Kelly, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s former deputy chief of staff.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" was in her email, and in those eight words, the George Washington Bridge was closed out of spite and the torturous scandal known as Bridgegate was born.
Not sure if Kelly’s professions of innocence on the courtroom steps were real, but it was hard to deny the authenticity of the worried mother shivering with fear over the future that lay in front of her four children.
This graduate of Immaculate Heart Academy and Mount Saint Mary’s University, once the pride of her family and classmates, was now heartbroken roadkill caught under the wheels of a political system. Where to go from here?
It’s a pity Kelly wasn’t in the pew of my uncle’s funeral Mass the week before. She would have gotten the roadmap on how to pick up the pieces and move on.
Like her, The Uncle excelled in the Catholic Prep school system and found his way into Jersey politics. Like her, he was also caught under the wheels of a political scandal.
With The Uncle, he left a wife and twice as many kids as Kelly to fend for themselves when the jury ruled against him.
“He got mixed up with the wrong crowd, took the fall, never told them where the money was, and that’s all the likes of ye need to know,” the Galway father told his reporter son flatly when asked how this trip up the river came to pass.
Despite his best efforts, Dad couldn’t erase the early memory I have of being in the back seat while we drove forever west on Route 80, told from the front seat to keep my mouth closed and eyes down when we get there at every other mile post, and being pacified with a roll of cherry Life Savers in the visitor’s room while the family gamely chatted with the man in an orange jumpsuit.
The Uncle’s mother, who everyone called The Chief, was even tougher than her stern husband, but oh how these decent Irish immigrants must have melted with the sorrow when the gavel came down on the favorite son in their adopted homeland.
None of that was mentioned at the Mass or the repast lunch, of course. People rightly focused on the life he created once a regained his freedom, and what a life it was!
He kept excellent company with priests, vigorously defending theology over long dinners with them. The celebrant of his funeral Mass was almost moved to tears as he wore vestments made from the wedding gown of The Uncle’s beloved wife.
He was at his Jesuit alma mater so often to make a difference in the lives of inner city kids that the faculty routinely mistook him as one of their own. “The gals in the office” as he liked to call them wept openly at the repast, at a loss as to how they carry on without their regular mentoring sessions over lunch.
The surviving children he left to fend for themselves all those years ago were all there, immaculately groomed, laughing richly as mourners recounted stories of their father’s quick wit and no nonsense advice that was doled out whether you wanted it or not.
I got a snout of that myself from time to time when I ran into him at the local pub. He’d poke my stomach, raise an eyebrow, and advise me that it wasn’t healthy for a man as young as me to “carry around that spare tire.”
Once, we found ourselves at the same restaurant wining and dining clients. He caught me at the door, whispered, “You remind me of me sometimes,” and nodded his head. You didn’t always know how to take him, but I’m choosing to believe that was the highest praise he could bestow on a fellow man.
He kept a rigorous schedule right up until the week of his death, mostly centered around his work and family. One daughter took him to Sunday Mass (the church named the one right off the altar on the side “HIS pew”) and breakfast. Thursday night was for another daughter, and a drink with his boys happened on Fridays. Appointments with Dad were not to be missed, and they knew better than to try and pass of an excuse around ill health or weather.
The stunning blonde administrator at a prominent New England school. The garrulous, big-hearted North Jersey cop. The pair of cool alt-rock college chicks with the dark lipstick and pink streaks in their hair.
These young strangers with my blood in their veins marched up to the pulpit one by one to eulogize this lion of a man they called Grandpa.
Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” That sums up The Uncle in a nutshell.
An imperfect man who was always perfectly dressed, he took what life threw at him, to include incarceration and the burials of his wife and some children along the way, rolled his watery eyes to the heavens, and prayed for mercy. And God granted him mercy right until the end of his 88 years, his longest stay in a hospital occurring the week of his passing.
“Sign me up for a life like that,” his son-in-law said in a loud whisper as the coffin rolled out of the funeral home.
My prayer for Bridget Anne Kelly is that people say that about her when it’s her turn in the coffin. The example of The Uncle’s life teaches anyone under any circumstances that faith, family, and mercy are the components of the bridge to the gates of heaven.
Mike Farragher’s new collection of humorous essays on faith and family is called “A Devilish Pint.” Visit www.thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com.