Those We Lost
By Michele Barber-Perry, Contributor
October / November 2004
Recent passings in the Irish and Irish American communities.
Legendary boxing cutman Al Gavin passed away after suffering a stroke on Thursday, July 8, 2004 at the age of 70. The Brooklyn-bred retired landscaper was best known for his ability to quell the blood-flow of boxing wounds for such fighters as Lennox Lewis, Oscar de la Hoya and Mickey Ward. Earlier this year, Gavin was honored as one of Irish America‘s Top 100.
It was through his Irish roots that he developed a love of boxing. Born in Wicklow, Gavin’s father immigrated to the States and raised his four children in Brooklyn. Though he worked as a plumber, he always had an interest in boxing, which he passed on to his son, Al.
As a young man, Al Gavin competed as an amateur, but ultimately didn’t have what it took to be a professional fighter, choosing instead to work the corner as a trainer, and later a cutman. Part artist, part EMT technician, a cutman can make or break a fight. Gavin’s skill gave him the reputation as the “best cutman in the business” throughout his 40-year career. In a recent Irish America interview with Tom Hauser, Gavin humbly spoke of his work, “I’m nothing special. I just go out and do my job. I’m not a big shot – I’m just a guy who likes boxing.”
Famed announcer for the NY Mets, Bob Murphy passed away on August 3 at the age of 79 from lung cancer.
Born and raised in Oklahoma, Murphy began his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1954 and then continued on to work with the Baltimore Orioles in 1960 and finally the Mets in 1962 as one of the team’s original announcers.
Murphy was adored in the sports world for his ability to vividly describe the action in his “happy recaps” of the “amazin'” games. In 1984, he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame and into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1994. Shea Stadium’s radio booth was named in his honor in 2002. Earlier this year, Irish America honored him as a Top 100 Irish American. Murphy’s paternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland, and Murphy himself visited there recently with his wife.
After 42 seasons with the Mets, Murphy retired in 2003, saying “I’ll say good-bye now to everybody. Stay well out there, wherever you may be. I’ve enjoyed the relationship with you.”
John Cullen Murphy
Artist John Cullen Murphy died on July 2 at the age of 85. The Greenwich resident was best known for his work on the Sunday comic Prince Valiant which he illustrated for the last 34 years.
Murphy was born in New York City in 1919, and raised in Chicago and New Rochelle. Though he aspired to be a baseball player, his destiny to be an artist was made apparent one day in 1934 when a neighbor asked him to pose for a portrait for a magazine that happened to be called the Saturday Evening Post. The neighbor happened to be Norman Rockwell.
The experience had such an effect on young Murphy that he decided to study art. He went on to earn a scholarship to the Phoenix Art Institute in New York and also studied at the Art Student’s League. Using his love of sports, Murphy began drawing sports cartoons to advertise boxing matches at Madison Square Garden and was able to sell an average of two drawings a week to various Chicago sports magazines. He sold his first cover illustration before he was 20 years old.
During World War II, Murphy fought as an infantryman in the Pacific, earning a Bronze Star. Never abandoning his true craft, he documented military life in his artwork – including a portrait of General Douglas MacArthur – which was published in the Chicago Tribune.
In 1970, Murphy was asked by Hal Foster to take over the Prince Valiant strip, which Foster had created in 1937. It was set in the context of the fifth century and the post-Roman Empire story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Murphy drew the strip until his retirement earlier this year.
Former Army Air Force pilot Charles W. Sweeney died of a heart ailment on July 16 at a Boston hospital at the age of 84. The Lowell, Massachusetts native is best known as the pilot who dropped the atomic bomb over Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. Three days before the Nagasaki attack, Sweeney piloted a weather-instrument plane flying in support of the Enola Gay, which bombed Hiroshima.
After the war, Sweeney, the son of a plumber, became Major General in the Massachusetts Air National Guard. In the early 1960s, he went on to become a coordinator of civil defense work in Boston. His duties included creating response plans for the United States in the event of a nuclear attack. More recently, Sweeney was owner of a leather brokerage business in Boston.
Sweeney believed in the atomic bomb’s necessity but said he hoped it would never be used again. “As the man who commanded the last atomic mission, I pray that I retain that singular distinction,” he wrote in his memoir, War’s End (1997).
Sweeney is survived by 10 children, two brothers, a sister and 24 grandchildren. ♦