Posted on July 7, 2017August 8, 2017 by seancallenAdd Your Memory Please share a favorite memory of Joe. How to: Click on “Remembering Joe“, then write a comment in the box below. Like this:Like Loading...
17 Replies to “Add Your Memory”
There are too many memories to name them all here. Joe and Vicky were our next-door neighbors and close friends for over 28 years. During that time we enjoyed the adventures of living in the Putnam County wilderness: a mix of joy and frustration, like any shared living experience, but always sweetened by Joe’s razor-sharp wit and warm-hearted charm.
Some of the best memories include (in no particular order):
Parties, dinners and get-togethers, be they tightly-planned events or come-as-you-are barbecues.
Books, books, books: reading, sharing, exchanging and discussing into the night after numerous glasses of wine.
Three outrageous tag sales together, the last so successful that it paid for a night on the town in NYC for the 4 of us, with dinner and theatre.
Joe’s ability to comment incisively on any subject, and his ability to hold a room’s attention while speaking (see “razor-sharp wit” as noted above). So whenever we came across a fascinating reference from a book or the news, we have always said, “I wonder what Joe’s take on that would be…”.
Shared experiences in the complexities of modern life, from swimming pool management to cars to snow blowers.
But most important was the wonderful feeling that Joe and Vicky were more than good neighbors, that they were true friends, precious and irreplaceable.
Joe, we will miss you very, very much.
Floyd Gumble and Carol Adamson
A remembrance of Joe, written by David Nihill
“I seem to have misplaced my writing accoutrement.” Joe answered in reply to Mr. Shea’s question as to why he hadn’t been taking notes. I don’t think anyone in the class, including Mr. Shea, knew what accouterment meant. But I knew that the guy that had just spoken those words was something special . It was Freshmen Civics class, September 1965, the day I first met Joseph P. McGrath. Our friendship would last throughout high school, drop off upon graduation, and be rekindled 45 years later, becoming stronger than ever.
I met many new people that Fall since I was one of the 40 or so students that had attended Holy Family School until eighth grade. Now we were being mixed in with the public school kids, the ones the nuns had been warning us for years to avoid.
New groups, cliques, and friendships soon formed. Joe and I became part of the same group, the cool group, at least that what we thought. Our group became tight very quickly, due at least in part to the fact that we were on the undefeated freshman football team. Yes, Joe played football in ninth grade.
Joe and I were also assigned to many of the same classes throughout our four years. Joe frequently displayed his insight, wit, and brilliance during class discussions. He always did the reading for classes but for homework and classwork, he never seemed to have that writing accoutrement needed for written assignments.
Its crazy, but not one picture of Joe can be found in the 1969 RHS yearbook. Yet he was always present, always in the thick of things. Okay, he wasn’t always present. There is the famous story of the disappearing act Joe would regularly play during study hall. Strange but true, there was a trap door of sorts in the study hall. Joe would appear and then mysteriously vanish The teacher on guard was going crazy. Finally that teacher dragged Joe to the vice principal and falsely claimed that he had caught Joe leaving through the door. Joe was suspended, but not before he proved the teacher to be a liar by revealing the secret passage way.
In the years before we could drive, we did a lot of hanging around, especially at Rockland Plaza. Our friend Dick’s father ran a model car slot racing/pool hall business. We were welcome to hang out there as long as we stood at the corners of the miniature race track and placed the cars back on the track as rapidly as we could when they overshot the turns. Those nights would often conclude at the China Plaza with a half a dozen guys splitting one poo poo platter. The poor waiter, who we would keep busy re-filling our tea cups, would find a tip which had been scraped up from the loose change in our pockets. Walking home, we would sometimes break into song, kind of like Rockland’s version of the Jersey Boys. I remember Joe doing a mean harmony on the Monkee’s tune Steppin Stone, as well as For Your Love by the Yard Birds.
Hitch hiking gave us amazing freedom. We would thumb to Paragon Park for dollar day, or to Green Harbor for touch football at low tide. Joe usually thumbed to school rather than taking the dorky school bus all the way from Beech Hill. Our ultimate adventure by thumb was a hitch hiking race to Provincetown in teams of two. Once there, teams swapped stories of wild rides and weird people. Joe and I, for example, had caught a ride all the way from the Rockland exit to PTown, chauffeured by an old guy sporting a badly dyed goatee. His car was an old Jag sedan with purple interior lighting which glowed eerily throughout the journey. We all spent the night in the dunes, where we were eaten alive by mosquitos. Since we looked like hippy vagrants the next morning, the police made us feel rather unwelcome so we staged another race to get back home.
When Willy, Joe’s older brother by a year, got his license, we had wheels. Joe’s friends and Willy’s friends would crowd into the green Chevy Nova wagon. Although many rides went no where in particular, Sunday mornings were always a treat as we headed to Rockland Plaza. No stores were open and the parking lot was deserted. But there were plenty of shopping carts around, perfect for a passenger to pull along from the open window of the speeding Nova, releasing them at just the right moment in an attempt to make the cart crash into the light poles. It was vital not to choose a cart with wiggly wheel for this exercise.
Sometimes the rides did go somewhere, namely to the movies. They say getting there is half the fun, but riding home with Joe in the car, was twice the fun. Whether commenting on the movie we had seen or interpreting a song that had just ended on the radio, Joe’s views and interpretations were creative and insightful. I remember Joe’s remarks each time I hear Fool On The Hill or re-watch 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Then there was the summer that Joe and Willy’s parents took the two younger Mc Grath girls on a cross country trip, leaving the two boys at home. Their backyard became the place to be that summer. The night before the parents’ return, we all engaged in a frantic clean-up of the premisses, especially the garage. Like Arlo Guthrie and friends who had kept the Thanksgiving garbage in the church, the McGrath brothers had decided that their garage was a suitable, or at least a convenient, place to store all the remnants of the many celebrations from the summer.
Joe and I lost touch after the summer of 69. I saw him briefly when our friend Dennis’ sudden death brought the group back to Rockland. I saw him again at the 20th reunion. Everyone at that event was so proud and impressed that a kid from Rockland had become an editor at a major national publication. What would ninth grade English teacher Mrs. Ellsworth think (and did the job require having possession of a writing accoutrement?) Joe’s high school girl friend insisted on taking Joe’s business card so she could show her father, never a Joe fan, what a success Joe had become. Later, when visiting my mother, I pointed out Joe’s name on many books on her shelf.
After the reunion, I lost touch with Joe again, but I would think of him each time we drove through the area of New York where I knew he worked. I would sometimes tell my wife Peggy of the times Joe and I enjoyed. She had no trouble remembering which classmate from the reunion this was, the one that had regaled us with The Adventures of Joe and Bill at Woodstock. (By the way, Joe and Bill had invited me to go with them, but I heard rain was predicted in that area on the weekend. I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.)
Fast forward to the spring of 2014 when Joe found me on Facebook. We quickly decided a virtual meeting wasn’t enough and arranged to meet halfway between my home outside of Boston and his home in NY. Joe chose an Outback Restaurant right off the highway in Connecticut. I arrived in the parking lot first and played my usual mind game of trying to guess what a person drives. A silver Mercedes was not my first, second, or even third guess.
So began a series of 4 hour lunches. We always explained our situation to the wait staff who were most accommodating. Although there was always some reminiscing, we found we had tons to talk about, many common interests, and a mutual love for Outback’s Awesome blossom.
When we did talk old days, our late friend Dennis was frequently the subject. Joe had done some research on the mysterious circumstances surrounding Dennis’ violent death in the early 1970s. We decided to rendezvous in Connecticut at the site of Dennis’ demise. Joe brought flowers and a split of Champagne and we toasted our old friend before retiring to the nearest Outback. Joe later wrote a beautiful piece about Dennis which he posted on the Facebook page “You Know You’re From Rockland..”
Four hour lunches weren’t enough so we added a visit to our respective homes. When I visited Joe’s New York home, we spent a pleasant afternoon on his deck overlooking the pool, drinking beer and listening to the Beatles. That night we watched one of Joe’s favorite movies, Shaun of the Dead, on his excellent equipment. When Joe visited me and on a sunny July day, we took my Miata on a South Shore tour, passing old Rockland haunts. Joe was amazed that his tiny homestead on Beech Street had held four children in relative harmony. We made our way to Marshfield to find a very changed Green Harbor, and we ended up with fried seafood and a beer on the waterfront in Plymouth. Joe loved his fried sea food, as do I, so most subsequent Miata trips involved the ocean and a clam shack.
We were both so excited about Joe’s move to Bristol, Rhode Island.. Now we were practically neighbors, only an hour apart. And near the ocean and clam shacks. Only twice did we get to take advantage of our new-found proximity .
In early June, we took our last Miata ride. I drove down to Bristol and after a tour of Joe and Vicky’s beautiful new place, Joe and I headed to Little Compton. Never go to that area on a Monday before the actual summer season begins. Although the drive was most scenic and there were no crowds, our search for a clam shack or any kind of restaurant was in vain, All of the eating establishments are only open Thursday through Sunday at that time of year. Starving, we eventually ate at a place Joe and Vicky frequented, close to the new place in Bristol. As I dropped Joe off, I apologized for forgetting to share the driving as we had done on previous trips. “Next time” he said.
For our last outing , we attended a professional golf tournament. Not being a fan of golf, I declined when Joe mentioned during our drive the week before that he had two tickets for this event. Then I got to thinking that we always had fun, so what did it matter what we did. I contacted Joe the night before the tournament and learned the extra ticket was still available. We met in Rhode Island the next morning to catch the “jitney” as Joe called it, a giant tour bus that took us to the country club.. And I wasn’t disappointed, we had a great time and Joe made a wonderful commentator . Finally hunger overcame us. When I mentioned to Joe that I had noticed an Outback near where we had caught the bus, his eyes lit up. We took the Jitney back to our cars and drove to the Outback. We must have found the only Outback that doesn’t open until dinner time. We went next door to a Mexican restaurant and ordered the closest appetizer they had to an Awesome Blossom. Actually we ordered two.
During that final meal, we talked about tracking down high school friend Billy, Joe promised to do the research to find Bill’s phone number if I would make the call . I readily agreed. A few days later Joe texted me to say that he had the contact information and would send it along soon. He never got the chance. After Vicky told me the devastating news, I asked if she could find the information on Joe’s computer. She sent it to me the next day. The call I made to Billy was much different from the one I had so eagerly anticipated.
It was fun but also fascinating to get re-acquainted with Joe, to get to know him as a devoted husband and a loving father, a man who had enjoyed a stimulating and successful professional life and who now was an enjoying a stimulating and successful retirement. We had so many things we were going to do. I will miss my new-found old friend.
It was a privilege to work with Joe at RD for so many years. He had a sharp intellect, a peerless wit, and an insight into politics and culture that was dependably astute. We had many conversations that ranged far beyond, work, books, and publishing, conversations that often included reference to the family he was so proud of. Joe was someone to admire and emulate. He was great editor, a fun colleague, and a lovable storyteller taken too early.
To Vicky, Marykate, and Caroline,
My sincere sympathy to all of you on the sudden death of Joe.
Elizabeth forwarded the wonderful memories and pictures MaryKate shared on Facebook. They made me smile despite my sadness.
I loved Joe’s enthusiasm for our attempts to sing Christmas carols,his desire for more book cases to fill, his love of his “girls”, and his dogs.
Every time I think of Reader’s Digest or condensed books( which I still have) I always think of Joe and will continue to do so.
Jeff joins me in sending our condolences and know we are thinking of all of you during this difficult time.
Joe, Jim Menick, and I were all hired by RD Condensed Books within a month of each other in the spring of 1981. Jim and I came from similar trade publishing backgrounds. I’m not sure what Joe was doing before, but he fit right in. I do recall, however, the inimitable Eleanor Lake, who trained all of us in the art of condensing, telling me before I met him, that Joe was okay but that he was, of course, “right of the late Tsar.” After I got to know Joe pretty well, I would have to disagree with Eleanor on that. While he was right of me and Eleanor and maybe others on the staff politically, he was a thinking man’s right, more in the William F. Buckley mode than in the current GOP brainless mode.
Thinking was one of the characteristics that I most remember about Joe—his deep thinking and well thought-out and well-articulated opinions on every range of subject, opinions that you would learn if you sought them out–or even if you didn’t. When low-flush toilets first appeared on the market, he got one for the remodel of his and Vicky’s first-floor half bath in Carmel. Joe didn’t much like it, but it wasn’t just a yes-or-no kind of liking; rather he could have written (and maybe did) a whole treatise on the subject.
During my countless cafeteria and Mexican restaurant lunches with “the guys” (Joe, Jim, and Gary or Tom Froncek) over the next 22 years, I got to hear a lot about Joe’s thoughts and his stories–maybe even better yet stories from Jim and others about Joe. Jim and Joe loved golf and poker—neither of which I play, but I often felt I had done 18 holes with them during lunch. My all-time favorite story involved what they called a “golf drifter,” a solitary stranger who hung around the course waiting for a threesome he could join. Some of these golf drifters were real characters. One such drifter who had joined their group, after listening to Joe wax on during play about golf, life, literature, low-flush toilets, whatever, finally turned to him and said, “What are you anyway? Some kind of golf philosopher?”
That was our Joe. He was sui generis and all our lives were made so much richer for knowing him.
For many years beginning in the early 70’s, Joe and Vicky and my then-husband Patrick and I were best friends. We travelled together and spent weekends together playing games and making each other laugh. We rented a house in the back woods of Maine, I think it was, in the fall, and went to spend a weekend there. Patrick didn’t go–the World Series was on and he didn’t want to miss it. So the four of us went. Ron and I rode in the covered flatbed back of Joe and Vicky’s truck. The house had no hot water and no indoor toilet: it was my first experience of an outhouse. It was cold, so we put a fire in the stove and went to bed; I had bagged the small bed by the stove. During the night I was suddenly woken by laughter: somewhat loud laughter. I couldn’t imagine what was going on. The cabin was basically one big room, and I realised the laughter was coming from Joe and Vicky’s end of the room. I stifled my own laughter, and it quieted down; all was silent. The next morning I said to Vicky “I thought I heard Joe laughing during the night.” Vicky said “Yes: Joe sometimes laughs out loud during the night, but he’s asleep.” I never forgot that episode.
I can’t believe that Joe has left us all. Vicky, Mary Kate and Caroline, you have my love and warm thoughts over the miles. I will never forget all the fun we had together, and those days are in my thoughts now.
I grew up with the Beech Hill McGraths in Rockland, MA. Just like his mom, pop, & big brother Will, he was an intelligent, satirically quick witted guy(which I love), & possessed an insatiable quest for learning. He loved life & we had so much fun together in various groups of friends as high schoolers taking off on the spur of the moment to Saquish, Duxbury Beach, Marshfield, World’s End, Scituate, Myles Standish State Park, or to the dunes of Truro, Wellfleet, & Provincetown where we would camp out with guitars singing at the top of our lungs, start bonfires, & sleep under the stars when it was simpler to do so(although we were evah vigilant for police beach patrols!). Back then we loved listening to everything from Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, to The Beatles, to The Doors, to Jimi Hendrix Experience, to Bob Dylan, to Simon & Garfunkle. Later when I left for college, he’d come up to UMASS Amherst(usually with Billy Littlefield &/or Dennis Ledwell) & hang out occasionally, typically to attend a concert. We somehow lost contact after that until the appearance of Facebook when we happily could reconnect! As old friends do it just felt like Ringo Starr, in that we nevah missed a beat. Once he told me he & Vicky closed on a Mt Hope Bay home in Bristol RI a month or so ago, not only was I so excited for them but was happily anticipating & we were already making plans to get together since we would be so close now geographically. Although I never met his wife Vicky & daughters Caroline & Mary Kate, from what seems evidently and irrefutably clear, I will echo Will’s son Aaron McGrath’s comments here…”A person to aspire to like. A dedicated husband, father and friend. You made an impact on everyone that knew you.” To Vicky, Caroline, & Mary Kate please know you have our deepest, heartfelt condolences & we ache for you. Joe, you WERE a great guy & friend; loved you & will miss you. Happy Trails padnah.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I have fond memories of Joe as he worked on his lineups of books he wanted to include in his Reader’s Digest Condensed Books volumes. He would stop by to strategize with me on the best plan to insure we won the titles and the authors he picked. “If I can’t have Mary Higgins Clark, I definitely want Tom Clancy,” he’d say. ..and a 10-minute brainstorming turned into an hour of Jim and I going through various lineup scenarios and the implications of each. But I also have fun memories of Joe playing baseball at dept. picnic outings where he would quickly take up the role of coach for those more challenged at the sport and he tried to turn them into professional pitchers or hitters on the spot! So to sum up — Joe gave his all to what he did, be it work or play. Thanks for the good memories.
LikeLiked by 1 person
What I remember are the great Fourth of July parties, with fireworks. And the lunches in the RD cafeteria with Jim and Gary (and me once or twice), and later the Kobu lunches with Peter and me and occasionally Mike … as well as his exhaustive knowledge of Steve Earle, and his interest in true crime stories, and his insistence around the poker table that “I never sandbag,” and his meticulous research of every seaside town between Bar Harbor and Key West. Along with the sardonic sense of humor, the level-headed approach to life … and the sudden unexpected smile. And the 300 or 400 rounds of golf we played together over the years. Joe, you’re leaving us with a big hole in our lives, a big hole in our hearts. And we will miss you terribly. Our world will not be the same.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Baird Golf Course, 18th hole, late 20th century : Joe’s shot hits a tree, bounces back and stops right at his feet. Joe and I laugh,but it’s a pitiful laugh. For we know that Tom and JIm, the opposing team, are on their way to pocketing the four quarters that are at stake. Joe swings again. This time his ball sails over 200 yards, hits a side hill,and bounds onto the green. Joe strides toward the green, his fist in the air. 10 minutes later, we are giddily dissecting the “SHOT”, which we have done many times since. And we had four shiny quarters in our pockets. Never have two golfers been so happy to win so little.
I could never have had a better partner than Joe . Golf will never be the same.
LikeLiked by 1 person
A person to aspire to be like. A dedicated husband, father and friend. You made an impact on everyone that knew you. I love you Uncle Joe.
A person to aspire to like. A dedicated husband, father and friend. You made an impact on everyone that knew you. I love you Uncle Joe.
One hot summer day, I was driving home in my sweltering, un-air-conditioned Toyota Tercel, behind Joe. Apparently his car lacked air-conditioning too, because he pulled off a feat that was beyond my capabilities–while driving, he put one hand behind his back, pulled his shirt up over his head, and flung (flang?) it onto the seat next to him, driving barechested–and a lot cooler. I thought, Wish I could do that!
He was always a pleasure to work with, and I wonder, Was he the one who came up with the T-shirt for Jean Aptakin that read “Split wood, not infinitives”?
I’m very sorry to hear of his passing. My condolences to family and friends.
LikeLiked by 1 person
You were a man of many talents and interests, Joe. Especially enjoyed your outstanding sense of humor. Thanks for introducing me to The Big Lebowski and Rowan Atkinson!
One of my favorites: Sitting in the backseat of Mr. McGrath’s black ford taurus (but the fancy taurus with black leather seats) while Caroline flipped through radio stations scanning for our favorite hits of the 2000s (Britney Spears, NSYNC, and Ja Rule). Mr. McGrath turned off the radio and said “Haven’t you ever heard of the fine art of conversation?” …only to turn on Mitch Hedberg for the remainder of our ride to the Renegades game. The laughs from that night still make me laugh today!
also….Mr. McGrath beat the entire game of Donkey Kong on Super Nintendo. #goals
LikeLiked by 1 person
A couple of quotes. First of all, at the poker table, Joe would, sooner or later, announce: “I never bluff.” Yeah. Right.
And this one I borrowed many years ago. It’s Joe in a nutshell: “If you were smarter, I’d be funnier.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
Great guy, great golf, great poker. Will miss him.
LikeLiked by 1 person