A court reporter who recorded every word, every outburst, every mumbled response in Suffolk Superior Court, Paula Connelly listened to witnesses recount some of humanity’s worst deeds, then carefully rendered their words into transcripts.
Among her court colleagues, though, she was an antidote to the darkness, making sure that when the day was done they shed the burdens of work and remembered the goodness in life.
“She had a contagious smile and a personality about her that, with all the things we see, all the human misery, all the people mashing up against each other every day, she was truly the one who put a smile on everyone’s face and a skip in their step,” said Michael Donovan, clerk magistrate of the Suffolk Superior Civil Court division. “You can say that about a handful of people in an entire lifetime.”
Mrs. Connelly, whose optimism was such that in her last days she kept planning a gathering of colleagues that subsequently became a celebration of her spirit, died June 3 in her Braintree home, of cancer that had spread since her diagnosis in November 2010. She was 51.
Superior Court Judge Regina Quinlan called Mrs. Connelly “one of the best” at her job.
“She loved being a court reporter,” Quinlan said during a eulogy at a memorial service earlier this month.
For the uninitiated in the packed church, Quinlan described what Mrs. Connelly did to compile “a full, fair, and complete record” of what transpired in court each day.
Mrs. Connelly was what is known as a voice writer, repeating every word that was spoken “into a mask connected to a multitrack recorder,” Quinlan said. “It was interesting and challenging and, at times, frustrating. Imagine trying to get every word when two or three people start talking at once, or translating a witness’s nod or shake of the head or ‘hum hum’ or ‘uh huh.’ She had no time to be distracted or to think about something else.”
When court proceedings ended, however, Mrs. Connelly “worked hard at keeping her co-workers connected,” Quinlan said. “She had a sixth sense knowing when someone needed a kind word, or when time was ripe for a party or informal get-together where laughter was the order of business, or when someone just needed to be called by name and given a friendly ‘Hello.’ ”
Nancy McCann, also a court reporter, said Mrs. Connelly “had an easy laugh, an easy presence about her. You liked being around her.”
Mrs. Connelly, McCann added, “liked listening to you. She always knew something personal about everybody. She made you feel like you were her best friend.”
That was true even when Mrs. Connelly was ill, during weeks when she would apologize if she had to miss work for cancer treatment.
“Even when she could barely walk, she would smile and hug you, right to the last minute,” said another colleague, Sandy Spiros. “She was something else, I’ll tell you.”
Born Mary Paula Flaherty, Mrs. Connelly was the youngest of three children. Her father was a Quincy police lieutenant and her mother worked nights at New England Telephone. Both died a few months before Mrs. Connelly’s death.
After graduating from Sacred Heart High School in Weymouth and Quincy Junior College, she worked many years for Quincy Savings Bank. She also worked as a waitress many weekends for the former Joseph’s Catering, where she met Stephen Connelly, who was a cook.
“Once we started dating, it didn’t take me long to ask her to marry me,” he said.
They married in October 1993, 18 months after they started dating.
Amid raising three daughters, Mrs. Connelly changed careers, learning how to be a court reporter through classes at Aquinas College in Newton.
Outside of school and work, she also learned a few things about hockey, a subject that was not of primary interest before marriage and children.
“She didn’t know a thing about hockey when she married me, but by the end, she could tell you any rule, because her kids played and I played,” her husband said.
Mrs. Connelly “lived her life for her three daughters,” he said. “She took pride in making sure they were good young adults. All three of them, they have so much of their mother in them.”
Being a working mother meant coordinating her schedule with her husband’s and those of her daughters: 17-year-old Lauren, 15-year-old Leah, and 10-year-old Elizabeth.
“One thing Paula wanted was for us to all sit down together every night as a family and she wanted to hear about everybody’s day,” her husband said. “She was so involved in what her daughters were doing. She was so close to the girls.”
In her eulogy, Quinlan noted that one of Mrs. Connelly’s colleagues said recently that “she always talked about her family. I knew her kids better than my own.”
In addition to her husband and three daughters, Mrs. Connelly leaves a brother, Kevin Flaherty of Easton, and a sister, Kathy Carroll of Nahant.
Mrs. Connelly coined words and phrases “that were unique to her,” Rob Hitchings, a friend from Bridgewater, said in a eulogy at her service. “Paularisms, I guess you could call them. ‘Mouchies’ was one of her favorites. Mouchies was Paula’s version of hugs and kisses, and if Paula said ‘mouchies’ to you, you knew you were special.”
She had a way of making everyone she encountered feel that way, and that was evident in how packed the church was for her service and the long line outside the funeral home for her wake.
“I waited an hour and a half in line and people were saying, ‘I didn’t know you knew Paula, and ‘Oh, she was my close friend,’ ” McCann said. “We all thought she was our best friend.”
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