While a student at Boston’s Mission High School, John J. Reilly worked as an usher at Fenway Park, beginning an affiliation with the Red Sox that lasted nearly 60 years.
Starting in 1946, he rose through the ranks in the team’s accounting department, retiring in 1992 as treasurer. He returned to Fenway a year later and for eight more seasons was receptionist at the media dining room.
“He had a great loyalty to the Red Sox,” said Mr. Reilly’s son Mark of Walpole. “Dad said he was very lucky to have the opportunity to turn his passion for baseball into a career he loved.”
Mr. Reilly, who threw out the first pitch at Fenway the year he formally retired, died Dec. 22 in his Canton home of cardiopulmonary arrest. He was 88.
Friends and colleagues remembered him as soft-spoken, kind, and a selfless mentor.
Red Sox vice president and historian Dick Bresciani said Mr. Reilly’s loyalty went beyond his job description on July 14, 1956, when he listened to a Red Sox-White Sox broadcast.
As Boston lefty Mel Parnell pitched into the late innings of what would become a no-hitter, Mr. Reilly left home and drove to Fenway to help in any way he could, anticipating a possible postgame celebration.
Others in the organization — such as Bill Wanless, the Pawtucket Red Sox media relations director — recalled how Mr. Reilly’s intervention helped launch his career.
“Mr. Reilly will always be special in my life,” Wanless said. “I grew up in Canton, and his wife and my mom were in the same singing group. When I was a junior at Saint Anselm in 1984, Mr. Reilly called the PawSox and asked that I be considered as a college intern. That gesture gave me my start.”
Jim Healey, president of the Yawkey Foundations and formerly Red Sox vice president for broadcasting and special projects, said Mr. Reilly was “a stickler for getting it right and was very helpful to me when I started with the Red Sox in the accounting department.
“He was among the last of the World War II veterans in the organization to retire, and the last time I saw him was at the reception following Johnny Pesky’s funeral last year. He loved Johnny and many of the Red Sox players of that era.”
Mr. Reilly graduated from Mission High School in 1941 and served in the Army during World War II on hospital ships. During his early years in the Sox accounting department, he attended Northeastern University on the GI Bill, graduating in 1953 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Bob Furbush, formerly the Red Sox chief financial officer, said he never forgot old friends.
“We were in Seattle with our wives in 1986 for the Major League’s financial meetings and afterward traveled to Vancouver for the World’s Fair,” Furbush recalled. “We were standing in a long line waiting to get into an exhibit, and he was in a telephone booth calling one of his Army buddies who lived in the area.”
In 1956, Mr. Reilly married Barbara Steele. The couple had four sons, all of whom sold hot dogs at Fenway Park and were never lacking for tickets, thanks to Mr. Reilly, who cherished his 1986 American League championship ring.
Mark Carver, a family friend, said Mr. Reilly’s relationship with a groundskeeper accounted for the lushlawn at the family’s home. When the team replaced sod and got rid of the old grass, “Mr. Reilly would bring the rolls home and lay them out in the yard,” Carver recalled.
Mr. Reilly served as a Eucharistic minister in St. Gerard Majella Church in Canton. He made sure his sons attended 5 p.m. Mass after Saturday games at Fenway and that they gave part of their earnings to the Jimmy Fund.
The Rev. Ron Coyne of St. Mary Church in Randolph, who officiated at the weddings of three of Mr. and Mrs. Reilly’s sons and baptized several grandchildren, said their home was always open to others.
“They gave generously of their time and their resources, and both sang in the choir at St. Gerard’s,” Coyne said. “Jack had an infectious laugh and great sense of humor, and he made you feel good about yourself.”
Mrs. Reilly died in 1996, and during the past six years, Mr. Reilly often visited the Julia Ruth House, an adult day-care facility in Westwood.
The facility’s owner, Julia Irvine, got an inquiry two years ago from a boy in Kentucky asking if the Julia Ruth House was named after a daughter of Babe Ruth. Though the answer was no, Mr. Reilly sent the boy a letter in which he mentioned that he once owned a baseball signed by the great slugger.
“Yes, he definitely did,” Mr. Reilly’s son Mark said, “but my brothers and I used to go into his dresser to get baseballs for our games, and unfortunately, the Babe’s autograph got rubbed out. He wasn’t too happy about that.”
In addition to Mark, Mr. Reilly leaves three other sons, John Jr. of East Greenwich, R.I., Christopher of Cumming, Ga., and Michael of Canton; a sister, Mary of West Roxbury; and nine grandchildren.
A service has been held. Burial was at St. Mary Cemetery in Canton.
On the day Mr. Reilly died, Irvine and others from the Julia Ruth House visited. Among the guests was Linda Mellen, Mr. Reilly’s favorite singer.
“Jack had a great voice and always led our group singing sessions,” said Irvine, who recalled that she and the visitors joined the Reilly family for Christmas carols and hymns. “That was our gift to Jack.”
Mr. Reilly used to always ask Mellen to sing his favorite song, “On the Street Where You Live” from the musical “My Fair Lady,” which opened in 1956, the year the Reillys married.
On Dec. 22, though, “I kissed him on the cheek when I left his home for the last time,” Mellen said, “and he whispered to me, ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain.’ ”
She sang the spiritual at Mr. Reilly’s funeral.