For four days after his death, Bill McCarthy’s body languished in the city morgue, identified only as John Doe.
Found unconscious on a Dorchester street on Columbus Day, with no wallet, ID, or cellphone on him, McCarthy had been rushed to Boston Medical Center and pronounced dead of natural causes that afternoon. He was 53. The only thing in his bag that shed light on his identity was a waiter’s apron.
In a way, that apron, or at least the time he spent wearing it, had become McCarthy’s identity.
At Giacomo’s restaurant in the South End that same day, his absence alarmed the staff. In his 12 years working at the Italian restaurant on Columbus Avenue, co-workers said, he had never been late.
“It’s just not like Bill,” said Richard Talieri, the manager of Giacomo’s.
He was the one who hired McCarthy. He was also the one who identified his body days after his disappearance.
Now, the staff of the tight-knit restaurant and its regular customers continue to mourn the loss of someone who was much more than a man who served food. Giacomo’s was McCarthy’s home, and the people within it were like family.
Co-workers said McCarthy, who grew up in Watertown, wasn’t close to relatives. His mother had died 10 years ago. He was gay and single, and had no children. He lived alone.
But, according to Jason Walker, who is Giacomo’s cook and was McCarthy’s friend, McCarthy found a sense of belonging at the restaurant.
“There are people who don’t really get along with their brothers and sisters,” Walker said. “Maybe they really don’t have the best relationship with their mom and dad. But you come in the restaurant business, and these are the people who care about you. These are the people who will look out for you.”
That is exactly what McCarthy’s co-workers did.
Karen Mullen, a real estate broker who waited tables with McCarthy for years, was the one who helped him find a condo in Dorchester and guided him through the home-buying process. Talieri called the police the night McCarthy didn’t show up for work, as well as every hospital in the Boston and New York City area, looking for him.
The bartender at the nearby Anchovies bar and restaurant used her connections with Channel 7 News to get the story out that a man was missing.
The doctor who pronounced McCarthy dead connected the picture of the missing waiter to the apron she found in John Doe’s bag and alerted the police.
It was Giacomo’s co-owner Joe Dinarello who kept McCarthy’s dad — who lives in an assisted living facility in Newton — updated on his son’s disappearance. After Talieri identified the body, Dinarello organized McCarthy’s wake and tied up his estate.
“It got out there in the neighborhood quick,” Talieri said, when McCarthy went missing. “Everyone was putting signs up.
“And then after we confirmed his death we were telling the same story. How many times do you have to tell it? You had to tell it 10 times a night. And then everyone’s reaction was different. They would start crying. It was hard, and sad, and that went on for weeks,” he added.
Talieri said he believes McCarthy was probably experiencing heart failure all weekend, and died of a heart attack.
Walker, the cook, was surprised and warmed by the response to McCarthy’s death. More than 200 people came to the wake, many of them regulars at the restaurant.
“It’s good in a way to see that people really do care,” he said.
They cared because McCarthy cared about the people he worked with and waited on.
“He talked to people, to a fault,” Talieri said. “I had to pull him away from tables sometimes and tell him to get his food out of the kitchen! But that’s why Bill was so liked. He knew everyone who came in. He knew all of their stories.”
Recalled Moris Flores, who worked with McCarthy at Giacomo’s for 11 years: “Every year, he would bring in a cake for my birthday. At Christmas, he would bring gifts for the guys in the kitchen. And every Tuesday he would bring in ice cream.’’
Like any family, however, a restaurant family has its quirks. Talieri remembers McCarthy would arrive for every shift with a huge caffeinated drink.
“Then the entire staff would watch him have an espresso and say ‘oh no.’ And then he would have another one, and everyone knew they were in trouble because he would just spin out of control.
“His caffeine intake was a point of contention,” added Talieri, laughing. “He would talk to himself, run around, and then at 10 o’clock, he’d go back to normal.”
One of McCarthy’s passions was indie bands.
“He would travel all around to see them,’’ Talieri said. “He was always trying to pick out the next big band before they got big so he could see them in a small club with 50 or 60 people. He’d go all over Boston and New York.”
When Talieri and Dinarello went through his things recently, they found his calendar marked with upcoming shows. They even found tickets to an upcoming Alice Cooper concert.
“We joked around,” Talieri said. “We said ‘Really, you’re going to pay $40 to see that old man? Come on, Bill.’ ”
McCarthy was buried Nov. 30 in Watertown next to his mother. But Giacomo’s employers are not done saying goodbye. They are planning a celebration of McCarthy’s life in January, at Anchovies.
“Bill needs a proper send-off,” said Talieri, smiling.
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College. Kathryn Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.