They were a crew, a bunch of boys who grew up in the same Braintree neighborhood, went to school together, played sports, and attended CCD classes at St. Francis of Assisi. At the center of the crew was John McHugh, whose house was a magnet for the other kids, with its big backyard perfect for pick-up ball.
But the real attraction was “Goo,’’ or Magoo, as McHugh was known to his friends. “Even from elementary school, there were probably three or four guys who considered Goo their best friend, and that carried through college and after,’’ says John McCarthy, who knew him since kindergarten.
In their early 40s now, the gang still gets together regularly, and every year heads south for a golfing trip. The old gang includes McCarthy, Luke Foley, Mike Stanton, Sean Costello, Mike McLaughlin, Bill Porter, Peter Resca, and Peter Golden.
But their leader, Goo, died in August after suffering a stroke. He was 41 years old and left a wife and four children ranging in age from 4 to 10. He was active, in good health, with no history of high blood pressure when he was felled, way too early.
Women’s friendships are known for their depth and constancy; women have been helping one another for millennia. Guys get together to watch sports, talk business, drink beer. They generally don’t make chatty phone calls and casseroles.
But a couple of recent stories involving male friendship have caught my attention for their sweetness, and their longevity.
Most of those Braintree boys, Class of 1988, are married, with kids and jobs. When McHugh died, they decided they needed to do more than send some flowers and call on his widow, Kristin.
“Our main concern is that his family needs funds in the short term and long term,’’ says McCarthy, who now lives in Needham. McHugh, laid off from Thomson Reuters a few months before he died, had been looking for work.
His friends have started a McHugh Scholarship Fund. A raffle, with the winners drawn on Super Bowl Sunday, netted $40,000. Michael O’Connor, a friend of Goo’s from St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., put together the website where people could pledge, and his friends sent out hundreds of e-mails asking for help. The e-mail also asked friends and colleagues to pray for the family, and to send McHugh’s children a letter telling them what they remember about him.
Next, they formed a committee to help Goo’s siblings throw a fund-raiser May 12 at Freeport Hall in Dorchester. “A bunch of us are trying to get raffle prizes, silent auction prizes, things like that,’’ says Foley, who knew Goo from Braintree, St. Anselm, and Fidelity, where they both worked.
“It’s difficult, it’s still hard to wrap my arms around it, to know that he’s gone,’’ says Foley, who still lives in Braintree. “We’re a pretty tight-knit group, most of us go back at least to junior high with Goo. He was the first in our group who died, and it is still hard to believe.’’
His friends will tell you that they teased Goo a lot, for his lateness at any and all events, to his very slow, very methodical golf game. He loved the daily newspaper, and even in high school, he’d be late for carpool because he was busy with a bowl of cereal and his beloved morning paper - or because of his penchant for sleeping in.
“He was the only one who could get away with it,’’ says Foley. “You couldn’t help but love the kid.’’
A year before McHugh’s death, Patrick Crawford died in an automobile accident on Route 3 in Plymouth. He was 28 years old and was quarterback and captain of the South Shore Outlaws, a semipro football team of the New England Football League. Founded in 2003, the Outlaws are based in Plymouth. The season preceding his death, Crawford made the league’s all-star team.
Crawford, who graduated from Plymouth North High School and Dean College in Franklin, was a third-year apprentice with the Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12. A group of his guy friends are working with his brother, John, on the Patrick J. Crawford Memorial Foundation. Crawford was single. The foundation has already provided two scholarships to high school seniors, one from Plymouth North and one from Plymouth South.
“We just want to keep his memory alive, and not have anyone forget about him,’’ says Patrick Cotter, who met him when both were younger and working at Best Buy in Kingston. “He was a great guy, a very good friend who always had your back.’’
The first event was a golf tournament last summer at Crosswinds Golf Club in Plymouth, and it raised $12,000. A second tournament will be held there June 8. Crawford’s brother is president of the foundation; Cotter is vice president, and another friend, Ryan Hill, is treasurer. The three read the essays of students who applied for the scholarship and selected the recipients.
“We were looking for student-athletes because athletics was such a big part of Patrick’s life,’’ says Hill, who lives in Halifax. “Someone who needed it and deserved it.’’
Last Christmas, the foundation also spent $4,000 on clothing and toys for women and children living in a shelter for battered women in the area. The guys took the lists and went out shopping for the gifts themselves.
“Patrick was big into helping people,’’ says Hill. “If something needed to be done, he would do it if he could. We figure this is a way to have him continue to help people, even though he’s no longer here.’’
I was thinking about all of these men in church last Sunday during a hymn. “Life has its battles, sorrows, and regret, but in the shadows let us not forget, we who now gather know each other’s pain, kindness can heal us for as we give, we gain.’’
Friends give us strength and courage, companionship and joy. The best friends make us better people. These two men who died too young apparently had mastered the art of friendship. And so have their friends.