When Billy Boyle’s children – now adults – were young, they constantly consulted the ‘Firefighter’s Calendar’ in the house to see when his group, Group 2, would be off for a few days.
That firefighter’s schedule – on a few days and off a few days – permitted him to be able to spend time and watch television with the kids. His company was something they looked forward to greatly, said his daughter, Christine O’Keefe.
They were not alone.
Everyone enjoyed his company, and he hesitated never to help when he could.
In his lifetime, Billy Boyle was a legend in Charlestown, growing up here under humble circumstances, raising his family in the Town, becoming a firefighter and at the same time giving his free time to his family and the community. Few who spent more than 10 minutes in the Town didn’t know him, and those who did always enjoyed his company or his helping hand in times of trouble.
Billy Boyle passed away on Weds., May 27, and his funeral Mass took place at St. Francis Church on Weds., June 3.
“When we were kids we always looked at the Fire Calendar, and we knew Group 2 usually had Monday to Thursday off,” said O’Keefe. “We always loved it when he was home because he would watch TV with us and spend time with us…We’re going to miss him. He was our life. He did everything as a husband; everything as a dad and everything as a papa. It was so important that he got to see the community come by two weeks ago for that parade. My nephew saw that and said, ‘I knew that papa was a hero, but I didn’t know he was a superhero.’ That’s who my father was.”
O’Keefe said the last few months had been very difficult, particularly because of the virus situation and having to be locked down from everyone, and also having to be separated from family while in the hospital seeking care for non-COVID ailments. However, she said he was able to come home to Charlestown for eight days before he passed, and she said there was comfort in that.
He passed happy, she said.
“He got to come home for eight days,” she said. “He will be so missed, but he was really, really happy with his life…As incredibly sad as we were to see him go, getting home and being with us in the Town – I’m sure he was a happy man.”
Boyle loved being a husband and a firefighter, and O’Keefe said few could boast their love of profession as Boyle could. However, he was also tirelessly dedicated to his wife and his extended Charlestown family.
Cookie Giordano hosted the Charlestown Live television show with Boyle for a number of years, and said she had known him since he was 5. She said his mother was sick when he was young, and so Boyle had come to live with her family for a time.
“At times, he became an extended member of the Whelan family,” she said. “With his curly bright red hair, freckled face, sparkling eyes, and yes at times, devilish glances, it was always a delight to have him in the house. Thinking back on those days in the 1950s, I realize that, with only the change of the color of his hair, he was the same ‘kid’ to me whenever we got together over the past number of years – a brother, a friend and confidant…Billy’s contributions toward the well-being of all who called Charlestown home are for the most part unknown, but the man he was makes him a legend.”
Boyle, during what would have been Charlestown Pride Week this week, had spent years leading the Charlestown Against Drugs (CHAD) March on Monday of Charlestown Pride Week, and then heading up Peter Looney Night the following evening. Both were treasured parts of the Bunker Hill week festivities – and CHAD was an organization for which he and his friend, Peter Looney, were tirelessly devoted to. Last year, he announced the transformation of the organization on Peter Looney Night.
He and Looney had helped countless young people and young adults battle against and get over drug dependence. Boyle has been described as one of the “giants” in the early fight in Charlestown, where the epidemic raged long before it was recognized widely.
O’Keefe said they have been overwhelmed by cards from young people and adults they don’t even know who credit Boyle with “saving their lives” when they were at their lowest point.
Meanwhile, he was also a charter member of the Bunker Hill Associates, and this week they said they were grieved by the loss of one of their most integral and long-time members.
“Billy was such an integral part of the Associates and he has been with the organization as long as anyone can remember,” said Vice President Jimmy Lister, Jr. “He really helped in the evolution of the organization from a small group to what it is today. He also helped found CHAD. He was someone who would get his hands dirty and was ready to help. He was dedicated to this neighborhood he grew up in. He went to work and didn’t complain and was able to get difficult things achieved with a smile on his face. He’s going to be extremely missed.”
Friends like Tom Coots of The Cooperative Bank (TCB) said they would never forget Boyle having “Board meetings” at Zume’s Coffee house – calling himself and friends John Kelly and Eugene Brosnahan the “Board of Directors.”
Coots remembered how Boyle would quickly respond if someone asked him if he had gone to college.
“He would say, ‘I may not have a Ph.D., but I have a DD/214,’” said Coots. “It would roll off his tongue and referred to his service in the Korean War, an honorable discharge being known as a DD/214.”
Coots had joined Boyle in many ventures over the past 20 years, he said, including being a co-host on Charlestown Live and participating in the oral history project with the Historical Society – not to mention philanthropy and donation work all around the Town.
“Billy was really a surrogate dad to me and introduced me to so many people in Charlestown,” Coots said. “A little bit of the light in Charlestown is dimmed because of Billy’s passing. I never knew Billy to say ‘no’ to anyone who asked for assistance. If he couldn’t do it himself, he would find someone who could.”
State Rep. Dan Ryan said he had known Boyle since he was a kid, as his father was also a Boston firefighter. Additionally, he was a co-host on television with Boyle for some time as well.
“Billy was a true Patriot, public servant and friend,” he said. “I’m going to miss him. The Town is going miss him. His sense of duty was only outshined by his sense of humor and humility. At the start of every speaking program he would Irish whisper ‘We are just going to wing it!’ He would then lead a fitting, proper, from the heart tribute to whatever was on the agenda. He had a unique easiness about him.”
City Councilor Lydia Edwards said she came to know Boyle as a man who had a rare kindness to him, ready to help with generosity or hard work.
“Billy loved Charlestown,” she said. “He lived to celebrate this community and to protect Charlestown’s legacy. His acts of kindness and helpfulness for his fellow man are countless and so many were quietly done. He will be greatly missed because men like Billy are rare. A true gentleman, a generous heart, may he rest in peace.”
State Sen. Sal DiDomenico had a special bond with Boyle, he said, often leaning on him for advice or grabbing coffee at Zume’s. That was expressed with Boyle receiving the ‘Golden Shamrock’ award at DiDomenico’s St. Patrick’s Day Roast a few years back.
“I was honored to call Billy Boyle a good friend,” he said. “He leaves a big hole in the fabric of Charlestown. He was a person everyone knew and loved. When you think of Charlestown, you think of Billy Boyle. Billy was a person I leaned on and when I needed advice or counsel, he was the person in the community I always turned to. He will be missed by us all.”
Added his daughter, O’Keefe, “It’s clear my father was very, very well liked in the Town.”