This week, Senator Sal DiDomenico sat at his home reviewing the video of last year’s DiDomenico Foundation annual St. Patrick’s Day Roast at the Knights of Columbus – a yearly tradition bringing most everyone from the state and regional political and civic circles together for one night of good-hearted joking and fun just prior to the overall fun of St. Patrick’s Day in Greater Boston.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “No one is wearing masks. It was the last big event in the state to happen before the pandemic and you can look at it and say, ‘That’s when it all started.’ You look at everyone and see them at the tables eating and laughing at each other and you just get nervous seeing it now. It looks so unusual. Depending on the day, it seems so far away and also like it was just yesterday…No one knew what was coming, and no one could have predicted we’d be in the same situation one year later.”
That is exactly where society stands right now as one year has passed on the calendar and COVID-19 remains, and while there have been some needed victories lately, the mystery remains as to how long it could last or whether it could become a permanent part of our lives. In that spirit, DiDomenico said this week he would be cancelling the annual event, which would have taken place normally this Friday – just prior to the March 17 St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The event is a who’s-who of state and local politics, bringing U.S. Senators, Gov. Charlie Baker, Mayor Martin Walsh shoulder to shoulder with elected officials and community leaders from Everett, Charlestown, Chelsea, Cambridge and other locales. It all has been done to have a fun time, but also to raise money for the DiDomenico Foundation.
“We thought about doing it virtually, but just decided it wasn’t appropriate,” he said. “The notion of the event being a fundraiser and an event with jabs and jokes didn’t seem appropriate with the pandemic still raging. The Foundation does suffer because we can’t raise needed funds for the community, but we felt it just wasn’t the right thing to do this year.”
Last year’s event took place on March 6, and it was really the only St. Patrick’s event that took place. The South Boston Parade was quickly cancelled afterward, and most of the bars and special events went on lockdown shortly after DiDomenico’s event. By St. Patrick’s Day, most people were thinking about the dark times of the first COVID surge rather than toasting a Guinness to the old sod.
For now, the memories of that March 6 event seem very surreal to DiDomenico. The pandemic was knocking at the door, very literally, but no one knew – no one thought it would be serious. So it was they were enjoying themselves in a familiar environment for what would be the last traditional function for more than a year.
DiDomenico recalled that attendance was not hindered by the mentions of COVID-19, and there were a couple of jokes at the time that are now cringe-worthy given the luxury of hindsight.
“The BioGen people did make it a little more serious for us as it happened that day, meaning earlier that day we heard they were going to the hospital,” he said. “The governor and the mayor had to cancel, but we were told the BioGen issue was contained and we’d be fine. It was an isolated incident. So, the attendance at my event wasn’t impacted at all. We had a full room. All the elected officials were there minus the governor and Mayor Walsh. So, we thought that was an isolated event and everything was fine. Little did we know what lied ahead for all of us in only a few days.”
DiDomenico said he looks at the tapes from last year’s event, seeing friends like Mayor Carlo DeMaria, Everett City Councilors, Chelsea Collaborative’s (now La Colaborativa) Gladys Vega, Chelsea Supt. Almi Abeyta, Charlestown State Rep. Dan Ryan, and Charlestown Councilor Lydia Edwards – in addition to then-Congressman Joe Kennedy and AG Maura Healey, to name but a few. He said it hurts to watch it, as it recalls one of the last times he can remember having fun with others and not worrying about protocols and sickness.
“Looking back at it, we didn’t know,” he said. “It was one of the last community events and we’ll look back on it and say it was the end of how we lived for awhile.”