Remembering John Mahoney: Recalling His Traffic Whistle in City Square

The fact that former Boston Police Officer John Mahoney, who lived his entire life in Charlestown and settled on Cross Street for decades, died of complications due to COVID-19 – as tragic as that is these days – is really just a footnote in a life well-lived that touched so many in a positive way.

Family members told the Patriot Bridge late last week, after a small funeral in Carr’s Funeral Home done by Father Patrick Healy, that their father was intensely proud of Charlestown and loved his life on Cross Street – proposing to his late wife under the ‘Billy Prescott’ statue at the Monument, raising his six children here, serving as a Boston Police Officer for 34 years, walking his schnauzer dogs around the Town and making friends with all of the kids over the years on his street.

John Mahoney with his beloved schnauzer at the family home on Cross Street a few years ago.

“Him dying of COVID-19 was a hard thing to get over, but we’re okay with saying he died of COVID-19 because it got him to be with our late mother,” said Eileen Mahoney, who lived with her father for the last several years on Cross Street. “Our final thought is he lived a long, beautiful life. To have to say good-bye without a final farewell was painful and not the type of farewell we had thought about over the years. It was different, but no less beautiful. The outpouring from friends and neighbors and family was incredible…It was different than the funeral we expected, but he got military honors, he got the bagpipes and he got the flag.”

He also got a touching first responder parade two weeks ago that saw Engine 50 and the Boston Police Department pass by his home on Cross Street with sirens and plenty of respect for a Townie’s Townie.

John Mahoney was 91 and passed away on May 3 at the CHA Everett hospital after contracting the virus at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home where he lived happily the last few years – he being a Korean War Veteran. He leaves six children:  Patricia ‘Patty’ Marshall, Anne Marie Hasanen, Elaine ‘Lanie’ Sheehan, Eileen Mahoney, John Mahoney and Thomas Mahoney. He also leaves 11 grandchildren and one great granddaughter.

Eileen said the family had been very careful with their father during the outbreak, and everything had been going very well. They said they had talked about bringing him home if things got bad, but when he got sick, it all happened fast – within four days. With all of the restrictions, saying good-bye was impossible to do in the traditional way.

“It all happened really fast,” said Eileen. “The hardest part of this COVID-19 situation is we haven’t seen my dad for two months – not being able to bring him home, that was difficult.”

But in the last week, Eileen said what they have been doing is thinking of the previous 91 years they had with their father, rather than the two months of COVID restrictions. What has come out of that is the story of a great Charlestown guy.

Born in 1929, he grew up in Charlestown and went to Boston Public Schools – still a member of the Old Charlestown Schoolboys Association at his death. He served in the Korean War and rose to the rank of sergeant. However, it was after the war when his life took a major positive turn.

“It’s hard to talk about my dad without talking about my mom, Clara,” said Eileen.

Their meeting was by chance, a true quick romance that began on Revere Beach. When Clara was visiting her brother – who was stationed in the Navy at Boston, she met John. Clara and her brother and their family were from Pittsburgh, and Clara’s brother happened to be dating a Charlestown girl while stationed in Boston. They all went to Revere Beach, and while there they ran into John Mahoney.

It was immediate love, said Eileen.

“It was pretty instant for both of them,” she said. “My mom always said she knew instantly that dad was a great man. She said when they met at Revere Beach, she thought he was a playboy and not interested in her. They had a quick romance. That night they had a date, and the next day they met again, and in Charlestown under the ‘Billy Prescott’ statue at the Monument, he asked her to marry him.”

After six months, they travelled to Pittsburgh and got the family blessing, then got married. They could not be separated after that.

Clara worked at the Mass General Health Center for 34 years and raised the children at 13 Cross Street. Meanwhile, John joined the Boston Police and served for 34 years, retiring in 1991.

Eileen said he spent most of his years patrolling the Dudley Square area in Roxbury, and it was a tough beat and one he didn’t talk much about until later in life. He worked through the rioting and the bussing violence in Roxbury, but was a cop ahead of his time, Eileen said.

“He was the type of guy where there was right and there was wrong,” she said. “But even with the wrong, he was forgiving…He wasn’t the tough guy. He was the smart guy who used his words and not action…He was ahead of his time.”

In his last years on the job, he worked the Charlestown and Beacon Hill beat. He would be the cop on the beat walking Charles Street in Beacon Hill and making friends with the shop owners there, something he was very proud of and relationships he continued to cultivate outside of the job.

He also became very well known for working the traffic detail at City Square during the Big Dig – something Eileen said she will never forget.

“He was known for directing traffic in City Square and everyone here remembered Dad directing traffic because it was during the Big Dig,” she said. “I could hear him whistling when I was on the Bunker Hill bus from a mile away. Neighbors would love it when my dad came down there because he always got the traffic going with that whistle. I’ll always remember his whistle.”

In his later years, he could be seen walking his dog, Jocko, all around the neighborhood. He loved to cook, and much like his father, did so whenever he could. After his wife, Clara, died, however, as did most of his old friends from the Town, Eileen said her father longed to be with their mother again – something that has comforted them in having lost him to this crisis.

Even so, he loved Cross Street, and the kids on the street knew him as Mr. Mahoney – and he loved interacting with the children. Many of the families that had lived there and moved away still sent him Christmas cards every year.

It was the same for his grandchildren, who forged a special relationship with him over the years.

In the end, it has been those relationships and how he had affected people that has been most important for the family over the last few weeks.

“He was just a very, very proud man, and a very special guy,” said Eileen.

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