On The Beach… With Beverly Baxter
JAMES CONWAY SULLIVAN: THE MAN,
THE LEGACY, AND THE PLEASURE
OF HIS COMPANY
Has anybody here seen my old friend Jimmy...Can you tell me where he's gone. He's helped a lot of people; but it seems the good, they die young. I just looked around, and he's gone.
I suppose that in order to explain the essence of the man and just how special he was, one would have to say that it all started at the very beginning when his mother named him that name: James Conway Sullivan. From that moment on, it seems he would be destined for great things and to have an enduring impact on people's lives. I was one of the privileged to have known him and to have had the often pleasure of his company. It is his spirit of friendship, which will sustain me through all that I am going through right now with his loss. I know that it is not just a loss for me personally, but an enormous loss for the entire community and for those who will never have the chance to know him. If you were his friend, you were his friend. And he would do anything for you. No task was too insurmountable.
The problem was...everybody was his friend! He instilled a fierce sense of loyalty; and with his passing, it seems that all the light has gone out of our world.
From the moment I met him, I was captivated. He had that effect. I could
sit for hours in his company and there was never a time that I didn't learn something new. He could talk effortlessly for hours with his keen mind and love of words. I remember Carl Alviado saying one time, "there are two dangerous places to be on parade day. One is between Charles Schumer and a television camera and the other is between James Conway Sullivan and a microphone!"
And oh how he loved his parade. He first conceived of the idea about twenty-six years ago. It was after having marched in the Saint Patrick's Day Parade up Fifth Avenue and while sitting in the Blarney Castle here in Rockaway that he thought that the many Irish in Rockaway deserved their own parade. That it was often too difficult for many to travel into the city for the big day. So.... with a few makeshift banners, a couple of pipers, and his mother, his sister Rosemary, and his brothers Danny and Kevin in tow, Jimmy began his legacy of the Queens County Saint Patrick's Day Parade and Cultural Committee. To this day, it enjoys the esteemed distinction of being
the second largest parade in New York State. I assure you it was no easy task as the local paper at the time quipped the effort and dubbed it "Sullivan's Follies"! But Jimmy kept marching along.
He was most proud of his Irishness. His love of his heritage was exuded all over his body. From a new Claddagh ring to a new simple T-shirt with a Celtic design. He was proud. He could tell you the meaning of each intricate stitch or pattern in an Aran cable sweater. He could listen for hours to his favorite Christy Moore or Wolftones CDs and explain to you the historical and poetic meaning of each song and lyric. I could not help but be awed and mesmerized by his keen understanding. Those who were lucky enough to be in his company were the beneficiaries of his wealth of knowledge. John Brennan said it so well the other night. "I was just blow in from the other side. When I first met Jimmy, I thought even though he's an American and I was born in Ireland, I never met anyone more Irish or more devoted to the Irish cause than James Conway Sullivan. He knew more about my native country than I did. He sparked in me a pride. He made me so proud to be Irish."
He never missed Rockaway's Irish Festival each summer where he could be seen on his lounge chair singing his favorite songs. I remember fondly how he would get up at each fundraiser for the parade and belt out his passionate renditions of the Wild Colonial Boy or Sean South From Garry Owen. It was not that he
had such a great voice. It was the way he punctuated the songs with such fierce passion and conviction. It was more of a shout. He truly felt the
words and his enthusiasm was utterly contagious. He had the spirit of a true freedom fighter.
While his politics were conservative, his social slant was more liberal. He had such a sense of humanity and an acceptance of the human condition with all its frailties. He was never "bothered". He had this remarkably kind patience with people. He was a true defender of the underdog. In many ways, he felt it was a responsibility to help people advance in their lives.
This thread was prevalent through out his life with his involvement in Labor. Whether it was with his position on the District 27 School Board or with Local 608, there are hundreds of people who are today enjoying the security of having a pension from a job that Jimmy helped them obtain. At the time of his death, he was just months away from completing his Masters Degree in Labor Management Relations. Just as the news of his passing was filtering out early Monday morning, Michael Reilly received a phone call from the union that he had a job working at JFK Airport...because of Jimmy.
For me personally, he was even more than a dear friend whom I will miss eternally. He was a big brother to me. On the parade committee, we were comrades. We were like kindred spirits. There was nobody who could strategize and see the end game like Jimmy. I will miss the way he used to
hold court and the way I, not being so sure whether things would go our way, would kick him under the table. I'm sure he left many of those meetings with a leg that was thoroughly black and blue! But everything always worked out as he planned. "We did our homework", he would say. I didn't just love him.
I adored him. He was elegant, gracious, dignified, and always a gentleman.
He had this delicate balance of pride and humility, a quality that made him so beautiful.
I'm very grateful for the very last time I saw him. It was Sunday evening at around 6 pm. I was stopped at the light on Beach 108 Street. Jimmy was on the passenger side in the car next to me. I saw him and tooted my horn. He smiled and waved; and as I made the right turn on Rockaway Beach Boulevard, he went straight up to Shore Front Parkway. He waved again. It was a wave of goodbye, and then I turned...and he was gone.
My deepest condolences to Mrs. Rosemary Sullivan, Rosemary Sullivan Murphy, John Murphy, Danny Sullivan, Kevin Sullivan, and Audrey and Joe Burns.
As he would say at the end of each phone call: "Hope all is well. God Bless, Jimmy" May you rest in eternal peace.