I attended a Funeral Mass on December 7, 2001 at St. Francis de Sales RC Church for another fallen hero. Jimmy Sullivan was indeed my hero.
I met Jimmy in the late 80’s. He called me at the Claddagh I.N.N. to ask me if he could do his community service hours there. I asked him if he was sure, and told him the kind of work we do. He assured me that that is exactly where he wanted to be. Jimmy came to work at the Claddagh. At that time we had a sit-down dining room. Jimmy’s job was to serve the beverage and the desert. It’s a humbling experience for anyone. He took right to it, even getting to know some of the "guests" and their preferences. He was known as "jimmysullivan", one word. "Who’s the new white guy at the soup kitchen?" "That’s jimmysullivan, he’s a good dude".
Jimmy and I had exactly 600 hours to get to know one another. And we did just that. We "connected" in a special sort of way. Right, wrong or indifferent, I accepted Jimmy and he accepted me and we became friends.
You could not be a friend of Jimmy’s and not meet all his other friends. Thus, I met a large part of the Irish community through Jimmy.
He loved his mother Rosemary, and his brothers and sister. If you were a friend of Jimmy’s, you met everyone.
When his hours were completed he stayed. Instead of coming three days a week, he cut it down to two days. He came to me one day, and told me he likes what we’re doing at the Claddagh, and he wanted to raise money. I suggested that he become a Board member. He did just that, and started doing fundraisers. I can see him now sitting at a table at an Irish Concert to benefit the Claddagh, with the cigarette and the little slip of paper keeping tabs on all the money. When he supported something, his friends supported him. And support they did!!!!! My favorites were the bar owners, who among other projects collected toys for the Holiday Party.
Although I’m not Irish, I have an appreciation for the Irish culture through Jimmy. His conversations were always teaching you. I came to know the true meaning of the Claddagh. Because of Jimmy I wear a Claddagh ring, (and I know which way the heart is to be facing). Because of Jimmy one of my favorite songs is "Our Lady of Knock", and my favorite person to sing it is Sister Mary Biatta, (because of Jimmy). He sang countless songs and told colorful stories about his culture.
In 1999, because of Jimmy, I was the first African-American to be a Deputy Grand Marshall in his beloved St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Jimmy and I were both so proud. Each year after that he always invited me to the breakfast and parade. I still have the sash. I plan to be there this year, in his honor.
We shared a kindred spirit. He taught me that we were natural born organizers. He said that an organizer could be a leader, when they are passionate about something, but that a leader cannot be an organizer.
Time goes on, and we move on. Jimmy to working with his hands, which he loved, and me away from the Claddagh. We got together to plan one last fundraiser.
The last couple of times Jimmy and I were together we were not even in Rockaway, but in the city at Empire State College where we were both attending classes. We promised to meet some evening for dinner at one of the many restaurants he walked me by, showing me the best ones. We both enjoyed good food, and a cigarette after. But we had a lifetime to meet for dinner, no rush.
I will miss Jimmy. I have met many people in my years serving the Rockaway community. Jimmy is one of few that has always been a man of his word.
You know what Jimmy, you were right. Life is short.