Brian Sullivan: Farewell to Kearons Whalen, a good Irishman
PITTSFIELD — It was a year or so ago when I saw him last. It was late afternoon on a hot summer day and Kearons Whalen III was nursing a cold one while sitting on a barstool at Teo's on East Street. I rolled in, sat down, and he spotted me before I noticed him.
We had met years before and become friends. Well, friends to the extent that we enjoyed each other's company when our lives every so often crossed. If our paths intersected in a bar or tavern, then it was that much better. You would expect as much and maybe a whole lot more when a Whalen and a Sullivan converge.
We were both as Irish as that Berkshire summer day was long, and we relished the opportunity to bask in our heritage. Laughing, crying and fighting, we both agreed, were a big part of the Irish DNA.
No doubt that among the great Whalen family tree there was a good deal of laughing and crying -- hopefully no fighting -- this week on the heels of Kearons' sudden passing this past Saturday at the age of 70. He was still active as a practicing attorney at the time of his death. Kearons had been a member of the Berkshire Bar for 45 years and was a 1961 Pittsfield High graduate.
Kearons told me a few years ago that he "tried" a true retirement. But this breed of professional never seems to really retire, and so it was that Whalen reopened his office and continued to practice. I told him that it was fine to keep practicing and that I was, in fact, still practicing life in general. And then we would laugh some more.
He loved this city as much as I do. If you ever saw him and he looked lost in thought, then know that he and his wonderful wife, Susan Reeves Whalen, raised a brood of 12 children. If you asked him how the kids were, then you had better find a comfortable place to sit. The answer might take a while.
Kearons was remarkably relaxed for a man with that much responsibility. I always assumed that he either learned early in life how to let the water run off his back or that he ran a very tight ship. Perhaps Mrs. Whalen did the brunt of the child-rearing. I don't know, but I do know that the guy always looked relaxed.
Dave Murphy is the current president of the Berkshire Bar Association. He was Whalen's law-office neighbor on Wendell Avenue for many years.
"A great guy to be around," Murphy said. "Kearons was a lot of fun. He was also a strong, able lawyer who was always a strong advocate for his clients."
It's always a sad day, said Murphy, when you lose a member of the fraternity.
Kearons came from good stock. His father was Kearons "Lefty" Whalen Jr., who some might remember as a local doctor but who first made his mark in the city as a football, basketball, baseball and track standout at Pittsfield High. "Lefty" cast such a great shadow at the then-PHS campus on Second Street that his graduating class of 1923 presented him with a "service cup" that was inscribed with these words: "To Kearons Whalen from the Class of 1923: A gentleman, a student and athlete." It was an unprecedented token of appreciation from his peers.
He led by example and most followed his lead. Whalen's top gridiron moment came in the fall of 1922 when in the middle of a four-team race for the Berkshire County championship he busted off a quarterback keeper for 85 yards in North Adams to help defeat a rugged Drury team.
Whalen had chided fans and classmates for not following the team on the road. The locals took the bait and responded in scores at the North Adams game. So taken were the PHS fans by Whalen's run and subsequent victory that they stormed into downtown North Adams after the game and celebrated there.
On the hardwood, Whalen was a teammate of the great David Dannybuski, a PHS hoop legend of the day. In baseball, Whalen excelled as a pitcher and center fielder. Whalen made the baseball varsity team as a junior in a year when there were no fewer than 80 of the city's best trying out for the team.
Whalen played football, basketball and baseball under coach John Carmody. It's said that when Carmody had his attention elsewhere no one took advantage of the moment at the risk of possibly rousing a stern glare from Whalen, who by many accounts was all business.
Both father and sons attended college in western New York, and I'm going to guess that wasn't coincidence. Kearons III went to the University of Buffalo while Kearons Jr. attended Niagara University. The elder Whalen served on a medical ship during World War II. He picked up the smoking habit and would eventually die of lung cancer at age 56.
Kearons III had his vices, too. But don't we all? He loved golf, but played the game of life much better. The carousel stopped turning for my friend this week at age 70 and in this case the ride seemed way too short.
If the Whalen children are indeed chips off the old block, then they will carry on with warm memories and hearty laughter. In the meantime, Kearons Jr. and Kearons III have some catching up to do.
Brian Sullivan, a regular Eagle columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.