Public Servants Step to the Plate

Originally published March 12, 1998, by Mike Barnicle for The Boston Globe


Last word about the man on first. And it comes from the type of public servant we see all around us but who, oddly enough, remains invisible due to our take-it-for-granted society.

Bob Kilduff is a Boston firefighter assigned to Ladder 23. A few days ago he reported for jury duty in Norfolk County and quickly found himself sitting in judgment of Mr. Maurice Vaughn, Red Sox first baseman.

Vaughn, of course, was found not guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol. And as soon as the verdict was rendered, people from Ashmont Station to Albany, New York, had their own opinions of the decision.

Here’s Kilduff’s, contained in a letter sent to the newspaper: “I don’t like overpaid, often obnoxious men who play kid’s games for a living. Not even a little bit.

“But last week, eight men and women — of which I was one — were asked to decide the fate of a baseball player who had been charged with drunken driving. I can honestly say that not one of us cared the least about Mr. Vaughn’s celebrity.

“It had no effect on us, even with the zoo atmosphere the pathetic media created around the trial. All we knew was the Commonwealth summoned us to do a job and we simply wanted to complete our duty and go home.

“But since the verdict much of the print and electronic media in the area has second-guessed our decision and in many cases painted us as a pack of simpletons. From something called the Two Chicks to the sports radio get-a-lifers to the sports writers who clearly have no clue that there’s a big difference between watching a ball game and watching a real judge, a real jury, and a real defendant sitting in a real courtroom, I have a message: Try attending a trial and not merely listening to sound bites before self-righteously passing judgment on people and talking like fools. Trials are about a bit more than ratings!

“We were asked to determine NOT whether the defendant had been drinking, but had he consumed a quantity of alcohol sufficient to impair his ability to operate a motor vehicle. The conflicting testimony absolutely did not meet the Commonwealth’s burden of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

“As a result of our verdict, we were accused of selling out. All sorts of ridiculous reasons were hurled around, too: Vaughn got off because he’s a celebrity or because he’s rich and had enough money to hire an expensive lawyer. Race was even included in the discussion of why he was acquitted. Well, guess what? If we found him guilty based on what we heard and saw, we the jury would have sold out.”

“It’s not a whole lot different from being a firefighter,” Kilduff added. “When the alarm goes off, color, money, nationality, religion — none of it matters. We go out the door to do the job. And that’s exactly what the fine people who served with me as jurors did: their job, which is part of living in a country where a Mo Vaughn has a right to a trial and the media have a right to make asses of themselves.”

Dan Greaney isn’t a whole lot different from Bob Kilduff. He is another municipal employee — Boston Housing — who simply goes about the daily business of doing his job, honorably and well.

Last week, Jack White, a Jamaica Plain insurance man, took a deposit bag to his branch bank on Centre Street. But when he got to the bank, White figured he must have misplaced an envelope containing $3,700 cash so he went back to search his office, his house, the front seat of the car. Nothing.

He was sitting at his desk, sick, when the phone rang. It was Police Captain Bill Parlon from E-5 in West Roxbury, asking White if he’d lost anything lately. Sure, Jack White told him, figuring Parlon probably had a bag filled with receipts, not money.

“Is there anything left in the bag?” he asked the cop.

“$3,700,” Parlon told him.

Greaney had found the bag White dropped on the street as he walked from his automobile to the bank. Greaney had taken the bag to the police station at Holy Name Circle before Jack White even discovered that his money was lost and, he figured, gone forever.

“An honest man,” Jack White was saying. “It restores your faith in human nature.”

It does, too. And so does a firefighter sitting in a jury box, doing the same thing so many do all the time to no applause and hardly any notice: their jobs. What they’re supposed to do.