Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Re-Living the 2004 Red Sox and My Grandfather

As the Red Sox get ready to celebrate the 2004 Championship team at Fenway tonight, I thought I would post this column that ran in the Norton Mirror in October of 2004 celebrating that championship.  This one is for my grandfather.

By Bill Gouveia


            I never thought I would live to see it.


            When the Red Sox stormed the field in St. Louis Wednesday night after sweeping the Cardinals for their first World Series championship in 86 years, they did much more than just win a world title.  It was so much more meaningful and significant than that.


            The victory by the Red Sox validated generations of New Englanders who have lived and died with this institution, this team that represents not a city, not a state, but an entire region.  For so long now this baseball team has been a symbol of the rugged determination we in the Northeast have, as well as the frustration we have had to live with for decades.


            As I sit here in the immediate aftermath of something I have waited my whole life to experience, my thoughts are not of baseball.  They are not of the exciting comeback against the Yankees, the heroics of David Ortiz, the courageous pitching of Derek Lowe, or the crowning of World Series MVP Manny Ramirez.


            No, my thoughts are about friends and family members who longed to be around for this night, this event, but could not be here.  My thoughts are about how lucky I am to have been around for this, to have my faith rewarded, and to be able to share it with those I love.


            I think of my grandfather Connie Houghton, who bought me my first baseball glove when I was too young to know what hand it went on.  He taught me to love the game, gave me something I could share with him, and instilled in me the tradition of rooting for your home team and being a real Red Sox fan.


            Connie took me to my first Sox game in 1965.  We sat in box seats just a few rows behind the Boston dugout.  The Kansas City Athletics were the opponents in a doubleheader.  We lost both games, Tony Conigliaro hit a home run in the second contest, and I was officially inducted into Red Sox mania.


            Ten years later that nine year-old kid got to pay his grandfather back a little bit.  I got two tickets to the Sox-Oakland playoff game at Fenway Park, and I had a ton of friends who volunteered to go with me.  But there was only one person I wanted to be with me at that game.  And today, it remains one of the most vivid memories of my life.


            I looked around the room as the last out was recorded Wednesday night, and I will carry those images in my mind forever.  I see my two sons hugging each other deliriously, and I knew exactly what they were feeling.  This was a night, a moment, an experience that I will always treasure being able to share with them.


            Many people who are not sports fans are nonetheless celebrating this week, because the truth is the Red Sox are about more than sports.  The Red Sox are as much a part of New England life as the leaves turning color in the fall and the college students heading home for the summer.


            Red Sox fans, your faith and support has at long last been rewarded.  So many other teams have won the World Series in the past 86 years, and each one of them had fans that enjoyed it and relished it.


            But none of them – not a one – meant as much to their collective community as the Red Sox.  You have to be a real Sox fan to understand that, but it is true.  Our faith, our perseverance, our very existence has been validated in a way only the faithful can truly comprehend.


            And for one night, I am nine again.  I am holding my grandfather’s hand as he gazes down at me, smiling the smile that only winners can flash.  All across New England, others are going through similar moments.


            They did it, Connie.  Just like you always told me they could.  Let’s celebrate. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

When Telling the Story - Know the Story

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, May 26, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia

Sometimes it’s not the story you tell that matters – but rather how you tell it.

When my oldest grandson Will (did I mention his name is William?) was just a little more than two years old, his Grandma and I took him on the first of what would become our annual vacation treks to New Hampshire.  We stay in a hotel, visit StoryLand and other local attractions, and just have an all-around great time.

But that first trip was a treat we will never forget, made more so because it was the first time I ever told my grandson a story.  And that is quite a story all by itself.

With a big day looming in front of us, we tried to get Will in bed early that first evening.  We tucked him in, read him a story or two, and then told him to go to sleep.  Yeah – right.

My wife decided this was an opportunity to run out and get some supplies.  By default that left me in charge, and she told me to get our grandson to sleep by the time she got back.  I assured her that would be no problem.

But it was not that easy.  We read some more books, and I pretended to fall asleep next to him.   Somehow he wasn’t fooled, and I knew there had to be another way.

Then it hit me.  I asked Will if he would like Grandpa to TELL him a story.  He seemed to consider this an exciting alternative and quickly agreed.

Quickly scanning my memory banks, I told my excited grandchild I was going to tell him the story of the Three Little Pigs.  He squealed happily and snuggled up in his bed, looking up at me with great anticipation.  I was quite proud of myself.

That is, until I started actually telling the story.

I was a few minutes into relating the fairy tale when I suddenly remembered it involved the eating of the title characters by a scary animal.  It crossed my mind this might not be the best sleep aid.

And worse than that, I realized that in fact I did not remember many of the key details of this story of destruction and near-death.

I tried to change stories, but Will was having none of it.  I had promised Three Little Pigs, and he would settle for nothing less.  So I told my rather unique version of the story.

When Grandma snuck back into the room, Will was totally involved in the sorrow of the swine.  The first little pig had just lost his house made of sticks.  The second little pig had fled after the Big Bad Wolf had blown down his house made of newspaper.

“And there was a knock on the door, and the Big Bad Wolf asked the third little pig to please let him in”, I related earnestly.  Will was almost asleep at that point, but Grandma’s near hysterical laughter woke him up.

I managed to finish the story in a fairly non-violent manner, and my grandson seemed quite happy.  He fell asleep with a smile on his face, and I celebrated my obvious brilliance despite my wife’s insistence on pointing out the many places where I had veered off from the original transcript.

The next night we put Will to bed, and he asked for the Pigs story again.  I flushed with pride, pushed Grandma aside, and set out to once again enthrall the youngster with my story.

However, I couldn’t quite remember exactly how I had told it.  The problem was – Will did.

“No Grandpa – not right” he rebuked me.  He wanted exactly the same story (the kid has a memory like an elephant).  It took me an extra half-hour to finish the story because he kept correcting me and making me start over.  But he eventually dozed off in satisfied slumber, and we watched him sleep for a while.

Next month Will – now six – will head up north with us again.  He’ll probably fall asleep watching a DVD this time.  He won’t want to hear my convoluted tale of the polite wolf and the pigs living in a house of newspapers.

But we’ll always have that time I told it to him.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and grandfather of three.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, May 23, 2014

This Mansfield Selectman's Tweet is Unforgivable

GOUVEIA: In plain English, the wrong words to stand behind

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size
Posted: Friday, May 23, 2014 2:46 am | Updated: 3:43 am, Fri May 23, 2014.
Mansfield Selectman Olivier Kozlowski sent out a tweet this past weekend under his Twitter name of "@SelectmanKoz." He does this regularly, commenting on a variety of topics. He has an absolute right to do so.
But the elected official crossed a line of sorts on Saturday when he commented on a sign at a Lowe's store advertising job openings. In fact, he not only crossed the line - he kicked dirt all over it.
The sign that offended Selectman Kozlowski simply announced the store was hiring. It made that announcement in both English and Spanish, and it was the Spanish part that apparently offended the selectman's sensibilities.
Using his @SelectmanKoz name, Kozlowski tweeted "@Lowes what level of customer service can I expect from applicants who need the lower half of this sign?"
Contacted later for an explanation of his statement, Kozlowski said, "It struck me as odd that the store was looking for employees who may not be able to speak English. It seems self-defeating."
The elected official then added: "I stand by what I said."
So much wrong, so little space. But let's start with Selectman Kozlowski tweeting as "@SelectmanKoz."
He has a perfect right to use that name. But when he includes his office on his Twitter handle, he also accepts an additional responsibility. What he says or tweets now reflects upon his town, his board, his colleagues and the citizens he represents.
If he wants to use the name, he must also accept that burden.
And what he tweeted was absolutely stupid. Not silly, not unwise, not misguided. It was just stupid, in every single sense of the word.
And it unfairly tarnished the reputations of the Town of Mansfield, the board of selectmen, town government and the community itself. Far too many casual Twitter readers now think Mansfield is "that crazy place where the selectman thinks Lowe's shouldn't hire people who speak Spanish."
Of course, the good selectman is also a hero to many. Facebook abounds with people who think only those speaking English should be hired, and praise Kozlowski for "speaking his mind."
Perhaps they make the selectman feel vindicated, but it is difficult to accept his tweet as anything but what it clearly is - a distinct prejudice against those who do not speak or read English well.
The sign he tweeted about merely said the store was accepting applications. It did not indicate any preference in hiring. It didn't even specify a position to be filled. But apparently just the fact they used the Spanish language was enough for Selectman Kozlowski to decide it was a problem.
The sign did not indicate the job was in customer service. For all the selectman knew, it could have been for a job with no customer contact. But apparently even the possibility that the applicant might have read about the opening in Spanish caused this elected official to question what level of service he might receive.
Forget how self-serving and self-centered this sounds, and just think for a moment how unfair it is. But, hey - if you read Spanish better than English, how could you possibly help Selectman Kozlowski find the proper power tool? He has a right to expect better than the likes of you helping him, doesn't he?
He might like to hide behind the concept of free speech as a means of justifying his mean-spirited and cruel remark, but that won't wash. We all have the right to say stupid things.
We also must all be held accountable for them.
My father came to this country as a teenager unable to speak English. He got a job working in a local store. If Selectman Kozlowski had been in charge, Dad probably never would have been hired, based on his "ability to communicate."
Perhaps, then, he never would have gone on to put himself through college, become a CPA, vice president of a major bank and help thousands of people.
Selectman Kozlowski appears to be a nice man who made a big mistake. He has embarrassed himself, his colleagues and his community. He should apologize for his insensitive and stupid remarks, move on personally, and hope the voters of Mansfield allow him to move on politically.
And I stand by what I said.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Attleboro City Council - Eat Your Spinach

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on May 19, 2014.
By Bill Gouveia


            After a steady diet of politics and posturing, the Attleboro City Council is preparing to sit down at the table and digest the issue of whether or not to institute a local meals tax of ¾ of one percent on restaurant tabs. 

            Here’s hoping they stop talking in circles and just eat their spinach.

            If there has ever been a no-brainer issue before the council, this is it.  Faced with shrinking revenues and rising costs, the city clearly needs money. 

That money is not going to come from the state, which has refused to provide an even higher rate of aid.  It is not going to come from local businesses, which are struggling to survive in a slowly-recovering economic climate.  And it is not going to be raised solely on the backs of residential property taxpayers who still find themselves looking for jobs that pay the bills.

Everyone knows there has to be some kind of revenue increase.  Call it a tax, call it a fee, or call it whatever other catchy phrase makes you feel good.  City residents need the services they now have, and you need the money to provide them.  Step up to your plates and swallow this distasteful political meal.

Many other communities around Attleboro have already adopted this tax out of necessity.  It will not put a burden on the city’s restaurants and eateries, as their competition in several neighboring towns are already dealing with it.  It has had little to no impact on business in those areas, and there is zero reason to believe it will serve as any kind of detriment to Attleboro establishments.

I know, it’s a tax.  Taxes are bad.  Nobody likes them.  It is not politically expedient or wise to enact them, especially on a local level.  People can’t afford any type of increase.  They should cut all the “fat” out of the city budget before proposing to take so much as a nickel out of the pockets of citizens.  Agreed on all points.

But this is down to basics here, and it is time to set aside the rhetoric and ideological philosophies.  Attleboro’s schools need funding and improvement.  Any objective review of the facts shows this to be true.  And since the state is not going to bail the city out this year, it is incumbent upon the council and the government to start solving their own problems. 

Mayor Dumas has said he will dedicate the added revenue from the meals tax to pay for schools.  This won’t solve all the problems facing education in Attleboro, but it is a good start.  It shows city officials are serious about doing more than talking about how dire the situation is.

And let’s face it – this is hardly an oppressive tax.  If you take your family out for a nice meal in one of Attleboro’s better restaurants and spend $100, you will pay an extra 75 cents in taxes.  If you are an elderly person on a fixed incoming going out to treat yourself to breakfast for $10, you will pay an additional 7-1/2 cents. 

This move is not going to prevent people from paying their rents or heating their homes.  Yes, it all adds up.  But the children of the city are worth this.

And by instituting the meals tax, officials actually thin the burden on their constituents.  Many people who do not live in Attleboro still eat in the many fine establishments there, and thus will be contributing to the taxes collected. 

Attleboro councilors have no problem taking additional aid when it flows from the state.  Where do they think that money comes from?  It stems from all the good taxpayers across the Commonwealth who are paying for things all over the state.  The meals tax is not all that different.

Some councilors have said they are “torn” over this issue.  Those poor, tortured souls should somehow manage to pull themselves together and do their job.  This is a first step in establishing fiscal stability.

The time for politics and creating political cover is over.  This is not about image, it is about education.  You may not like it, but you know it’s good for you.

Eat your spinach. 

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a longtime local official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Lee Burchill's Voice Reaches Out From Past

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, May 16, 2014

By Bill Gouveia



            Sometimes I write a column.  Other times, the column writes itself.  This is one of those latter instances.


            Editor Mike Kirby recently informed me I had received a letter at the newspaper office, and forwarded it on.  When I read it, the past seemed to be speaking to me.  I knew I had to share it with those who regularly read this space.


            Recently I wrote about the dedication of a new sign at the Lee Burchill Complex in Norton, and retold part of the story of the young man after who the fields were named.  He had been shot and paralyzed while still in high school.  Now suddenly, I was holding a letter from someone who had taken care of him during his many trips to the hospital.


            Your recent article on Lee Burchill is what prompted me to write”, the letter began.  It told of the writer working in a hospital and first meeting Lee long after he had been shot.  He wrote of Lee always being happy despite enduring tremendous pain.


            “He said it felt like electronic zaps.  A face cloth on his skin felt like a cheese grater”, the letter went on.  The author told of trips to visit Lee in Norton, and beeping at him as the paraplegic youngster would wheel himself around his Grove neighborhood.


            Then he revealed the final act of friendship he performed for Lee.  He was on duty at the hospital when Lee died, and took part in preparing his body for his final journey.


            The Head Nurse knew Lee was a friend, and told him he did not have to do this.  But our anonymous caring individual remembered saying, “I will do it for that exact reason, he was my friend.  I will help him pass into this next phase of life which will be pain-free for him”, he wrote.


            As touching and meaningful as his letter was, the author (anonymous here at his request) added another surprise.  He included two letters Lee had personally written to him months before he died, with the help of a special device (remember, this was 1981). 


            As my wife and I gazed down at the letters, we could almost hear Lee’s raspy voice emanating from the printed pages.  There was no doubt they were from him, as his trademark cockiness and sense of humor in the face of incredible challenges came through clearly.  Please allow me to share one dated February 18, 1981:


            “I just wanted to thank every one of you for your get well card and tell you all just how much it was appreciated.  Right now, I’m home from Tufts, but I’ll be going back in a few weeks for an operation.  I’m scheduled to have brain surgery.  You see, the doctors don’t think it’s fair for one man to be so intelligent.  So they’re simply going to remove half my brain.  You understand, don’t you?  It’s to give the other countries a chance.  It’s my duty as an American citizen.”


            He went on for a bit, then concluded by writing:  “Well, “The Burch” is going to take off now, but anytime you are in the area, don’t be afraid to drop over.  Again, I’d just like to thank all of you for taking such great care of me.  As a matter of fact, if I ever get shot again, I’ll be sure to make sure that I’m sent to you.”


            It was signed “Your satisfied patient, Lee Burchill (The Burch)”.


            This was written by a man who had spent the previous 8-1/2 years unable to walk and in constant pain.  An athlete known for his cockiness who now had to have even his most basic needs attended to by others.  A person who had every reason to give up and become bitter, yet remained able to appreciate the things others did for him.


            This kind soul who contacted me was so impressed by Lee that he still has these letters some 33 years later.  Lee had that kind of effect on people.


            It also reaffirms that the people of Norton didn’t name those baseball fields after Lee because he died.  They did it because of how he lived.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a longtime local official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sign Keeps Legacy Of Lee Burchill Alive

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, May 2, 2014.
By Bill Gouveia


            This Saturday, Norton Youth Baseball will begin its 60th year of operation (according to unofficial records).  The Opening Day ceremonies will be held and a new sign dedicated at the fields on Plain Street known as the Lee Burchill Complex.


            You may have driven past the fields, taken children to practice or play there, or just driven by and seen the old Burchill sign.  Maybe you wondered who Lee Burchill was, and why the fields were named after him.  Maybe you saw it and the thought never crossed your mind.


But people from Norton, and folks in general, need to know this story.  And since there are fewer and fewer townies like me left who have known and admired Lee and his family, there is a need for the story to be told.


Lee Burchill was a Norton High School senior in the fall of 1972.  A good all-around athlete with a quick laugh and cocky attitude, he could both make you laugh and tick you off with equal ability. 


On this particular fall afternoon he had just led his football team to a near upset of heavily-favored Case High School.  After the game, the young quarterback went to the home of his best friend in neighboring Taunton. 


While there, Lee was somehow shot in the head by his friend.  It was ruled accidental, though there were many who questioned it.  The only thing we know for sure is - that day life was forever changed for Lee and his family..


With shotgun pellets lodged in his head, Lee became a quadriplegic.  It was a miracle he survived at all.  He would spend the next nine years immobile and in considerable pain before passing away.


But those nine years were far from unproductive.  Lee took on his physical limitations like he did everything prior to the shooting – as a challenge.


A little over a year from the incident, he did the unthinkable.  Through tutoring and hard work, he earned his high school diploma.  We teased him and asked what took him so long.  He laughed along with us at the joke. 


But there he was in May of 1974, in cap and gown, being wheeled down the aisle by his football coach to graduate with my class.


To see what Lee went through on a daily basis was astounding.  His courage was inspirational.  Perhaps just as much so was how his family stayed by him and sacrificed for him.  Though in truth, they never seemed to consider it sacrifice.


His mother Rita was an amazing woman who helped take wonderful care of both her sons.  I say both because Lee’s younger brother Joey suffered from a long illness and also died at a young age.  It all took a toll on Rita, who passed away far too soon.


            That left Lee’s dad Fred as the lone surviving family member.  After suffering the death of his wife and two sons, no one would have blamed him if he chose to wallow in despair and let what was left of his life fall apart. 


            But it is clear where Lee got the courage and determination he showed in his life.  He obviously inherited it from his father. 


Fred remains a Norton resident to this day, and is a regular visitor to the family grave. Most of us cannot imagine what he has been through, but all of us can appreciate the courage and class with which he has done it.


            The new Lee Burchill Complex sign could easily refer to their entire family – but it doesn’t.  It is in honor of Lee, who received the rawest of deals from life and strove to overcome it.  A self-assured, self-confident teenager who suddenlly had to rely on others to take care of his most basic of needs.  A young athlete no longer able to walk, but working hard at it until the day he died.


            The next time you go by the sign at the Burchill field, see if it looks any different now that you know the story.  That sign is the symbol of a town’s respect for one of its own, and intended to help guarantee the story of Lee Burchill is passed on to future generations.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and lifelong Norton resident.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.