Editor's Note: Ballad of a Homesick Sailor | August 2022 | Editor's Note | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Editor's Note: Ballad of a Homesick Sailor | August 2022 

click to enlarge Chronogram editor Brian K Mahoney and his brother Paddy, dressed as Santa, at the 2014 Chronogram holiday party. - PHOTO BY ROY GUMPEL
  • Photo by Roy Gumpel
  • Chronogram editor Brian K Mahoney and his brother Paddy, dressed as Santa, at the 2014 Chronogram holiday party.

My brother Paddy’s death certificate says that he died on June 13, but it’s likely he died a day or two earlier. June 13 was a Monday, and when he didn’t show up to work (very unlike him) and didn’t answer his phone (ditto, at least for work; family was a different story), a couple of his coworkers drove out from Staten Island Ferry headquarters to his house in Bayside. They found Paddy in his bed. Lacy, first into the room, said Paddy looked like he could have been sleeping. The paramedics pronounced him at 12:18pm.

The last person to communicate with Paddy was a woman he had been dating. (Nobody in the family had met Kirby, but it turned out Paddy had planned to introduce her to us at an upcoming family gathering. Kirby told us when we met her at the funeral.) They were supposed to get together on Saturday night. Paddy texted Kirby in the afternoon and begged off, saying that he gotten overheated working in the yard and that he was going to lie down. The cause of death is listed as “Hypertensive And Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.” Paddy died of a heart attack. He died alone in the house we all grew up in, the Ancestral Mahoney Estate, the only place he ever lived except for the four years he spent at SUNY Maritime, which just happens to be the closest institution of higher learning to the Ancestral Mahoney Estate. My brother the homesick sailor. Paddy was 41.

I had texted Paddy on Friday, inviting him to shoot sporting clays with Conor and I on Sunday morning in New Paltz. He texted back: “Sorry. Got plans with a young lady.” Conor and I met at 9am in New Paltz on Sunday morning and shot a round, complaining about our baby brother’s failure to execute our mother’s estate four years after her death and for allowing the family home to fall into rack and ruin under his (lack of) stewardship. I shot my usual: fair-to-middling. Conor put on a show, hitting nearly all the targets. He attributed the sharpshooting to his new glasses. “I don’t really need them,” Conor told me. “I just use them for reading and driving.”

We went out for pizza and beer and wondered who Paddy might be dating and shit-talked him some more, a cherished family pastime. Paddy was likely dead by this point.

My brother’s full name is George Patrick Mahoney. No one ever called him George—the stiff Anglo-Saxon name he was given in a game of parental compromise—always Paddy, the warm Irish diminutive. An ironic diminution given his size, a man who could have been nicknamed “Tiny.” My brother was a substantial person in every possible way. He lived large. He contained multitudes: He was a sailor and an engineer. He was a collector. He was a natty dresser—shoes polished, suit pressed, suspenders in place. He owned more pairs of shoes than most men will buy in a lifetime.

Paddy was a doting uncle, a committed mentor, a devoted friend. A Hibernian. An incorrigible flirt. Paddy was a man of expensive tastes who was quite particular about those tastes. But he liked simple things too. Paddy’s bread and butter, was, well, bread and butter.

He was generous. With his money and his time. (See the photo below and imagine the generosity of spirit it takes to agree to wear a hot-as-hell rented Santa suit at your brother’s business’s holiday party.) My sister Alicia says that when he was a teenager and she was still a little squirt, Paddy, who had lots of teenager-type stuff to do with his friends, made time for her, playing video games or singing along to Chumbawumba or Third Eye Blind. (There are many things I miss about my brother—his singing is not one of them.)

Paddy was charming—he could be a pain in the neck sometimes, but it was hard to stay mad at him. He was an incredible listener. He didn’t interrupt. He was curious about people and was scrupulously attentive to you while you had his attention.

He cared about making people feel comfortable in sometimes awkward situations. Or as my brother-in-law Ryan put it more succinctly: “Paddy made family events bearable.” Turns out, Paddy was everybody’s favorite Mahoney. As my brother Conor’s wife, Sharon, would often say: “I think I married the wrong Mahoney.”

Like Dad before him, Paddy spent his career in public service, working at the Staten Island ferry for 16 years and rising to the role of Director of Administration, Ferry Division. When you’d ask my brother, “How’s the ferry?” He’d deadpan: “It goes back and forth.” (Paddy had a wicked sense of humor as well as a taciturn side to him and he did not suffer fools.) After talking to a number of his colleagues at the ferry it’s clear that Paddy was held in high esteem there. The word consigliere was used to describe him.

Paddy was the one to consult on complex operational or personnel problems and the go-to-guy for solutions to seemingly intractable issues. He was a sounding board for honest, clear, well-thought-out responses. He aided those around him to make better decisions. I’ve gotten the real sense that Paddy was integral to the operation of the ferry and that they’re going to be in a pickle without him.

There’s still so much to say about Paddy and there’s not enough space. These words are an incomplete accounting.

When Mom got sick, Paddy was the one who cared for her, made sure she got to all her doctor’s appointments, sorted out her meds, arranged everything. Paddy always put other people first, and Mom first of all. He created the conditions in which she could continue to live at home and not have to enter a care facility. He was there for Mom when the rest of us couldn’t be. And doing all of this while holding down a demanding job. As Alicia told me: “That’s a debt we can never repay.”

Paddy was sui generis. There was nobody like him. He was his own man—without apology and without any need to explain himself. He lived life on his own terms. We will not see the likes of Paddy Mahoney again.

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