Remembrance of John Sullivan

May the road
rise up to meet you.
May the wind be
always at your back.
May the sun shine
warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon
your fields and until
we meet again,
may God hold you
in the palm of His hand.

Since John Sullivan was a great promoter of and believer in the importance of education I thought I would spend a few minutes discussing our scholarship program whose season got off the ground recently.

The first Winchester Rotary Scholarship was given to Ward Allen Albro in June 1937. There was no fund but the members donated personal funds to establish that first scholarship.

There are now 4 Scholarship Funds.

Charles Chandler Parkhurst was well known in Winchester as a professor, business consultant, and author. Chandler was an Honorary Member of this club for many years. In his Estate he left provisions for a sum of money to be given to the Rotary Club of Winchester which was used to establish the Charles Chandler Parkhurst Scholarship Fund.

Harry Chefalo's dedication to the town over the years is well documented. His 54 years of service to the Rotary Club of Winchester was not just a footnote for his obituary. To Harry, Rotary was a vibrant and active part of his life. Upon his death his wife Betty established the Harry Chefalo Scholarship Fund.

Albert Hovannesian, a member of the “Greatest Generation” having served in WW II, was a Past President of this Club and he was the first Winchester Rotarian to receive a Paul Harris Fellow. Al provided in his estate a sum of money to be used by this club and in its wisdom the Board directed the funds to provide for a Vocational/Technical Scholarship Grant in Al’s name.

Finally we have the John and Mary Murphy Scholarship Fund.

John Murphy was a Rotarian from 1965 until his death in 1997.

His Rotary classification was Real Estate Appraiser. John for many years was the Club Photographer documenting all of the club’s activities.

Mary, John’s wife, was an activist for Senior Affairs in town and the Mary Murphy Apartments on Palmer Street are named for her.

John and his wife Mary were both Paul Harris Fellows. They were lifelong Winchester residents, dedicated to making Winchester a better community.

John and Mary had prearranged that upon their deaths their estate would go to establish the John and Mary Murphy Educational Foundation. The Trustees of the Foundation are John Sullivan and Patrick Hall. In 2012 Lou Gentile and I approached John about funding a Rotary Scholarship in the names of John and Mary. Knowing how much Rotary meant to them, John and Pat allowed Rotary to establish the John and Mary Murphy Scholarship Fund which is funded entirely by yearly grants from the Educational Foundation. When John informed us that our proposal was accepted we asked him if there were any restrictions or accommodations that needed to be met. Out of great respect for Lou, I and Rotary John said he trusted us to make the right decisions and to be good stewards of the Fund. We have given over $80,000 in scholarships from that fund.

That allows me to segue to some remarks about the late, great John Sullivan. First let me say that this is the first time that I have eulogized a non-Rotarian. John’s association with and support of Rotary runs deep. It is fitting for Rotary to remember him and praise his accomplishments.

In choosing an appropriate opening I looked to John’s alma mater Villanova and a prayer uttered by St. Thomas of Villanova the namesake of the university. This prayer should resonate with Rotarians and help define a portion of John’s character.

If you want God to hear your prayers, hear the voice of the poor. If you wish God to anticipate your wants, provide those of the needy without waiting for them to ask you. Especially anticipate the needs of those who are ashamed to beg. To make them ask for alms is to make them buy it.”


This prayer espouses the ideals of Rotary and John supported these ideals though his respect and support of our Club. That is why we remember John Sullivan today.


John was a principled man; he was witty and he was intelligent; he was a man of conscience; he remained true to himself and his beliefs but was able to adapt to all circumstances and times despite pressures from external sources or any undue influences. His life was relevant


He truly was a “man for all seasons”. Robert Whittington (1480–1553), an English grammarian, coined that phrase to summarize Thomas More’s many character traits. John truly was a “man for all seasons” – that expression describes someone who has proven to be calm in time of crisis, someone who is dependable, steadfast, unfailing and trustworthy. Someone who believes in and fosters the Rotary motto “Service Above Self”


From the Aberjona Yearbook – 1956

John Joseph Sullivan

Likeable….friendly….always busy…Sully can usually be found playing hockey or behind the counter at McCormack’s……is attracted by Hoodsie’s and quiet study halls…..most cherished high school moment was winning the Harvard Book Prize….plans on an engineering career.

Baseball; Hockey; AA; (that is the Athletic Association not Alcoholics Anonymous) Red Cross; Operetta; Glee Club; Science Club

Member of the 1955 State Hockey Championship Team

** If we were at the church today for our meeting rest assured I would have seen that we all had Hoodsie’s after lunch.


One of the snippets from that yearbook “behind the counter at McCormack’s” is important because one of the “Giants” of this club Fred McCormack was the proprietor of McCormack’s Apothecary and that is where John got his first glimpse of Rotary. John among his other duties was the quintessential Soda Jerk. He also was recruited on occasion to help at the Rotary Barn and move furniture on Auction Day to the town Hall.


Those early experiences instilled in John a great admiration and appreciation for Rotary and what we do.

Trivia: Over a period that covered almost 12 years while the 5 Sullivan brothers were scooping ice cream at McCormack’s the 4 Kean brothers were at the other end of the block schlepping cans of paint at Hillside Paint and Wallpaper. Clay Spector the owner was also a Rotarian.

John always liked to tell and retell and retell well you get the picture, the story of how he received a Rotary scholarship in 1956. In those days all of the scholarships were given out at Manchester Field during the graduation ceremonies. When they started announcing the various winners he heard his name but not who the scholarship was from nor the amount. He approached the stage and received his envelope and it said Rotary Club on the outside. He returned to his seat and later his father asked him about the scholarship and all that he knew was that it came from Rotary. His father urged him to open it and inside was a check for $500. John’s father was stunned as was John since one semester at Villanova in those days was $250.00. We helped in his development.

John had a wide and varied career before returning to Winchester to reestablish his roots and serving the Town. In 1967 he ran for selectman and lost by ONE vote to Ed Williams. Every vote counts!

Being a man of foresight, sound judgment and proven leadership he ran again the next year, was elected Selectman and never looked back. He served that board with distinction and honor and also served as its Chairman.


He was elected Town Moderator in 1977 with an aim to soothe tempers & tone down rhetoric with his skill as a consensus builder and with his humor. He pretty much ran unopposed – never spent much on political ads, no more than spare change he had in his pocket, John just let his reputation carry the day.

John’s humor is legendary. I could talk for hours and not cover all of his witticisms. Lucky for you I am only going to cover a few.

To Ed O’Connell, School Committee member at the time who had been dominating the debate John said: “This is the second time you have spoken: Ed replied; And the last. John responded; “I was getting to that.”

To George Andersen chair of the Board of Assessors: Andersen asked if he could make an aside during his explanation of the reevaluation. “Make your aside” Sullivan said; ‘Anyone who is assessing my house can have anything he wants.”

Some thought John should be called the “Emcee” not the “Moderator”

Some considered Town Meeting with John as the conductor for an evening of “Free” entertainment.

As Moderator he kept the pace of Town Meeting at Farm Auction level the Star editor once printed. Winning again the erudite and unchallenged Town Moderator Sullivan will continue to press politicians to get to the point of their issue.

In a discussion about Skillings Field, the name repeatedly used to refer to a location on Skillings Road, Mary Pronski rose to ask the moderator not to use the name Skillings Field “because we may want to give it a different name in the future.” John seized the opportunity and said “All right …. Is there further discussion of Sullivan Field?”

After one meeting it was stated; Three hours and thousands of words later the meeting adjourned and Sullivan gathered the officials together for a talking to.

When asked how to respond to an anonymous letter John responded;”I think you should treat it as you would mail addressed to “Occupant”.


Wade Welch former Town Counsel was going to speak in opposition to a proposed “Pooper Scooper” Law. When the issue was brought to the floor Welch jumped up and John nodded in recognition and said; “and now representing the dog population”.

Finally: In John’s words:

Nobody likes to come here to be lectured or talked to in a condescending manner…no one came here to be attacked. We’re going to do something to eliminate that from further debate. First of all we tighten up and I’ll make sure we tighten up, that’s my job.” However, he urged Town Meeting members “to lighten up when making comments or addressing questions to speakers. I think if someone gets up to this microphone, if they don’t smile, then don’t listen to them,” Sullivan said with a smile.

For his many accomplishments and outstanding service to the community The Chamber named John Man of the Year in 1984.


John received a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow in 1995. For the uninitiated $1,000 was given in John’s name to the Rotary Foundation to honor his community service. John joined the ranks of other notable non-Rotarians to receive the honor; Mother Teresa, Pearl Bailey and Jimmy Carter to name a few. His name will always be on that banner that proudly holds the names of all Winchester Club Paul Harris Fellows.


John’s name was also invoked during the year of the “Wrong Way Santa”. The same Santa that the club places each year on the Rotary caused quite a stir. There was some controversy and some complaints when Santa was going clockwise around the rotary. Since this is counter to the traffic flow it was deemed by some to be a public safety issue and a bad example by Santa Claus. The club explained that the change was made so that the motoring public could see Santa face-to-face. Town Manager Chad Maurer offered some additional reasons for the change in course. “He was getting away from the bright lights on the Parkway”…”He did not have a parking permit”…”He’s looking for the McDonald’s Express”… and finally, that is the way John Sullivan wants it.” That was a veiled reference to the clout that John had, even the power to turn Santa around.


One last comment about John and our club. He truly loved coming each year to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with us. The camaraderie, the fellowship and the Irish humor associated with the event. He always had that twinkle in his eye. His Irish eyes were always smiling at that luncheon.


In John’s obituary the following quote from 1 Corinthians Chapter 16: Verses 13-14 appears:

Be vigilant, stay firm in the faith, be brave and strong. Let everything you do be done in love.”

The two main themes are contained in the words Everything and Love.

Everything: it means all of our behavior, all of our thoughts, emotions, whatever we do or don’t do. It applies to what we do for all humanity, for friends, enemies and the down trodden.

Love: is compassion and humanity; it is patience, kindness, without being arrogant or self important, without smugness or conceit, always putting the other first, holding no grudges, filled with hope, conviction, determination and resolve.

The verse aptly describes John Joseph Sullivan.

Rest in peace Dear Friend,

Jack Kean

Rotary Club of Winchester

February 4, 2021