This Ancient Scribe, in this month of remembering, would like to talk about three friends lost in the stream of so many deaths. Only one of them, the youngest, actually caught the virus, but all three were dreadfully affected by it and all three would have surely been early contributors to The New Bedford Light.
Kevin Harrington and Megan Tench died alone and unexpectedly. Hank Seaman spent months of his last year in isolation from his friends and loved ones.
Kevin was a retired priest, the longtime pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, a New Bedford Library trustee, and a close friend. He had nourished hopes of being a newsman himself before his vocation called.
One of The New Bedford Light’s founders, Kevin aspired to become The Light’s historian. He began prepping months ago for the job, scouring newspaper archives on the 20th Century’s Great Pandemic, the Spanish Flu, emailing old newspaper accounts about masks and super-spreading events like Philadelphia’s Armistice parade 100 years ago.
Kevin was super smart, a top scholar at Holy Family High and Providence College before he entered the seminary. He was a super sensitive and complicated son of New Bedford. Despite his Irish lineage, he had Cape Verdean blood. He occasionally felt the stab of crude rejection in the ethnic neighborhood around St. Lawrence’s parish. He developed a protective shell, buried himself in books, which he collected randomly. He resisted James Joyce; delighted in Marcel Proust.
He embraced his parishioners, and his warm feelings toward them were shared. They showered him with love at the retirement party they threw for him when he turned 70. Parishioners relished his Christian heart, his compassion, his foibles. His homey homilies were usually about his Dad, the cop, longtime captain in charge of the South End precinct, and his Mom, who years ago, tested the postwar racial climate by marrying into a sprawling Irish clan. It would be Kevin who took the heat. He had an Irish memory. He never forgot the slights. He could recite years-old conversations, word for word, as if he had a recorder in his head. Or a camera. His chief counselor was his sister Gloria; the Scribe suspects she was also his best friend.
Kevin was a caring man, a champion of the homeless, the dispossessed, the victimized.
He enlisted the Scribe, and others, in a quixotic literacy campaign aimed at the homeless. It never got off the ground. The street people proved profoundly indifferent. He was not deterred. He conferred on them the title, Cobblestone Scholars. He offered them gift certificates for coffee and doughnuts as a priestly bribe. It wasn’t enough. Few Scholars attended the weekly readings from Hemingway, Fitzgerald and others. The pandemic effectively ended the program; Kevin didn’t.
He was found dead a few days after Christmas in his apartment on the 6th floor of a downtown living complex. He had mentioned that the building had six COVID cases. He had to use the elevator to get to the lobby. I don’t think he believed that prudent. His cause of death was attributed to heart disease. In normal times, he would have checked in with his doctor at the first chest tremor. His death occurred in deeply abnormal times.
Megan Tench was only 44, and she was one of the brightest people the Scribe ever hired. As a kid out of college her talent just glowed. It melded with a life-loving exuberance and raw sensitivity. And how she could write. She was a poet of color, a natural, who attracted the attention of UMassD poet Professor Everett Hoagland. If memory serves, it was he who told the Scribe about Megan.
She was soon hired as a kid reporter and assigned to capture the city in prose snapshots. She wrote from a vigorous, fresh and unorthodox perspective. News stories come with a shelf life. Most are soon forgotten. She wrote vividly about a day inside the downtown bus station, a night of driving while Black, New Bedford’s dating bars, for example, and gathered notice. Poet Maya Angelou had her as a dinner guest. The Boston Globe soon hired her.
They put her to work writing routine stories which she did in a routine way. The Scribe thought she rarely got a chance up in Boston to display her gifts. In her early 30s, multiple sclerosis seized her body. Her mobility suffered. She lost the deft use of her hands, essential to taking notes.
The illness forced her to go on disability.
She lived in Providence. The Scribe saw her only once more in person and that was about five or six years ago. She made a brave appearance at a benefit for the Salvation Army. She had trouble walking and reciting. But she went on stage. She did it as a personal favor.
The Scribe got back in touch by email and phone to see if she might help in the formation of The New Bedford Light. She said she would, but within weeks she caught COVID, which kept her bedridden for two weeks. Its effects lingered to the end.
She was now using new voice-recognition technology that might have allowed her to write professionally again. She began texting new information about her life. Her emails and texts were crisp, trenchant and laced with pain and sorrow. She told the Scribe that, for her, growing up in New Bedford was not wine and roses but a horror show. Still, she was looking for a one-bedroom apartment. She would live alone, devoting a full year only to writing.
The Scribe was stunned when informed of her death a month ago.
Hopefully, Megan will be reunited with her younger brother who died at 35 a year ago, leaving her with crushing grief. In New Bedford, she will be mostly remembered as the young lady who wrote that gangbusters story about driving Black years ago. In another life, she’d be remembered for so much more.
Hank Seaman dreamed of teaming with the Scribe to write the great American novel. That isn’t going to happen. Hank died of kidney failure before Thanksgiving.
The Scribe was on the lookout for portrait painters years ago when he edited his former paper, so he told the photographer Hank to combine his picture-taking with his obvious writing skills. Hank hated the idea but soon became the star columnist who only occasionally took photos.
Visit any home nearby, city or suburb, and you have a good chance to see an old Seaman clip hanging on a fridge door or framed somewhere in the house. He was popular. Then he had a stroke.
It changed forever his life and that of his wife, the writer Susan Pawlak-Seaman, who cared for him faithfully.
The Scribe, once retired, became his friend not his boss, visiting the gregarious Hank regularly in the TV room of his Dartmouth home, watching movies or Red Sox games or just fighting over silly topics like whether Olivier or Burton was the right Hamlet. He was all in on Burton. He had fixed opinions that never changed. He hated basketball and wouldn’t watch it. He hated vegetables and wouldn’t eat them. He hated movies with subtitles. He loved his friends, even those who avoided him after his stroke.
Then the Scribe had a stroke of his own, much milder than Hank’s but damaging enough to keep him from driving. The Scribe and Hank collaborated on writing about strokes and had a good run of columns on bouncing back. The Scribe and Hank were talking about working together on that novel when the pandemic hit.
The lockdown and the precipitous slide in Hank’s health seemed to coincide. He needed hospitalization followed by placement in a rehabilitation center again and again in 2020. The shuttle back and forth became increasingly onerous when it was no longer possible to have visitors. Occasionally, the Scribe and Hank had tightly scheduled conversations on benches outside the rehabilitation center. Susan visited him daily, often cut off by a shut window. No hugs, only blown kisses, virtual visits.
Hank and the Scribe were talking only by phone last November. One big subject was The Light and how vital its addition would be. The Scribe told him about the talent likely to be guiding The Light and the enthusiasm that was building. Hank glowed. He’d be there to help. He invoked his mantra, never give up. He never did.
Ken Hartnett is former editor of The Standard-Times, and a founder of The New Bedford Light. He can be reached at email@example.com. If you have an opinion piece or first-person essay you’d like us to consider for publication, please send your contact information and a short pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration at top of story by Judith Klein
About the artist
Judith Klein Art Gallery
127 W. Rodney French Blvd. Suite 287
New Bedford MA 02744
Artist’s statement by Judith Klein
“It is not my task to reproduce appearances, for that is the photographic plate. I want to reach the heart. Art does not reproduce the visible, it renders the visible.”
— Paul Klee
Klee’s statement beautifully expresses the way I feel about my art. In my wood cuts, linocuts, monoprints, and mixed media paintings, I transfer my sketches from nature to the printed art form and paintings. Based on abstract but recognizable renderings of what I see, I rely heavily on the power of color to express the mood and meaning of the finished piece. Perhaps this is why art critiques have categorized my work as “figurative abstract expressionist.”
The printing medium is itself very important to me. The texture of wood or the fine more lyrical lines of linoleum cuts are central to each work. These are given life by strong, basic colors I always attribute to my years living in Israel.
Many of my themes of sun, moon, sky and the ocean are reflective of my personal connection to nature. The female form represents life as we live it and feel it. The forms are eternal and the colors immediate.
My influences other than Paul Klee are Henri Matisse and Edvard Munch, that’s why one sees much abstract expressionism in my work.
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