Best Gig in Town

Ask Dick Flavin ’58 what he does for a living, and he’s quick to respond, “I daydream.” But “living the dream” might be more accurate given his career as a television commentator, political satirist, playwright, and currently serving as both the day game PA announcer and Poet Laureate for the Red Sox.

“I was born a Red Sox fan and baptized a Catholic,” says Flavin, who began writing what he modestly terms “verses and little ditties” during his Stonehill days.

Flavin landed his gig with the Red Sox when he wrote “Teddy at the Bat,” a tribute to the late Ted Williams. “In 2001, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and I went to see Ted in Florida. We were just three old guys sitting in Ted’s living room, and I came up with the idea for a riff on ‘Casey at the Bat’ to entertain Ted. After he passed away, I kept getting invitations to recite this thing and it took off.”

“Took off” is an understatement for Flavin’s frequent lyric grand slams. He has written and recited scores of Red Sox odes, sports a genuine 2013 Red Sox World Series ring, and is perfectly comfortable both extolling his favorite team and poking fun at serious subjects, like the skyrocketing cost of attending professional sports games. As always, he turns to meter: “Take me out to the ballgame. First, let's stop at the bank. I'll need a mortgage so I can pay. Parking the car is another outlay.”

Flavin didn’t start out in the spotlight. After graduating from Stonehill, he had a brief stint as the “world’s worst salesman” in his father’s insurance business. He then found his calling in politics. He was a speechwriter and press secretary for Boston mayor Kevin White, and then moved on to commenting about politics for local television stations. He noticed his reports caught more attention when they rhymed, which he parlayed into a 22-year career that brought him national exposure, seven Emmy Awards, and induction into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

In the mid-1980s he took to the road as a public speaker. “The political world was becoming meaner and nastier, so I changed my focus into using humor as a tool in business and life.”

But life on the road was no fun for this Quincy native, so he settled back in to his home state and decided to pay tribute to one of the commonwealth’s great political personalities, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, the late Speaker of the House of Representatives. Flavin’s one-man play, “According to Tip,” premiered in 2008 at the New Repertory Theatre and starred Ken Howard. It was an instant hit, and Flavin himself played the lead role in a 2012 production staged by the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport. Flavin also narrated “The Teammates,’’ an ESPN documentary that was nominated for three Emmy awards.

“I’m having the time of my life,” says, Flavin, who overcame throat cancer five years ago. “Everyday, I’m playing with house money.”

 Finding New Cures

Each year, new medicines hit the market, ready to take aim at one of the many diseases plaguing the world. But before these medicines reach the shelves at the pharmacy, there’s an extensive process that takes place. This is where scientists like Pei Ge ’89 come in. As a senior scientist in preclinical pharmacology at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Ge spends her days working towards finding new cures for diseases.

It’s an intensive job, to say the least. “I work on a variety of innovative projects, all of them with the potential to help others,” says Ge, a Beijing native who studied medicine at Beijing Second Medical College before coming to Stonehill to receive her bachelor’s degree in biology. “There’s considerable research to conduct in the lab.” Ge’s job requires her to do everything from designing cell lines to participating in clinical study designs to working with business development, among many other tasks.

During her time at Ironwood, Ge has dealt with a spectrum of ailments. In the last year, she’s worked on fibrosis, as well as ocular and central nervous system diseases. For Ge, there’s something special about having a job where she’s always trying to help others. “It’s rewarding personally and professionally to be at the forefront of developing new medicines,” says Ge.


A Legacy Project

As dean, Albert Niemi ’64 has transformed the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University from a respected regional school into an international leader in business higher education over the course of the past 18 years, while also tripling the school’s endowment and funding the construction of an executive education center.

For all that he’s done for the school, three major donors have decided to honor his accomplishments by letting Niemi choose his legacy project. He proposed a fellowship program that would allow undergraduate and graduate students to conduct research in partnership with the George W. Bush Institute. Niemi’s idea gained traction, and the mission of the program broadened to create the Albert W. Niemi Center for American Capitalism.

Niemi, a former Stonehill Trustee, says he’s letting the Bush Institute staff and Cox School faculty pick the research topics for the center, which include a military service initiative and women’s rights issues. Niemi is most excited about
the impact the research program will have on students. “I’ve got 107 undergrads in two classes this fall. I asked them, ‘How many of you would be interested?’ Every hand went up. It’s going to be a rich addition to student learning at SMU,” says Niemi. 

Worthy of a Celebration

The high drama of courtroom battles depicted on television and in the movies rarely resembles the reality of the daily docket in district courts, but in April, the Honorable Philip Contant ’70, first justice of Westfield District Court, found himself in the middle of theatrical shenanigans worthy of a Shakespearean farce.

On the 30th anniversary of the day he was sworn in as a judge, Contant’s colleagues concocted a party ploy involving phony cases to send him to the courthouse in Holyoke. When he arrived to find the cases postponed, Contant headed back to Westfield, where his courtroom was packed with state and local officials, attorneys, police and court officers, a distinguished gathering of judges and his family, including his wife, Elizabeth (LeRoy) Contant ’70. Speeches were made and a plaque was presented. Paul Dawley, chief justice of the Massachusetts Trial Court, honored Contant as the longest-serving judge in the state.

“It was a shock,” says Contant, who was clearly, deeply touched. “We usually take five minutes to celebrate a birthday or other event.”

The impressive gathering was clear testimony to Contant’s reputation for excellence and genuine concern for those who appear before him. “In the district courts, we are at the street level. We see people who are arrested the night before or those who are seeking help or protection from the court through restraining orders or orders against harassment,” he explains. “These are mostly people who are having difficulty surviving. A lot of the crimes are tied to a history of substance abuse, mental health problems, chronic unemployment, and lack of education.”

Contant is particularly distressed by the state’s lack of resources, and notes that “Section 35” commitments, which allow the court to involuntarily commit someone whose alcohol or drug use puts themselves or others at risk for up to 90 days, are increasingly difficult to implement because, “we have nowhere near enough beds for inpatient or intensive treatment. We need to deal with the underlying problems.”

In the case of domestic violence, which cuts across all socioeconomic lines, Contant is concerned about the impact of social media. “It’s mind boggling,” he says. “Both victims and perpetrators get into nonstop postings on Facebook. I often say, ‘You both claim you want nothing to do with each other, so don’t post or look on each other’s pages,’ but they can’t resist. It’s created a new dynamic that is more complicated for the court to control.”

But it is precisely those types of new challenges, and the “humanity” of it all that keeps Contant as interested in his work as the day he first started. “It’s a constant battle,” he says, “but you are always hoping you make a difference.”


Change of Pace

After seven years of working in the legal industry in Washington, D.C., Jacqueline Woodbury ’06 needed a change of pace. Last year, the avid traveler, food lover and volunteer found something that matches her interests, Bookalokal, a social dining  platform born in Brussels, where guests can list, browse and book culinary events hosted by locals.

While volunteering with No Kid Hungry in Washington, Woodbury met Evelyne White, Bookalokal’s founder, who needed someone to launch the platform in Washington. Woodbury jumped at the opportunity to join a growing startup that currently has more than 450 hosts in 44 countries.

Through Bookalokal, guests can host or attend gatherings in private homes of amateur and professional chefs, at restaurants or local businesses, with the events attracting locals, expats and travelers. Woodbury adds, “There’s also a charitable component; hosts can choose to donate a portion of the proceeds they raise through their meals to a charity they’re passionate about.”

Bookalokal’s Washington Community Manager, Woodbury says that “this is a very dynamic and creative time for the food scene in D.C.” With the rise of many food entrepreneurs and unique restaurants opening, “people are looking to buy an authentic experience they can feel good about and remember for years to come, and we help make that happen.”