Are you old enough to remember Cabbage Patch Kids, the dolls that were such a rage a few decades ago? That’s exactly what Dick looked like.
Seven years ago this month my friend Dick Dorr died. He was attending a performance at Boston's Wilbur Theater when his great heart finally gave out. He was 78 years old.
His death was not totally unexpected. He had been having heart problems with increasing frequency and growing severity for several years. Still, when death came, it was with such brutal finality that all those he left behind were in a state of shock.
He and I first met in 1975 when my wife, Betsy, and I bought a cottage in Wellfleet on Cape Cod. Dick and his wife, Sally, were one of the first couples we met there, and he and I hit it off immediately. We quickly formed a fast friendship. The Dorrs had a home in Wellfleet and also kept an apartment in Boston's North End, practically in the shadow of the Brinks Garage on Commercial Street. That wasn't its real name but it's what everyone called it because it was the site of the famed Brinks Robbery of 1950, when thieves stole $1.5 million (about $18.5 million today) -- then the biggest heist in American history.
He was in the market research business, and he owned his own company, small but successful; one of his clients was Sam Adams Beer. Because he kept strange hours -- sometimes he stayed up all night writing reports for his clients -- it gave him the flexibility to pursue other interests. One of those interests was the Boston Celtics, to whom he was devoted. In the glorious days of their great dynasty, he would follow the team on the road for all their playoff games. He was a neighbor of Sam Jones in those days and was treated as a member of the Celtics' family. There weren't that many who followed them around the country back then.
One night, after vanquishing the Lakers in L.A., during the celebration afterwards, John Havlicek asked Dick if he'd get his wife, Beth, on the phone for him. John gave him the phone number of his house in Weston, and Dick went to the telephone. Beth Havlicek was a stunningly beautiful woman and just the thought of calling her in the middle of the night made Dick nervous. She was expecting the call from John, though, and when she picked up the phone she cooed softly into it, "Helloooo." Dick totally lost his composure and, after unsuccessfully trying to stammer who he was, he just handed the phone to John.
Together we formed a two-man team with which we challenged two other guys in Wellfleet to a summer-long series of tennis matches, golf games, and half-court basketball games. The other guys were younger, stronger, and faster than we were, but Dick devised a complicated point-scoring system that only he understood and we managed to stay in contention each year until the season's end on Labor Day.
Are you old enough to remember Cabbage Patch Kids, the dolls that were such a rage a few decades ago? That's exactly what Dick looked like. He was only about 5'6", kind of chubby with a pudgy face. He wasn't much help when it came to rebounding.
When he was a kid growing up in Arlington, his favorite Red Sox player was, of course, Bobby Doerr. He even tried to convince the other kids in the neighborhood that he and Bobby were cousins, glossing over the obvious fact that their names weren't even spelled alike. One day while I was browsing through some items at Phil Castinetti's Sportsworld, I came across a great blowup of a photo of Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, and Bobby Doerr posing together on the steps of the Red Sox dugout. I knew that the three of them were going to be together at a Jimmy Fund golf tournament, so I had Dom sign his picture, Ted his, and got Bobby to sign his, "To my cousin Dick, Bob Doerr." (He always signed autographs "Bob," never "Bobby.") I had the picture framed and left it on Dick's doorstep.
Some years later there was a fire in a wooded section of Wellfleet, where Dick and Sally lived. For a while it threatened their house. Sally instructed Dick to "pack the valuables into the car," in case they needed to vacate the house. Luckily, the wind shifted and the danger passed. When Sally went out to the car to fetch the china and the silverware, she discovered that Dick's version of "the valuables" differed from hers. He had packed the car with his collection of Frank Sinatra records and the autographed picture of Ted, Dom, and Bobby.
I had never been to a ballgame at Wrigley Field in Chicago and once, when I had a speaking engagement out there, I announced that I was going to take in a Cubs game. Dick thought that was a pretty good idea, and he flew all the way out to Chicago to watch the game with me. For several years, we made it a point to go to the 11:00 a.m. Red Sox games on Patriots' Day together.
We were both big fans of the Provincetown Jug Band and spent many happy evenings listening to their funky music at the Surf Club in P-town, where they appeared nightly every summer. They were a scruffy looking bunch but, boy, could they play. Their front-man was a colorful character with a gravelly voice named Geno Haggerty, who founded the group back in the 60s. Among the instruments that Geno played were the trombone, the kazoo, the washboard, and, yes, the jug, from which he drew sweet, low-pitched music.
Even after I stopped summering in Wellfleet, I'd make occasional day trips down there just to have lunch with Dick, usually at one of our favorite hangouts, Moby Dick's, which had (and has) terrific fresh fish. One day we had finished our meal and said our goodbyes and headed toward our respective cars, which were at opposite ends of the parking lot, when he called out to me, "Hey, Flave." I turned around and he said, "Gimme a hug." I walked back to him. We hugged each other; then I got into my car and started the two-hour trip back to Boston. Two weeks later, he was at the Wilbur when the end came.
I still miss him, but I am grateful to God that he was such a part of my life.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.