By Ray Flynn, Former Mayor of Boston
Every Saturday around 2 p.m., ten men and one woman from the Boston area would stop their busy lives and head to St. Peter and Paul Church in South Boston to sing in the Men’s Choir at the 4 o’clock Mass. Most of the men lived in South Boston at one time. Some of them, like Bob Buckley, moved to communities like Arlington, while others came from places like East Boston and the South Shore. One choir member, Jim Ryan, Southie’s first Commissioner of Little League, continued to live on Athens Street. Everyone in our group, including our organist Mazzie and organizer Marty Quinn, had proud Southie roots. We also sang at various civic and religious events throughout the state when requested, but never for profit. One of the choir members, Charlie Federico, who later moved to Quincy, came from respected Italian-American roots. Our families go back many years.
Charlie died last week and his funeral Mass was held at Gate of Heaven Church in South Boston. My grandson Braeden and I attended. Charlie owned and operated a rundown old bike repair shop on Emerson Street, next to Tom English’s Bar and Restaurant. Over these many years, if any kid in Southie needed his bike fixed, Charlie was the man to see. He was even known to donate bikes to needy kids and to recovering alcoholics. The quiet favors he did were extraordinary.
One day when I was Mayor of Boston and attending a St. Patrick’s Day Party at the Southie Boys Club, a college volunteer came up to me and said, “Mayor, do you know anybody who fixes bikes for a reasonable price? We have a lot of kids down here who have broken bikes but don’t have the money to repair them.” I told him to have these kids take their broken bikes to Federico’s the next day. A week later I showed up at Federico’s with $200, and asked manager, Lewis Smith, if any kids had showed up with their broken bikes in need of repair. Are you kidding me, we had over 50 kids, he said and insisted that I keep the money . Lewis Smith was not just a great bicycle mechanic, but an Olympic athlete who ran the Boston Marathon with me several times. But the best part of the story was that Charlie Federico’s co-worker in Southie was an African-American who loved the people of Southie as much as they loved him. Federico’s Bike Shop in Southie made life better and helped make kids’ dreams come true more than most prominent people could ever imagine.
After the funeral Mass, Braeden and I talked to Lewis and some friends of Charlie’s, like Donna and Charlie Souris. All had kind words and stories to tell. One of his friends invited us over to Tom English’s Pub for a toast to Charlie and all the good he did for needy people.
Only in an Irish Pub in Southie will you find a photo of an African-American guy who worked with a quiet Italian-American bicycle repairman to help fix almost unrepairable baby carriages and bicycles for average working-class families. The bicycles and carriages took these kids many miles, but I have a funny feeling that Charlie’s journey will get him to Heaven quicker than any bicycle ever could.