BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: ‘One beautiful day after another’

MHS football legend Charlie Gilligan reminisces with the Current .  COURTESY PHOTO 

Name:  Charlie Gilligan

Age: 85

Place of birth: Peabody

What is your fondest childhood memory? Growing up in Marblehead with a bunch of guys. We had so much fun, with so little meanness in life. We built forts in the woods. We played on the beach. We played all kinds of games. We did a lot of swimming, out to Pig Rock. It was one beautiful day after another. I felt the same way about the school system.  The teachers I had going through Marblehead — at the Glover School, Marblehead Junior High and the high school were always very compassionate and caring people. 

How long did you live in Marblehead? I lived in Marblehead from the time I was four years old until the end of my 30s. I’m back here now staying at the Lafayette Nursing Home after a fall. (Gilligan also lived in Gloucester for many years.)

What jobs have you had and what was your favorite? I taught school for 36 years in Beverly. I taught eighth-grade American history. I loved the kids, I absolutely loved the kids. I think they cared deeply for me, too.
What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the world?  People can’t walk across the street and look for cars because they’re looking at their screens.  The whole world, especially young kids, is absolutely addicted to modern technology.

What is your biggest accomplishment? The way my students respected me. I demanded a lot from them academically and socially. I got a lot from them and they got a lot from me.

Also, I have a big brag but I have to tell you the truth. I set a record at Marblehead High School on Thanksgiving Day 1955 that hasn’t been broken in 67 years. I gained close to 400 yards. I was a running back and pass receiver. On defense, I was a defensive half back.

I started playing football my senior year. I was one of the smallest football players. I was only 5’ 8”. I won a four-year scholarship to play football at American International College in Springfield. I was very competitive. In my junior year there, I broke some ribs playing and had half of my lung taken out. I was back playing senior year.

Who is the most famous person you’ve met? John F. Kennedy. When I was in college, he was a senator from Massachusetts. I was one of the young Democrats in the Democrats Club at AIC. I’m looking at my picture of John F. Kennedy right now …  he wrote a little script on it. The day prior to his election, he flew in from Florida and came to Springfield. The city was absolutely alive. There were thousands and thousands of people downtown.

My girlfriend at that time was a Republican and she was holding hands with me and we were in the first row, up close to Kennedy. Well, her  hand started to sweat and she said to me, ‘I think I’m in love.’ John Kennedy had that effect on women. I started laughing like hell. Kennedy found out and invited us to be part of his entourage at the Boston Garden that night. You could feel the Garden literally tremble.

What moment in history is most vivid in your memory?  I was 7 years old and I was in a barroom in Marblehead — Maddie’s Sail Loft — and World War II came to an end.  My dad brought me to the barroom with him in celebration. Of course, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Talk about happiness and joy and screaming. That might have set the tenor for who I am today.

What piece of advice do you have for young people today? My biggest piece of advice is to take as much time as you can with people and reading. Get away from the tech world and try to be open to the things right in front of you.

What’s your secret to living a long life? My mother came from Prince Edward Island. She brought us up on seafood, liver and onions, and fruits. Another secret to a long life is having a good attitude. 

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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