R.I.P. Joe Early. The former congressman, state rep., school teacher, college basketball star (white guy/set shot era) tough as nails with soft heart good guy from Worcester who passed away last week.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I bet most of you MA political experts who come from other parts of the country and now think you own the place never heard of “The Earl of Worcester”. (I just made that up, you like?)
Early served almost twenty years in Congress kicking ass on three fronts; constituent services for the most downtrodden in central MA, bringing home the bacon for his district, and as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee steering money to many causes that needed a powerful voice.
There is a reason U-Mass Med is in Worcester and one of the finest medical schools in the country. It’s Joe Early. On the national front the fight against cystic fibrosis received research dollars to a degree that had previously been lacking.
Early came from the great great city of Worcester. He could play basketball so naturally he ended up at Holy Cross, a basketball powerhouse at the time. (Right central-mass-dad?) He was on the 1954 team that won the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). At the time that was the prize. Not the NCAA.
But really, who cares he was a jock? The guy was all about doing his job well by doing the right thing for his constituents, his district, and the country. He worked tirelessly while never missing an opportunity to hit the track. Not uncommon to see him with his face buried in a Racing Form on a Friday or Saturday afternoon at Suffolk.
As much as he was devoted to the job he was equally shy of publicity. He pretty much disdained it. Think a bizarro world John Kerry or Ed Markey. Early got things done without running to the press or putting on airs. He was Worcester through and through.
Worcester, one of the greatest cities in the western hemisphere. One of three cities of seven hills. Rome of course is one, but can anyone name the third? Bueller? Bueller? That’s right. Cincinnati.
A guy from Cincinnati told me that.
Anyway Worcester has produced more than a few boatloads of good people who became successful and Early was one of them. A real melting pot where a city kid like him could pay attention and get a solid education in life so when certain opportunities came he was there to take advantage.
Like many good men Early’s professional career ended when a “scandal” became the flavor of the week in 1992.
Up until that time congressman could draw from their pay check at the beginning of each month even though the books didn’t say they were paid until the end of the month. It was called a draw. Or something like that. I don’t won’t to sugarcoat it because at worst it was still harmless. It may have been considered an overdraft and they charged a fee. I’m not sure.
Early was a product of the Depression and World War II and had seven kids. You’re damn right he took advantage of this. Fuck yeah! Tuitions, mortgages, the track.
So in 1992 wise people used this “perk” to politically kill a few key people standing in their way. Down went Early as the pretty boys in the House squirmed and left him hanging.
Early took the House floor during the height of the controversy and accused most of his colleagues of being the weak kneed Ken dolls they were.
“They ran like rats!” was his infamous yell from the House floor to members describing the actions of his congressional colleagues when this meaningless and blatantly politically driven non-scandal-scandal was all over the news and late night monologues.
The upcoming election was the first after a major redistricting. Early’s district now snaked from Worcester down to Fall River. And the Republicans put up state rep Peter Blute to challenge Early.
Early beat Blute in Fall River and the new parts of the district but couldn’t fight him back in Worcester and central Mass. Blute won but missed out on the Congressional pension when a former Joe Moakley aide named Jim McGovern took him out four years later.
It’s a shame that most people like Joe Early couldn’t get elected today. They’re too honest.