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Richard Connolly; Globe reporter had underworld contacts

RICHARD J. CONNOLLY RICHARD J. CONNOLLY
By J.M. Lawrence
Globe Correspondent / January 29, 2011

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Richard J. Connolly, a former reporter who wrote extensively about organized crime and helped The Boston Globe win its first Pulitzer Prize, died Thursday of pneumonia. He was 84.

Raised in Haverhill, Mr. Connolly began his newspaper career at 16 after he dropped out of high school. His crime stories riveted law enforcement circles during gangland killings of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and he found a notorious fugitive hiding out in Atlantic City before the FBI.

“There was nobody more competent or more knowledgeable as an investigative reporter than Dick,’’ senior US District Court Judge Edward F. Harrington, a former federal prosecutor, said yesterday.

“He was a polite, quiet individual who developed trust. He had sources not only in law enforcement, but in the underworld. He was an amazing reservoir of intelligence,’’ Harrington said.

Mr. Connolly, who died at Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport, was “part reporter, part detective,’’ according to Jack Driscoll, a former Globe editor in chief.

In 1969, Mr. Connolly tracked George Brady, the former chairman of the Massachusetts Parking Authority, who was on the run for six years from charges of embezzling $784,000.

Mr. Connolly heard law enforcement was hunting for Brady in Atlantic City. After less than a day combing the city, he spotted Brady wearing his trademark blue overalls and tailed him to a hotel. He notified Massachusetts State Police and FBI agents, who then captured Brady. Headlines the next day read, “Globe Reporter Leads FBI to Fugitive.’’

“He would tell you it was blind luck,’’ said former Globe reporter and editor Charles Claffey. “But that kind of thing doesn’t happen to good reporters by accident.’’

John “Jack’’ Cullen, a former Globe reporter who is now a Boston attorney, described Mr. Connolly as “a very contained, focused guy. He almost operated at the Globe like a secret agent because he was always involved in some mystery.’’

Mr. Connolly was married 65 years to Evelyn (Comeau), whom he met while growing up in Haverhill. They had nine children and lived in West Newbury since 1956.

Former colleagues said Mr. Connolly worked best as a “lone ranger.’’ He didn’t socialize in bars with other reporters or with law enforcement.

“He knew the vulnerabilities to alcohol in the newspaper business and secondly, he never wanted to get into discussions of what he was doing,’’ Cullen said.

In 1970, Mr. Connolly wrote a poignant account of learning that his youngest son, Jon, was born with Down syndrome and needed an operation to survive. It was an era when most mentally disabled children were institutionalized and taunted, and Mr. Connolly was against the operation at first. “God will take him’’ without the surgery, a doctor told warned him.

“Tearfully you surrender to a compulsion to see the child whose life at four days and a half is waning,’’ Mr. Connolly wrote. “You are overwhelmed with guilt as the nurse cuddles him and then holds him in an open doorway so you can view him closely.’’

Mr. Connolly agreed to the operation, and he and his wife made a bold move in those days. They raised Jon at home. He is now 43.

Mr. Connolly’s first newspaper job was at the Haverhill Gazette and Haverhill Sunday Record. He later worked briefly for a newspaper in Pottstown, Pa., and was a radio reporter for the Yankee Network. He also worked for the Portsmouth Herald in New Hampshire, where he solved a series of liquor store robberies and won the Pall Mall “Big Story’’ award in 1950.

In the 1950s, Mr. Connolly worked for the Boston Post and the Boston Herald-Traveler before going to work for the Globe in the early 1960s.

His work in 1966 as a general assignment reporter was part of the Globe’s Pulitzer-winning team that year for public service for a series questioning the nomination of Boston Municipal Court Judge Francis X. Morrissey to the federal bench. Morrissey, a longtime friend of the Kennedy family, had twice failed the Massachusetts bar exam.

Mr. Connolly “was a great reporter and feature writer. He could do everything,’’ Claffey said. “He practiced investigative reporting before that term entered our journalistic dictionary.’’

Mr. Connolly was a study in tenacity. When the federal court in Boston would not allow him to make copies of FBI logs made from an illegal bug planted in New England Mafia boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca’s Providence headquarters, Mr. Connolly toted his typewriter into the clerk’s office and typed up his own copy of the logs.

His former editor Driscoll recalled the night Mr. Connolly got a tip that Boston mob boss Gennaro Angiulo was about to be arrested.

Driscoll hit the streets and watched agents take Angiulo while Mr. Connolly worked the phones so they could make the Globe’s deadline.

Mr. Connolly’s son James worked as a news reporter at the Boston Herald in the 1980s and wound up competing against his father.

“I was the young reporter up against the veteran award-winning reporter. He usually kicked my butt,’’ said James, now editor of Massachusetts High Tech Business News.

Mr. Connolly retired at age 62 and became a private investigator. He also worked as a police officer in West Newbury and Groveland, doing traffic details and community patrols.

His favorite pastime was fishing in northern New Hampshire, where he and his family renovated a house in Bartlett. His greatest joy in his later years were his 12 grandchildren.

“He loved seeing those kids coming in the door,’’ his son said.

In addition to his wife, grandchildren, and his sons James of Norwood and Jon of West Newbury, Mr. Connolly leaves a sister, Margaret Bean of Amesbury; a brother, David of Haverhill; three daughters, Maureen Ann of Cumberland Foreside, Maine, Susan Silvia of Merrimac, and Eileen of Newbury; two other sons, Peter and Adam of West Newbury; and two great-grandchildren. Another two children, both girls, died as infants.

A celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow at the old West Newbury Town Hall on Main Street in West Newbury. Burial will be private.

J.M. Lawrence can be reached at jmlawrence@mac.com