Kevin Cullen

Mad about Medford

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / October 15, 2009

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A lady named Joyce Purnick has written a biography of Mike Bloomberg, the mayor of New York who grew up in Medford, and given that Bloomberg cooperated with her, we can assume all those nice things he’s said about Meffa were strictly for local consumption.

Chapter 2 is titled “Escape from Medford,’’ which makes it sound like a swamp. Medford was simply not big enough to accommodate the ambition of a man who would become a billionaire and mayor of the greatest city in the world.

But, then, how many places compare with the Big Apple?

According to the book, Boston was “an isolating hour away’’ from Medford before Interstate 93 was built.

Which I suppose is true if you rode in on a snail.

With bricks in your pockets.

The killer quote is not from Bloomberg, presumably because he was too shrewd to say anything as crass, but from another Medford native, Paul Theroux, the writer, who was a year ahead of Bloomberg at Medford High.

“It was not a bad place, but a place you want to leave, to escape from,’’ said Theroux. “I thought it would be death to stay there, that I would just be swallowed up. It was all right to grow up there, but to stay there? Fatal.’’

Let’s leave aside for the moment that Paul Theroux somehow managed to pick up an English accent somewhere between West Medford and the West End in London, where he once lived. If Theroux is correct, the Browns must be immortal, because Larry Brown is the second generation to stay in Medford, and he’s still breathing.

Larry Brown is 47 years old. He went to Holy Cross, joined the Marines, and now works in finance.

“I’ve been to the Far East, Down Under, across the pond, and, no, that doesn’t mean Revere, the Cape, and Stoneham,’’ he said. “I’ve been to every major American city, and many minor ones, but I very consciously decided to stay here and raise my kids in Medford.

“I’ve always said it was a great mix of collar and color. It’s blue collar and white collar. You’ve got white folks, black, Asian, Latino. You name it. My neighbors are a consultant, an electrician, a firefighter, an operating engineer, a music teacher, a house painter. I love that there’s no pretense to the city or its people.’’

Meaning, no one walks around Medford Square spouting an affected English accent.

“There isn’t a committee trying to fix every little thing,’’ Larry Brown said. “You can attend a parent-teacher night and run into someone you haven’t seen in 30 years and both laugh that the hard-nosed administrator at the school was a teacher back then.’’

There are 11 people running for six School Committee seats in Medford. Larry Brown, political neophyte, is one of them.

“There was a guy on the School Committee for years, Freddie Pompeo. Freddie’s 91. He was a prisoner of war. A great guy. He’s stepping down after 60 years of public service, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ Time to give back. I love the city. I’ve got two sons in the schools. I’m new to all this, but what’s struck me when I knock on doors is how many people thank me for running.

“Medford isn’t perfect, doesn’t try to be, and laughs wicked hard at people who think they are,’’ Larry Brown said. “And the kicker? Mayor Bloomberg’s mother gets her nails done at the same place my mother does.’’

This fact was confirmed yesterday by the beautiful Charlotte Bloomberg, who is 100 years old, still lives on Ronaele Road, and still has her fastball. Her son, the big shot, remains dutiful. He visited her two weeks ago.

She loves her son, but she’s not going to bat for Paul Theroux.

“There are some people who think there’s always something better someplace else,’’ Charlotte Bloomberg said. “I think Medford is a great place to live.’’

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at