Bad day, good deeds

Foxborough man’s response to 9/11 continues to inspire his community

Chris Mitchell and 9/11 widow Cindy McGinty on the Foxborough Founders Day Float that revealed the design for the proposed memorial. Chris Mitchell and 9/11 widow Cindy McGinty on the Foxborough Founders Day Float that revealed the design for the proposed memorial. (Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe)
By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / July 8, 2010

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Before Sept. 11, 2001, Chris Mitchell had known fellow Foxborough resident Mike McGinty and his wife, Cindy, for only a short time. But he was devastated when he learned that Mike, the father of two boys in his Cub Scout pack, was killed in the World Trade Center attack.

“I didn’t know what to do, as a Scout leader, or as a human being,’’ he admitted. “So I went over to see her and gave her a hug.’’

A few weeks later, Mitchell, who owns a lawn care company, decided to do what he knows best.

“I mowed,’’ he said.

And mowed. And mowed.

And for the next eight years, Mitchell or one of his crew showed up at Cindy McGinty’s home every week and cut the grass, or brought Scouts over to help with yard work and landscaping, knowing that Mike’s yard had been his pride.

Nearly nine years later, Mitchell hasn’t forgotten 9/11, and he’s doing his best to make sure no one else does, either.

Mitchell and his wife, Paula, founded Foxboro Never Forgets, a nonprofit group dedicated to establishing an annual day of service in town every Sept. 11, while also raising funds for a permanent memorial at the Public Safety Building on Chestnut Street.

They hope to have it completed by Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

For Cindy McGinty, Mitchell’s lawn mowing gave her one less thing to have to worry about as she worked through her grief. Today, she’s active in national 9/11 organizations and is a founder of the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, which supports the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

She now lives in Connecticut, but last fall she honored Mitchell during a Sept. 11 speech at New York City’s Beacon Theater.

The event, sponsored by and ServiceNation, was attended by such well-known figures as Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, actor Gary Sinise, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“Chris Mitchell showed us the value of helping others in need . . . the value of service and paying it forward,’’ she said that night. “Chris Mitchell cut my grass and raised us up.’’

In a recent interview, McGinty described Mitchell as “the most amazing man you’d ever want to meet.’’

She said she’s grateful that Mitchell has taken over the McGinty Family Fun Day, which raises money annually for a scholarship in Mike’s name.

“Chris is just always there for anyone who needs him,’’ she said. “I’m just so thankful for him. He really gets it.’’

That thought is seconded by Mary and John MacDonald, who have known Mitchell for years through a shared commitment to Scouting.

“Chris is the kind of person who turns a town into a community,’’ Mary MacDonald said.

Mitchell offered an advance look at the proposed 9/11 memorial during the Foxborough Founders Day Parade last month. The design is the work of John Ricker of Morse & Beggs Monument Co. in North Attleborough, who donated his time.

So far, $4,000 has been raised for the project, estimated to cost between $50,000 and $75,000.

The memorial site will have a 5-foot-wide granite walkway with three granite tablets with bronze plaques that describe what happened on Sept. 11 in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. It leads to a plaza with three granite benches engraved with those three places. An upper plaza holds two 7-foot by 2-foot World Trade Center towers that will be illuminated on Sept. 11 each year.

“We will also have bronze plaques with the emblems of the military, police, fire, and the Port Authority,’’ Mitchell said. “The whole idea of the memorial is to make it educational. My youngest child is a freshman in high school and barely remembers what happened that day.’’

Patriotism was inspirational right after the attacks, Mitchell recalled. “Everyone had their flag flying. I remember going to 9 a.m. Mass every day that week and the church was full,’’ he said.

As time wore on, though, the fervor faded and last Sept. 11, as he drove to Manhattan for the ceremony with McGinty, he said no flags were flying at all, here or in New York.

If anything, Mitchell wants people to wake up and look at how they can make the world better, drawing on the good that came out of something so bad.

“After 9/11, a lot of people were doing nice things, good deeds for others,’’ Mitchell stressed. “I want people to recapture that feeling.’’

So far, help has been flowing in.

Selectman Paul Mortenson, a tax lawyer, established the charity and donated funds to get it going: “What I admire about Chris is he really is helping other people while elevating the community at the same time,’’ Mortenson said. “That’s pretty nice.’’

Foxborough High School artists designed a logo for the nonprofit group, and the New England Patriots offered four clubhouse tickets to a Dec. 19 game against the Green Bay Packers, a VIP parking pass, pregame passes, and access to a private Kraft family pregame reception as a raffle prize. Raffle tickets are $20 each.

Donations, which are tax-deductible, can be sent to Foxboro Never Forgets Inc., PO Box 626, Foxborough 02035. Mitchell can be reached at Cindy McGinty’s New York speech is on; search for 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance — Cindy McGinty.

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