Oct. 9, 2008
By John W. Gearan
Holy Cross Magazine
These autumnal days, you might find Bob Cousy '50 with a Beefeaters in hand while engaging in his ritualistic early-evening meditation.
"Frankly, I'm not a `yesterday' person as a rule," Cousy says. "But I have thought more about that affair than just about anything that has ever happened to me."
That includes six NBA World Championships on the Celtic teams he captained. That includes the 1947 NCAA Championship which Holy Cross won when an accidental tourist named Cousy and a dozen other guys wandered on campus to play basketball in a barn. And that includes a dizzying array of special events in the remarkable life of Robert Joseph Cousy, who turned 80 in August.
Dwelling on the heroics of his past is completely out of character, say those closest to Cousy. But June 7, 2008, had been "such a special day" that Cousy now reviews it daily and basks in its afterglow.
Amidst a backdrop of gorgeous purple blossoms set in the giant rhododendrons outside the Hart Center, a splendid 7-foot statue of Cousy was unveiled. It depicts Cooz wearing his No. 17 Holy Cross jersey, dribbling with his head up as always and focusing on his fabled future. The amazing creation of gifted sculptor Brian Hanlon, the bronze statue with its green patina seems to have been atop Mount St. James since antiquity.
Huddled by his family, longtime friends and fans from yesteryear -- including Crusaders from the Class of '48 celebrating their 50th reunion -- Cousy appeared totally at ease for a man who describes himself as terribly shy.
Privately he had urged some folks not to break plans or travel great distances to be there. Yet they came because they genuinely wanted to share this historic moment with a man they truly love and appreciate. Being there with close friends and with Missy, his beloved wife, and with his cherished daughters, Marie and Ticia, touched Cousy to the core.
Speakers rose and their eloquence befit the occasion. The Rev. Earle L. Markey, S.J., '53, a Varsity Club Hall of Famer, delivered a heart-felt invocation, calling the Cousy statue "a memorial of the past, a celebration of the present and an inspiration for the future." He urged today's students and athletes to learn from Cousy's life and to sacrifice and work with great intensity to bring their dreams to fruition. Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J., '49, president emeritus and esteemed friend of the Cousy family, recalled Cousy's legendary basketball career, then emphasized that the statue stood to honor Cousy's "commitment to social justice, racial equality and to the youth of the city of Worcester.''
"The Jesuit education we teach is designed to help students realize that their God-given talents and gifts are to be developed, not for self-satisfaction, not for self-gain, but rather, with the grace of God, for the good of the entire human community. At Holy Cross, Bob Cousy learned that lesson well," remarked Father Brooks.
The indubitable star orator on her dad's special day was Marie Cousy speaking for the family. Her words were as resplendent and enlightening as the sunshine that warmed the gallery.
She talked about her dad's "lifetime of providing benefit to others and to the community,'' calling that dedication "dad's greatest glory." She quoted Cesar Chavez, saying "we cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about the progress and prosperity of our community ... our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own."
"Dad landed well in Worcester amongst folk who have been such good friends and, perhaps more importantly, among people who embrace the Jesuit philosophy of working together for the common good," Marie said.
Now Cousy faced the unenviable task of following his daughter's graceful grandiloquence. His emotional nature has been public knowledge since his tear-filled Celtic farewell in the Boston Garden on St. Patrick's Day in 1963. "I was supposed to cry at the end," he said. "My daughter preceding me hasn't helped the situation."
Nonetheless, Cooz swung smoothly into his routine, relying on his dry humor to keep the floodgates closed. "Marie was extraordinary, and she read those remarks just the way dear old dad wrote them up for her..." Drum roll, please. "If I had any idea I was going to be eulogized this morning, I'd have done the only decent thing and died for you!" Drum roll, please.
Trying to explain how weird it felt to be a statue and a living human being simultaneously, Cousy painted a hypothetical scene of someone gawking at a statue of some ancient warrior in Rome or Paris. "Then you look at the guy standing next to you and it's The Guy! Is that spooky or what?" he asked.
Again, he heard the roar of the crowd. Yet Cooz, the ultimate showman, knew when it was time to put the depository-for-pigeons jokes to rest. Now he became as serious as he once was when a championship game against the Lakers was on the line.
"You know, I don't mean to trivialize this moment because, as you might imagine, it is very meaningful to my family and me. I'm so blown away when I allow myself to think of all the truly great men and women who have lived, studied and graduated from this gem of a school and then went on to accomplish miraculous things in their lives. And, in some cases, have impacted, literally, the world we occupy. So for an old jock, to be so acknowledged in this company and in this manner, leaves me, appropriately for a statue, speechless."
A committee to plan a tribute to Bob Cousy for his athletic achievements and charitable endeavors got rolling in the fall of 2007.
Spearheading the effort was Ken Kaufman, a former Worcester Polytechnic Institute head basketball coach and Cousy's close friend. Kaufman and Arthur J. Andreoli '58, a Hall of Famer and former alumni president, reached out to 10 other friends who admire Cousy, forming a committee to erect a statue in his honor.
Joining Kaufman and Andreoli on the committee were the Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J. ,'49; Anthony A. Froio '86; Andrew Laska '50; Donald F.O. Maloney '52; Rev. Earle L. Markey, S.J., '53; Ronald S. Perry '54; Donald E. "Dee" Rowe; and longtime pals of Cousy, Joseph R. Eid, John R. "Jack" Sharry and Edward P. Tonelli.
The Committee engaged Brian P. Hanlon, a renowned New Jersey sculptor, to create a 7-foot bronze statue of Cousy in action. Hanlon had created a small version of the statue for the Bob Cousy trophy presented annually by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the best point guard in college basketball.
"Many in the Holy Cross community and beyond worked fervently on this project. It was a labor of love," notes Kaufman.
Cousy lavished praise on the College's international academic acclaim and its commitment to social justice under the leadership of Fr. Brooks and College president, Rev. Michael McFarland, S.J. He recited a litany of the major accomplishments of Holy Cross' athletic program. Noting the College's modest size and limited funding, Cousy enthused, "What Holy Cross has done in sports is singular and unmatched in American college sports history."
Cousy spoke about his good fortune. "I was fabricated in a small farming community in northeastern France and born six months after the boat landed at Ellis Island," he said. His rise to fame is a classic example of the American Dream. His immigrant parents' hard work allowed the family to move out of a shabby New York City tenement and to St. Albans in Queens when Cousy was 12. That is where he was introduced to basketball and his future wife, his two life-changing happenings.
He beamed, speaking with love and pride about his daughters, both educators, and about his socially committed grandchildren, Zachary and Nicole Brand-Cousy.
Then Cousy mentioned Missy, his "bride of 58 years." The emotional dam broke and his tears flowed.
The statue looked down at its likeness, smiled and thought, "The human being is alive and kicking."
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2008 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
John W. Gearan '65, was an award-winning reporter and columnist at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for 36 years. He resides in Woonsocket, R.I., with his wife, Karen Maguire, and their daughter, Molly.