Friends and neighbors: Councilman-at-large, Montclair Ambulance Unit VP Rich McMahon
By GWEN OREL
Rich McMahon, councilor at large, vice president of the Montclair Ambulance Unit (MAU), past president of the Commonwealth Club, also has a long history with the township. Although he grew up in Glen Ridge, his family history in Montclair goes back to 1868, when his great-grandfather moved here. He’s proud of his Irish heritage, and has turned the annual fundraiser for the MAU into a St. Patrick’s Day ball. He has an Irish passport. He can often be seen hoisting a pint at Tierney’s Tavern on St. Patrick’s Day itself, before visiting Egan’s and Fitzgerald’s 1928. He has been with the MAU at least 8 years, maybe more, he said. The Montclair Ambulance Unit, formerly the Montclair Volunteer Ambulance Unit, founded in 1952, is housed in the old Fire Department building, 95 Walnut St.
So we know your history in Montclair is a long one.
I grew up in Glen Ridge, kind of the bedroom community of Montclair. I went to a lot of Montclair High and Immaculate games with my dad. I didn’t go to a lot of Glen Ridge games. My great Uncle Jim was a town commissioner, from like ’28 to ’38.
What made you want to join the MAU?
I’m not an EMT, although I’ve taken a couple of lame attempts at it. My wife and I talked about becoming EMTs. I had some friends that were on the board here. They approached me about joining, and I said that was right up my alley.
Does public service, law enforcement, firefighters run in your family? I know that can be a very Irish thing.
No cops. We are predominantly lawyers and teachers. We’ve got a couple of nuns. With my
position on the council I can serve as liaison. I’ve always considered the service to be the red-haired stepchild of the triad of public safety and actually I’m also on the public safety committee. The bravest. The finest. And us. I love to remind people that odds are against you ever having a fire and a firefighter having to come to your house. Odds are against the police ever having come to your house. Odds favor, in fact it’s almost a certainty, that sooner or later an ambulance will come to your house.
What made you want to join the township council?
I was 59, about to turn 60, in the fall of 2011. I decided I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I’m a lawyer. I was going to either become an EMT or run for council. I was only going to run if I got on a good ticket. I got on a good ticket. I know a lot about the town. I remember a lot about it. I like learning about things. Every time I talk to Gary Obszarny [Director of the Montclair Water and Sewer Utility] I feel like I’m getting my doctorate in water and sewer. I enjoy it.
Some people say that Montclair has changed, and not for the better. Do you agree with that?
There have always been different crops. The previous crop was Hoboken. Now, it’s Brooklyn. I don’t think a town can stagnate. You have to change, you have to grow. There is old Montclair. I love old Montclair. To my feeling Montclair has gotten nothing but better. Now, it’s a restaurant destination. When I was growing up there were six restaurants in town, and none of them all that good. Now there’s 120-something.
Talk to me about your Irish heritage. Have you ever been to Ireland?
The first time I went was 1976. I was traveling with my then friend, now wife, Annie. I had the address of where my great grandfather was born and raised and left by himself at 13 to come here. And never saw his mother again. His sister-in-law was living in the house, and it was a classic Irish thatched-roof cottage.
Did you just say tatched roof?
That’s the only way I ever heard it. Tatched roof [no h]. Annie and me go knock on the door, nothing. I said, “Who knows.” Go across the street and knock on the neighbor’s door. She said, “Oh you’re related to Mrs. Cawley are ya! I’m sure she’s home. Come with me.”
Sure enough, she opened the door, as sweet as could be. She was 83 and a half and she said it multiple times and every time she said it she said the half. It was very important to her.
In “Friends and Neighbors” we spotlight interesting Montclairites doing interesting things. Some of them you might have heard of, others you might not. Answers have been edited for space. Got someone you think we should write about? Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MEET THE NEIGHBOR
Hometown: Glen Ridge.
Family: Wife, Annie; Three kids, Megan, Richard (called Max), Keara Linn, and two grandkids ,Ward Peter, and Maren.
Season: I like the changing of the seasons. Spring.
Pets: None currently. My last rabbit died not too long ago. We’ve had cats and dogs. In my lifetime I’ve had 30-something cats.
First job: My first job, I was 12, and my father, who was a county freeholder, had a friend who had an estate in South Orange. I was kind of the gardener, raking leaves.
Last job: I’m a lawyer. Richard F. McMahon, Esq., attorney at large.
Worst injury ever: No broken bones. When I had my appendix out when I was 15 they couldn’t find it. So my 20-minute operation took three hours.
Ridden in an ambulance: I was in a car accident. Rode in one of these.
Hobby: I have a workshop in my basement and I fix things. My wife runs a preschool, and they break a lot of things, so I fix them. I also have my maple sap boiling to become syrup. I play golf. I bowl. I have a world class iPod, but I do not play anything.
A recent earworm is: Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
Favorite drink: I make my own cherries. I like a rye Manhattan with my own cherries, and some interesting bitters.
Favorite dessert: Ice cream.
Favorite condiment: ketchup.
Hero(es): Walter Cronkite story. A dozen years ago I’m meeting friends at Le Cirque 2000, I went down to the men’s room and come bounding up the stairs and run around the corner and almost knocked over Walter Cronkite. I go “Walter!” and reached out my hand and said “I’ve always wanted to meet you.” He clasped my hand, and had two hands on my one hand. I told him a few years ago I was career counseling and they asked if you could be anybody you wanted to be who would you be and I said “Walter Cronkite.” He pulled me closer and said “I hope you did a little bit better than that.”
When Walter Cronkite said it, it was true. “And that’s the way it is.”
If you could meet anybody, alive or dead: Pete. My friend Pete Wolf. He’s dead.
I said I’d never: say “you’ll understand when you’re my age.”