EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 19, 2013

Editorial: Cheers for some local newsmakers

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Cheers to Virginia Cleary, whose remarkable persistence and devotion to the memory of her brother, Marine Cpl. Robert Daniel Corriveau, finally won him the honors he deserved for his service in Vietnam. Corriveau, a 20-year-old from Lawrence, was branded a deserter when he went missing from Philadelphia Naval Hospital in 1968. Cleary, then a teen, refused to believe her beloved and doting big brother would become a deserter. “Not this Marine, so proud in his uniform,” she told reporter Mark Vogler.

So began a quest that spanned more than four decades to clear her brother’s name and bring honor and dignity to his memory. She was told again and again to “let it go,” she would never find out what happened to her brother, she was told. She wouldn’t let it go — “I have never walked away from a fight,” said Cleary, now 59 and living in North Conway, N.H. In the end, she proved with the help of DNA evidence that her brother was the victim of a homicide — he was the unidentified “John Doe” whose body was found on the Pennsylvania Turnpike about the time Cpl. Robert Daniel Corriveau was reported missing. This week, the city dedicated the corner of Hampshire and Alder streets, near his boyhood home, as Corriveau Square — an honor that would have been impossible until his name had been cleared. Lawrence’s veterans services director, Jaime Melendez movingly at the ceremony — not only about Corriveau but also about his sister. Cleary’s long battle to correct an injustice, he said, reflects “the spirit of the warrior ethos — that we will never leave a fallen comrade.”

CHEERS to the memory of Joseph S. Giuffrida, the longtime Lawrence city assessor, who died Sunday at age 89, five years after retiring. Resident of many cities and towns would likely be hard-pressed to name their assessor. Not so with Joe, as everyone called him. Gregarious and affable, he seemed to know everyone, not just through his interaction with the public at City Hall but also through his community involvement, especially in the Italian-American causes that were so dear to his heart. Joe also took his job — and his role as public servant — very seriously.

He knew his work wasn’t about crunching numbers but about helping people. Talking to him was like talking to a friend and neighbor — not some officious bureaucrat. Giuffrida, who served under nine mayors, said the late John Joseph Buckley was the one who gave him advice he lived by: “He said, ‘Be honest, be truthful, be fair and you’ll never get in trouble.’” Today’s public servants could learn from Joe Giuffrida’s example.

CHEERS to Haverhill’s “Hug a Bear” ladies — also known as Marie Gelinas, Patricia Currence, Patricia Leavitt, Lucille Rafferty, Annette Konieczny, Lillian Brenick, Delia Perez, Dolly Reardon, Cecile Lessard, Francine Keenan, Ysaura Ramona, Mary Tracy, Larette Gagne and Beverly Cerulo. The group of 14 retired women gather each Thursday in a basement workshop at the Haverhill Senior Center to chat, trade recipes, share news about their grandchildren — and make teddy bears to comfort children in times of distress. There’s a lot of that out there — the ladies make 35 bears a week on average.

The bears are distributed to kids through local help agencies like Lazarus House but are also sent around the country when natural disasters occur. “Our bears really get around,” said one of the group, Cecile Lessard, who spent 47 years in the dry-cleaning business and is quick to tell you she doesn’t miss it. Like all volunteers, the “Hug a Bear” ladies will tell you they get at least as much out of their work as the beneficiaries of their handiwork. It keeps them connected to the community and to each other, one of the keys to a fulfilling retirement. “The other day, I spent eight hours ironing the material and loved every minute of it,” Lessard told reporter Mike LaBella. “I can’t sit at home all day and watch TV.”