EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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November 19, 2013

Editorial: Cheers for some local newsmakers


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.”

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