Jack Hynes was a pro, and a friend when it counted

Jack Hynes was one of the classiest guys I ever worked with in Boston television, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Jack, who died Monday at age 88, was an old-school gentleman, always understated, never losing his cool.

After he retired, it was always great to see Jack down in Chatham. Whenever I had a book signing at the Yellow Umbrella on Main Street, he’d drop by and we’d catch up on current events. I called him a couple of times recently on his cell phone, but he never picked up. I should have tried harder.

Jack was one of the last living links to several threads of Massachusetts history, one of which was Chappaquiddick. But first let me tell you my most memorable conversation with Jack Hynes.

It must have been 30 years ago. He was the anchor at the old Ch. 56 on Morrissey Boulevard, and I was a part-time reporter/commentator. To get to Ch. 56 from the old Herald, I had to drive by Whitey Bulger’s liquor store, the South Boston Liquor Mart.

In the warmer months, Whitey and his fellow serial killer Stevie Flemmi would hold court out on the sidewalk next to the traffic rotary, so that they couldn’t be bugged.

Anyway, Whitey knew who I was, and he also recognized my car, so whenever I drove through the rotary, he’d always fix me with a long, baleful glare. It was not pleasant, but what could I do? He had police protection, and I didn’t.

Needless to say, I never set foot inside the Liquor Mart. If I wanted a road beer after work, I would cut across Preble Street to Andrew Square.

Anyway, one night I am in the Ch. 56 newsroom editing my tape package, and Jack comes up to me and says in his usual mild, soft-spoken way:

“Howie, I stopped by the Liquor Mart last night to buy a bottle of wine.”

Now he had my complete attention. He said he’d gone up to the counter to pay, and some thug he didn’t recognize had struck up a conversation.

“Jack,” the plug ugly said, “how come Howie never comes in here?” Jack shrugged, because he was from the old “I-didn’t-see-you-you-didn’t-see-me” school of dummying up.

“Well, listen Jack,” the guy told him, “you tell Howie, if he ever comes in, we got a fresh dumpster out back just waiting for him. It’ll be another Robin Benedict.”

Robin Benedict was the Combat Zone hooker murdered by her Tufts professor boyfriend. He dismembered her body and tossed it into a dumpster. Her remains were never found.

I thanked Jack for the information. Both of us knew there was nothing we could do. It just showed how brazen the Bulger mob was – one of Whitey’s thugs felt he could casually tell a major Boston media figure, the son of a former mayor no less, that the brother of the state Senate president wouldn’t be averse to murdering another high-profile semi-civilian, namely me.

Those were the good old days all right.

Jack’s connection was Chappaquiddick was through his first TV employer, Ch. 5. After Teddy pleaded guilty to reduced charges the Friday after he killed Mary Jo Kopechne, the Kennedys needed a TV feed for Teddy’s half-assed mea culpa from Hyannis Port. They wanted Ch. 5 to handle it because the station GM, Hal Clancy, was an old Joe Kennedy hand.

They also preferred Ch. 5 because the anchor would be… Jack Hynes, whose father, John B. Hynes, had in the 1949 mayor’s fight finally eliminated that longtime political thorn in the side of the Kennedy family, James Michael Curley. I think Teddy’s handlers figured he might be slightly less panicked if he were sharing the set with the son of the man who had avenged his beloved grandfather, Honey Fitz.

So Jack Hynes was in Hyannis Port that evening, introducing Ted on national television. Fat Boy read his prepared statement, after which he turned from the first Ch. 5 camera to the second one. He then began speaking, supposedly extemporaneously, to the people of Massachusetts, humbly seeking our advice and counsel.

“But actually,” Jack Hynes said, “Teddy had his cousin Joe Gargan beside the second camera, holding cue cards with the entire second statement blocked out on them. Teddy no more ad-libbed his second ‘personal’ statement than he did the first.”

Why are we not surprised?

Anyway, Joe Gargan passed on in December, and now Jack Hynes too is gone.

But Jack, I’m thinking of you today, just as I used to think of you every night after I finished my shift at Ch. 56 and headed down Preble Street to Andrew Square. Let me just say one final time, Jack, thanks for the heads-up.

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