The Boston Irish Honors 2016 Exemplary Boston Irish Family: Jim and Mary Judge

Devotion to faith, family, good works fill center of the Judge family universe

Photo by Margaret Brett HastingsPhoto by Margaret Brett Hastings
Jim Judge will never forget the day he encountered his future father-in-law, Jack Cahill, on the front stairs of a three-decker on Holiday Street in Dorchester. It was early in his courtship of Mary Cahill and it was a Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. Jack carefully balanced his way down the stoop while carrying an aluminum platter bulging with a freshly cooked ham, a holiday meal prepared by his wife, Maura. As was the case every Easter, and on most holidays, it was a home cooked meal with all the fixings and it was en route to the Pine Street Inn.

A few months earlier, Jack had been abruptly “let go” from his job as a steel craftsman at the All Stainless company. He’d worked there for 19-and-a-half years and was just about to be eligible for a pension when he was cut loose. For the first time since he emigrated to America from Cork City in 1954, he was without a job.

“You can imagine, they had nine kids and he was out of work for six months,” recalls Jim Judge, now 60. “And here he was, bringing this meal out of his home and heading for the shelter. It was a simple gesture, but it impacted me, greatly given the turmoil in his own life.”

“It was an indication of the character that’s in her DNA,” says Judge, 60, referring to Mary, his wife of 35 years. It was also a character trait that Judge, himself born and raised in St. Peter’s Parish on the side of Meetinghouse Hill, knew well from his own home.

“I’m so fortunate that my parents are still alive,” Judge told the BIR in a recent interview. “My dad [Jim] was a Boston cop who retired at 65 after 30 years of working nights in Roxbury. My mom [Cathy] was a volunteer librarian at St. Peter’s and a daily presence there. “At my core, I’m just a guy from St. Peter’s and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Since their marriage in 1981, Jim and Mary Judge have raised a family of four – Courtney, James, Sean, and Jack. More recently, they have welcomed five grandchildren to the fold. They now live in Hanover, but are fixtures in Boston’s neighborhoods to this day, giving back with the same quiet, purposeful resolve that Judge spotted in Jack Cahill’s face on a Dorchester porch back in the early 1970s.

The Judges have thrived in more public ways in recent years. Last April, in a promotion that made headlines across the country, Jim was named the new president and CEO of Eversource Energy, the utility company that serves more than 3.6 million customers across New England. Judge, who had served as the company’s chief financial officer since 1995, succeeded Tom May, 68, who had led the company for more than two decades.

Just months into his role as CEO, Judge’s path from St. Peter’s Grammar School to his current perch atop the Pru still seems like a stretch, even to the couple themselves.

“I’ve said to him so many times, Jimmy and I never had a dream when we started out,” recalls Mary. “It was simply to have a good life, a good marriage, and a good family. We just dug in and worked hard every day. When he was named CFO at 37, I remember we were both really stunned. It was a leap of faith on Tom May’s part. But it was really about work ethic. And no one has worked harder than Jimmy has.”

There’s no question where he learned it.

“My parents were born here in Roxbury, but were of very strong Irish descent and very proud of it,” explains Jim. “My father’s parents were from Lahardene, at the foot of a mountain in County Mayo. My mother’s roots were Bantry Bay, Cork. She is a McCarthy and she was always quick to tell anyone that the McCarthys were the kings of Ireland.

His dad played the accordion and his mum had a “very good singing voice.” They performed what Jim remembers as a “kitchen racket” — a kind of in-home seisiun that fueled the party at any occasion.

“There were lots of Irish songs every Christmas and really on any holiday, or any wedding or wake, they were the cornerstone. I loved it and so did my extended family,” said Jim, who marvels not only at his dad’s long career as a policeman, but at his mother’s work as a librarian and the generation that preceded her as new arrivals to Boston.

“My mother has fond memories of her grand aunts. They came here and they played the traditional roles of domestics, working for wealthy families. So many of our roots come from that generation that did what it took to succeed. I’m proud of those roots.”
For families like the Judges and the Cahills, life in 1960s and 70s Dorchester extended just beyond the parlors and porches of tightly-packed three-decker battleships and into Ronan Hall, the school gym at the parish school, and the ball fields of the hilltop park that was also named for the founding pastor at St. Peter’s.

“Ninety-five percent of our life was St. Peter’s church,” recalled Mary, who is the eldest girl in a family that included her older brothers Jim and Shaun, followed by Donal, Gerry, Peggy, Noreen, Kathleen, and Patrick.

“All of us when to parochial school. We left the house at 7:45 and were back home for lunch. My parents were very involved— dad was a collector and was very involved with St. Vincent de Paul Society. And, every St. Patrick’s Day, we all walked out with an Irish bread to bring to each of the nuns.”

Jim and Mary have known each other since their sandbox days. “He likes to tell people he met me in diapers,” laughs Mary. It’s almost certainly true. “He’s been my brother’s best friend since kindergarten.”

Mary’s oldest brother, Jim Cahill, met Jim Judge at age 6 and the two, along with a crew of six other neighborhood kids, became best buddies for life. When they weren’t in class or working, they played CYO baseball and BNBL hoops in Ronan Park. The park was their refuge well into adulthood and even after many of them moved from the neighborhood.

“Jim hit the lottery because of his parents,” recalls Jim Cahill. “His father was a Boston Police officer and gave him a lot of guidance. None of our friends had dads in BPD or in the utilities and some of them came from dysfunctional homes. But Jim and I were lucky enough. We came from strict, immigrant households and our parents led by example.”

“Jim’s dad wasn’t a typical cop. He was calm, nice, a straight guy. He wasn’t an A type personality to Jim and his sister Cathy. He worked hard. So Jim was very disciplined in academics and was always working, too – with paper routes, summer jobs with city, you name it.”

Jim cut his own trail away from Meetinghouse Hill in high school— trekking out daily to the wilds of West Roxbury to attend Catholic Memorial.

“Jim didn’t go there as part of a crowd, he was the only one from our group in St. Peter’s,” said Cahill. “But he had a strong commitment to what was bred in him in those eight years with the nuns in St Peter’s. And the Christian Brothers continued that.”

Cahill was delighted when his best friend and his older sister became an item. “I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “I think any time your best friend is marrying your sister, we were all very happy about that. And they were both St Peter’s people.”

The couple’s most direct connection to Ireland is through Mary’s family. Her mom Maura, the oldest of seven Scanlan children, met her father Jack on a train to Cork City from Dublin, where they’d both attended an All-Ireland hurling match. “He said to her: I’d like to see you tomorrow night, but first I’m doing a novena,” says Mary.

They were married in Cork in 1954 and that fall they made “the leap” across the pond. “It was a fluke, really,” said Mary. “My mother’s younger brother – my uncle Liam – was a delayed vocation and went into the priesthood and he offered the visa to my parents and they said ‘yes.’ ”

They were sponsored locally by one of her mother’s uncles, James Courtney, who had emigrated to Boston in the 1930s. Maura, who had two years of business school education, a rarity for a woman at the time, took a job at Jordan Marsh. Jack, who left a sure-fire job offer in Cork, struggled to find employment in Massachusetts, but eventually landed in the stainless steel factory.

Even as they began to raise their young family in Somerville, Cambridge, and, later, Dorchester, Ireland still beckoned. They nearly moved back to Cork in the early 1960s, but they were reluctant since their young children were not Irish citizens.

“My mother was very homesick,” said Mary, who noted that Maura and Jack were the only members of their immediate families to leave Ireland. “They both left big extended families. I have 104 first cousins in Ireland.”

The Cahill connection has become the Judge family’s most endearing link with the Ould Sod. Her mom’s father, Sean Scanlan, was one of the Fenians who rose in rebellion against the crown in 1916 and read Padraig Pearse’s Proclamation of the Irish Republic aloud in Cork City.

“It was always so much a part of who we were, but especially in the last eight years, we’ve learned so much from my mom,” said Mary, who spent the summer in Cork with her parents in 1969 and still visits regularly, often on large family trips. “We go back and forth a lot. But I think from the historical side I’m much more invested in it. I cannot believe the suffering and the lives these people had.”

Recently, the Judge and Cahill family made a donation to build a practice facility for St. Finbarr’s National Hurling and Football Club in Cork City. It’s the team that Mary’s father, himself a top level GAA player, played for before leaving home.
Jim observes: “We go every couple of years with her extended family — over 30 of us go over. And it’s exposed me to the Irish culture I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”

The Cahill clan moved their camp to Milton in 1973 “very reluctantly,” and Jim and Mary were married in 1981 in her new parish, St. Gregory’s in Lower Mills. They had started dating around age 19, after Mary graduated from Monsignor Ryan Memorial and took a job at Boston Edison. Jim would soon make his way to the Edison, too, after completing his studies at Babson College.
“Jimmy was the first in his family to go to college among his cousins,” recalls Mary. “That work ethic was the same with his schoolwork. He studied the longest, he was the last one at the library.”

“The other night we were at a wedding and a woman said to me, ‘I met your husband 30 years ago and I told my husband, I think I just met the next CEO of Boston Edison. He was so smart and so great with people.’”

Judge says his experience at the Eversource helm so far has been like an extended “honeymoon” period.

“Tom May did a wonderful job in terms of passing the baton. The company just finished our best year ever in terms of reliability,” he said. “I’ve got 8,000 dedicated employees that I continue to be blessed with and they really do try to do the very best they can every day.”

Judge’s focus is on continuing to position Eversource, already ranked number one in its industry for clean energy efficiency, to rely less on fossile based fuels.

“It can’t happen overnight. We still need bridge fuels. But our company is at the leading edge of that shift in the paradigm.”
Boston Globe CEO Mike Sheehan, a friend and admirer who was an honoree at the Boston Irish Honors last year, says Judge “rose to the top the old-fashioned way— he earned it.”

“There is no bluster to Jim. And why should there be? He knows what he’s doing, and he leads by example. Clearly, actions speak louder than words with Jim,” said Sheehan. “Nobody makes it to the top without a lot of hard work and a little luck. Jim knows how lucky he’s been, coming from a strong family and having deep roots in his neighborhood and community. He doesn’t take any of it for granted.”

Staying Grounded
Jim and Mary keep their family rooted in giving back as well. On Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, with help from donors like SullyMac and Lambert’s Rainbow Fruit, the Judges and the Cahills descend on a home near their old St. Peter’s stomping grounds. The Quincy Street house is headquarters for the Little Sisters of the Poor – Saint Teresa’s order of nuns – where they work a day-long effort to feed local families in need. Over the last 20 years, they have provided relief to hundreds of Dorchester and Roxbury families at no cost— other than a compulsory prayer.

“The nuns hold them up and make them say the rosary,” Judge says matter-of-factly. “We’ll be there again next month. Our entire family participates and it’s a wonderful experience.”

Judge has been a key ally for another important cause rooted in the old neighborhood. He serves as a board member of College Bound Dorchester, which focuses on steering kids away from gangs and into two or four year colleges as a means of interrupting generational poverty and violence. The program is particularly active along the Bowdoin Street corridor where Jim and Mary were raised.

“Jim is a quiet and humble champion for Dorchester who put our youth and their future first in all that he did,” said Mark Culliton, who runs the College Bound organization. “He is a Dorchester kid who did well and understands it’s his responsibility to give back. In his years of service he has been responsible for bringing more than half a million in funding to the students of College Bound. Jim and his wife Mary never forgot where they are from and the debt they owe their community. They quietly give and give to create a better future for the next generation of Dorchester kids.”

The Judges carry Dorchester, and the people they met there, wherever they go.

“Our closest friends to this day are Jim’s friends from first grade. We’ve had lots of friends along the way but we were never a couple that cared about your checkbook. When we bought our first two-family house on Ashmont Street, we used to say to each other, ‘Who’s luckier than us?’” says Mary. “I think we just never lost who we were. We’ve been around people who lost their moral compass. But we were brought up by parents who put faith and family first. And we have.”

“The family is the center of our lives,” agrees Jim. “To have my parents at their age – and Mary’s mom is 91– we’re just so fortunate. The rapport that they have with that next generation is so special to see. The values that they were able to try and instill in their children—you can see it in the personalities of the future generations. We’re so lucky to have these role models in our lives.”