Barbara McDonough, who delighted Dorchester Reporter readers for more than three decades with her accounts of daily life in Neponset and beyond, died on New Year’s Eve, just a few minutes before the arrival of 2022. She was 87.
Barbara was the Reporter’s longest-serving columnist and a regular presence in the newspaper’s offices from 1983 until her retirement in 2015. She had been in poor health for the last two years after she lost her husband of 59 years — Vinnie— in 2019. She was living in a nursing home in Quincy at the time of her death.
Barbara L. Short grew up in Jamaica Plain, but spent most of her life on Rowley Street in the Pope’s Hill section of Dorchester, where she stayed active as a mother, teacher, civic activist, parishioner, volunteer, and journalist.
She leaves three children: Paul and his wife, Alexandra Rubington, of Framingham; Susan of Dorchester; and Jeanne and her husband David Pratt of Rockport; two grandchildren, Brendan Pratt and Erin Pratt, and her fiancé Brendan O’Connell. She is also survived by many nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.
Early in her professional career, from 1956 to 1961, Barbara taught at the Adams School in Weymouth. Vinnie was a Boston public schoolteacher and a retired assistant principal.
Barbara’s byline appeared in the very first edition of the Dorchester Reporter, which began as a monthly publication in 1983. “View from Pope’s Hill,” her weekly column, continued with very few interruptions through Dec. 2015, when she retired at age 81.
Her early columns were straight-forward accounts of the agenda items and speakers at the Pope’s Hill Neighborhood Association, a civic group for which she served as recording secretary. But, as the years progressed, her news scope shifted more broadly to happenings in greater Dorchester and beyond, and, increasingly, to the comings and goings of friends, relatives, and neighbors.
In addition to her weekly column, she tracked milestone moments each week in a section dubbed “Bubble’s Birthdays and Special Occasions” and helped to keep track of death notices. She also compiled the “Neighborhood Notables” section, a summary of civic meetings, volunteer opportunities and other events around the neighborhoods. For many years, much of her work was accomplished using “old-school” methods.
In a 2015 profile published on the occasion of her retirement, former Boston Globe reporter Jack Thomas wrote: “Although she has a computer,
instead of using email, she prefers the square, yellow sticky notes that she leaves for colleagues, and despite being in the communications business, she has never owned a cell phone. ‘I don’t want one,’ she says. ‘I’m not technological, and if I owned a cell phone, I’d botch it. I’d be calling China and everyplace else.’”
Thomas continued: “Despite her many years of experience, she retains the enthusiasm of a cub reporter, and appears free of the cynicism that calcifies older reporters. She still gets what she calls “goose bumps” when she meets even pseudo celebrities, however common.
“‘I went to a coffee hour given by the police in Lower Mills,’ she recalls, ‘and after I shook hands with Bill Evans, the police commissioner, I told him I was so proud to have shaken hands with him that I’d never wash that hand again. Am I talking too much? I’m sorry. I write like I talk. I can’t do it any other way. I’m not high falutin.’”
In that same article, Reporter publisher and editor Bill Forry told Thomas that no effort would be made to find a replacement for Barbara’s “View” column.
“If there’s anyone as devoted to the craft as Barbara, then we’d welcome it,” said Forry. “But I don’t know that such a person is out there. You’d have to have somebody who never tires of going to the Keystone Club or breakfast and lunches, over and over, year after year. Other folks might say, ‘Okay, I’ve had enough,’ but she never tired of any of it. She finds her groove in events that are traditional.”
In fact, Barbara did file one final “View from Popes Hill” column for a special Dorchester Day edition in June 2020. Suffering from macular degeneration, she leaned— as she so often did— on her daughter Sue to assist in its composition. In it, she relayed sad news of the loss of her beloved “Hubby,” before catching her readers up on her life back home on Pope’s Hill during the early months of the pandemic.
“We, along with our Houghton Street neighbors, go outside at 7 p.m. to bang our pots, pans, and noisemakers in honor of those who are caring for those who are sick with Covid-19. I am so proud of my granddaughter Erin, who was featured in an article in The Boston Globe two weeks ago about the isolation hotel in Revere. Erin, a nurse, and a medical assistant were shown putting on their personal protective equipment before making their rounds.”
She closed with these words: “I want to thank my family (especially Sue), my close neighbors, my telephone pals, and those who send me such great greeting cards for remembering me. Happy Birthday, Dorchester!”
Barbara’s wake is set for Wed., Jan. 5 at the Alfred D. Thomas Funeral Home, 326 Granite Ave., Milton from 3 to 7 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. Christopher Church, 265 Mt. Vernon St, Dorchester, on Thursday morning Jan. 6, at 10 a.m. Interment will follow in Cedar Grove Cemetery, Dorchester. Relatives and friends are respectfully invited to attend.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, 800 Columbia Rd., Dorchester, MA 02125 or to a charity of your choice.