Editor’s Note: We received this letter in response to out Nov/Dec 2010 feature ‘Fighting City: Exploring the Rich History of Boxing in Lowell’ Due to space limitations, we were not able to print the whole letter in our recent issue, but it is presented here in it’s entirety. Copies of this and other back issues are available for $5 each. Just send a check and a note indicating which issues you would like and mail to: Merrimack Valley Magazine PO Box 867 Methuen, MA 01844. For information on article reprints, please call (978) 685-3690.
Dear Mr. Prezzano,
Regarding our phone conversation about my grandfather Phinney Boyle, it was more than a little surprising to see Ms. Lewis refer to his career comebacks as a “day old burrito”! My grandfather, although not proud of how he made his living, managed to put 4 children through college…each with their own outstanding accomplishments. His oldest son, Arthur was an aviation mechanic in the Army Air Corps when he was gunned down by a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941. He was the first Lowell casualty to die in the attack and in his honor the city of Lowell wanted to name the Lowell Memorial Auditorium after him, however Phinney insisted on it being named for all those who lost their lives in that war and those to come. His second child, Ruth immediately following the death of her brother joined the U.S. Marines in service to her country, my dad Francis Jr. went on to join the Navy after a hard won fight, as the last surviving son, himself awarded a medal for bravery, earning the rank of chief petty officer before being honorably discharged after contracting malaria in the Philippine jungle, had it not been for that he would have made it his career, and his youngest child Muriel, went on to join the convent as a teacher with the Ursaline Sisters in Laredo Texas, and just recently retired herself. All had college degrees that Grampa fought so hard to give them. My dad too took up boxing himself (in the navy) and was said to have a very promising career, until Grampa showed up ringside and stuck his head in his sons corner telling him “I didn’t spend my life getting tossed around a canvas only to watch my children do it, so make this a good one cuz it’s your last”! My father often said he prayed the other boxer would kill him so Nana and Grampa didn’t!!! He had a great respect for education and I always remember him being a voracious reader, even with only a 4th grade education. He was never one to talk about his years in the ring but my dad said he used to say he wanted his kids to go as far as his “fists would take them” so they had a chance for something better.
He fought his first bout for $5.00 when he was in the audience and a fighter scheduled for the main bout failed to show up, I believe it was at the Crescent Ring in Lowell. That fight, (which he won) it has been said was incredible, and the money went right home to his mother to help out. That’s the kind of guy he was. When I was small I always wondered why everyone in the city would always yell “hey Phinney” and we could never just go for a walk, he always stopped to talk or to help “a poor bugger down on his luck” even if he didn’t know the person’s name. He was the most humble, appreciative and caring human being that ever came through the ring. I still laugh at a story I read in an old newspaper article about one of his last fights. He had knocked some “kid” down right when the 1st round bell rang, he felt so bad, he picked him up and kept asking if he was okay! It almost caused a riot!!! The Lowell Sun once described his boxing capabilities like ” a symphony in the art of boxing” and the crowds would scream, “dance for us Phinney.” He never went home to his children after an away fight, with bruises on his face. He was just “away at work” like everyone else who was lucky enough to have a job back then, and if you didn’t he always made sure there was food on a neighbors table and toys under the tree for their kids at Christmas. You could always count on him to help, he felt as though the people of Lowell helped him support his family, and God intended for him to return the favor! His trainers son had told me, anytime he fought in Lowell you could always find Grampa with his hands in bandages out on the fire escape pulling his pals up the back way because he couldn’t stand the idea of them having to pay to see him fight! I remember seeing an old newspaper clipping in his old trunk on Ralph St. hidden away with the rest of his scrapbooks that his brother Mike put together, he himself an incredible boxer. There was an old boxer Patsy Cline who said in an interview about Phinney, “you can’t catch him never mind get a shot at him”! Everything Phinney did he gave it his all. Even raising his children, he encouraged them to lead a life of character, love of God and country, and pride in yourself knowing you’ve done the best you could at the end of the day. This is what his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren know best about him and from him. On December 7, 1972, 30 yrs to the day his son died fighting for his country, God also took Phinney home. There was a picture in the Lowell Sun (also published in Look magazine) of my Father when he joined the Navy. He is on a Naval ship with his Commander, and underneath the caption reads “THE FIGHTING BOYLES FIGHT ON”…. and we always will for all the right reasons. It is for these reasons and for what he stood for that Ms. Lewis’ comparison about his career in boxing were very unfair as she so obviously never took the time to understand a true boxer from Lowell, and why they step in or (or up) in the first place.
( In 2005 Phinney Boyle was inducted into the New England Boxing Hall of Fame with an unheard of 118 fights. )