Lost amid all the media hubbub over Joe O'Brien's election as Mayor of Worcester this week is the fact that before he was a rising star in the Massachusetts political firmament, he was (and remains) a gifted and universally liked and respected Paramedic.
I've had the pleasure of knowing Joe since 1994, when I got my first job in local EMS as an EMT at the Worcester division of MedTrans, where Joe was working as a Paramedic.
(As a side note, MedTrans is a now-defunct service that found itself without a chair when the music stopped in its parent company's attempts to buy AMR; it was finally folded into the latter's brand when corporate overseer Laidlaw decided AMR carried more weight nationally).
From the very beginning you knew there was something different about Joe.
While all Paramedics are convinced we have the answers to any problem in society, few of us actually become active participants in things like local politics.
Joe was one of the exceptions, probably THE most exceptional of the exceptions.
He didn't simply have an opinion, he was involved and he knew the issues inside and out, far beyond the surface knowledge the rest of us gleaned from the newspapers.
Joe was the first one I ever heard -- in the media or anywhere -- mention the name Deval Patrick as a legitimate candidate for higher office, telling me over breakfast one morning during a shift together that he thought Patrick stood a real chance at winning the race for Massachusetts governor should he decide to run.
Anyone who's ever met Joe knows what I mean when I say that he received a triple-helping of that quintessentially Irish ability to make everyone he meets feel like a long-lost friend, and is especially well-known in local EMS circles for bestowing nicknames.
Joe probably called a hundred people "Superdude" or "Super Salad Shooter" in the course of a day, but when he called YOU that name you felt like he really only meant it for you.
He's a phenomenal clinician, as good as any medic I've ever seen in a jam. He is on that very short list of medics I would trust without question to care for my children.
As much as I've always liked Joe, my admiration for him increased exponentially when he and his wife bought a house in Main South, back at a time when that really meant taking a gamble with your own personal safety AND despite the fact that he could have lived just about anywhere.
But Joe always loved Worcester, and truly believed in the goodness of its residents no matter the neighborhood.
I'd be lying if I said I always agreed with Joe politically.
But as I get older I realize more and more that we've made a huge mistake as a nation by picking our leaders dogmatically, when what really matters is character.
So maybe I don't agree with Joe on every issue, in the end it matters not.
The thing I know about Joe O'Brien is that he is a man of incredible integrity and character and intelligence, and Worcester residents couldn't have chosen a better person to lead their city.
Congrats Mistah Mayor.
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