Dennis P. Sullivan, beloved husband, father and brother, died Dec. 4. A resident of Acton, MA for more than 40 years and a part-time resident of Tramore, Co. Waterford, Ireland, he was well-known and loved in both communities. He was 83.
Dennis went to Chaminade High School, in New York’s Long Island, where he claimed he had the best role ever for an athlete: second string quarterback. He said he didn’t get the uniform dirty and the girls at the sock hop afterwards didn’t watch the game anyway. He did, in fact, make first string but he liked the story the way he told it.
Basketball and baseball were his real strengths. He was first string not only on Chaminade’s baseball and basketball teams, but also at Manhattan College, while getting a BA in English. He was courted by two Major League Baseball clubs (for the fastball he was justly proud of) but went to Ireland instead to study Irish literature at Trinity College, Dublin -- and play basketball for the Irish national team in European competitions. Some Irish papers called him the best basketball player in Ireland, but another, although agreeing, insisted on referring to him as “American-born Dennis Sullivan.” (His cricket playing, not so successful: his fastball cracked the wicket.)
In the basketball offseason in Ireland, he boxed. His story is that he lost twenty or more pounds drinking Guinness. As he told it, he would sleep till noon, study at the library until five or six, go to the gym and work out with the big bag and sparring partners for several hours, then hit the pub, have a bunch of Guinness stouts, and repeat.
Somewhere in that schedule he met Doreen Ryan. He told a friend on the night he met her that he had just met his future wife. After a courtship that was partly trans-Atlantic -- Doreen was a flight attendant for Aer Lingus at the time -- the prediction came true and the two were married in a church in Waterford. The priest was Doreen's Uncle Eddie.
He took his bride to the U.S. and went straight into the Navy. After training in Florida and Georgia, the young couple settled in La Jolla, California -- as ‘settled’ as a Navy couple can be with long aircraft carrier deployments, some lasting the better part of a year. In one tour, off the coast of Vietnam, he flew 100 combat missions, which meant 100 carrier landings. Despite the absences they managed to start having children: four in five years.
After leaving the Navy, the growing family moved to Flushing, Queens, in New York. Dennis joined the telephone company’s year-long training program, but switched careers to IBM, which also had an extensive training program, leaving him to quip that he was nearly 30 before he worked a day in his life. Anyone who knew Dennis knows he liked a wisecrack.
At IBM he started as a salesman, introduced to the company by his friend Fred Weile. It was a good recommendation -- his first year in sales, he was number one in the country. He was so good that he rose to become a branch manager, which came with a move to Boston. His wisecrack on that score was that he could really sell computers and parts; he just couldn’t use them. At one point he was paying college tuition for all four of his children - their educations and careers were among the things he was most proud of, as he constantly reminded those who would listen.
He liked IBM so much, he retired twice: first from sales, then from a division making computer parts for other companies (another Fred recommendation). He was loved by his colleagues and formed friendships that lasted well beyond retirement.
The two pillars of his life were his family and his faith. From the earliest days of their marriage Dennis and Doreen were volunteering at their local churches, and especially found a niche in helping young people, through programs such as Teen Encounter in Methuen, Ma., and married couples, via Marriage Encounter. He was active in church affairs as a ready volunteer in projects that included feeding the hungry. He also was a non-paid member of the local housing board and a long-time member of the Acton Lions.
Dennis was a dedicated grandfather, attending games, dance recitals, plays and sacraments throughout the lives of his seven grandsons and seven granddaughters. Later, he would rope in any who would join him in a round of golf, arguably his third pillar in life.
In retirement, Dennis played at the Maynard Golf Course only on days it didn’t snow. In Ireland, where the family keeps a home, he played at the Tramore Golf Club every day that it didn’t rain. And, as he reported back to friends and family in the United States, it never, ever, rains in Ireland.
Dennis is survived by Doreen, his wife of nearly 60 years; their four children, Eamonn Sullivan (Theresa), Kathleen Sullivan, Dara Duhamel (Michael), and Beth Kurina (Stephen); 14 grandchildren, Cormac Duhamel, Kelly Gutoski (Greg), Brendan Duhamel; Lilly, Drew, Anna, John, Tess and Ryan Kurina; Ailish Sullivan (David Lawrence), Aidan Sullivan, Liam Sullivan (Graham Thomas), Cara Sullivan (Liam McCafferty), and Shana Sullivan (Jesse Harford); three great-grandchildren (Emily, Chloe, and Ash); and siblings, Patrick, Robert and Kathleen.
Relatives and friends are invited to visiting hours on Wednesday, December 8th from 5:00-8:00PM in the Acton Funeral Home 470 Massachusetts Avenue (Rte. 111) Acton. A funeral Mass will be celebrated on Thursday, December 9th at 10:00AM in St Elizabeth of Hungary Church, 89 Arlington Street Acton. Burial will follow at the Massachusetts Veteran's Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon at 2:00PM.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Mr. Sullivan's memory to the Acton Lions Club, PO box 2391, Acton, MA 01720.