By Ray Lamont
---- — On many a morning, Richard Gaines would walk through the front doors of the Gloucester Daily Times, exchange a few brief hellos, and then walk briskly to his desk in the far left corner of the newsroom, sit down and make the first of what would seem like hundreds of phone calls.
“I’m going to cause some trouble today,” he’d proclaim.
He would mouth those words with both a twinkle in his eye and a profound sense of pride.
For Gaines, gone suddenly at 69 after being found dead in his swimming pool Sunday, relished causing trouble for officials and others who had wrongly caused trouble for residents — and especially, in recent years, for Gloucester’s, New England’s and the nation’s fishermen.
A 40-year journalist — primarily covering Statehouse and Gloucester City Hall politics — and an 11-year veteran of the Gloucester Daily Times, Gaines was remembered Monday by state and local officials and especially by fishermen and advocates for the industry for his persistent and expansive coverage of fishery issues once he jumped into a coverage beat created at the Times in 2008.
“The fishermen — Gloucester fishermen and fishermen everywhere — have lost a real, true friend,” said longtime City Councilor John “Gus” Foote, who dealt with Gaines for years on City Hall issues and paid a visit to the Times Monday to extend condolences on Gaines’ passing. “We didn’t always see everything eye-to-eye, but we respected each other. He was a good, good man.”
An ‘extinguished light’
“It’s like a light has been extinguished — a light that always kept looking for the truth,” attorney and former New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang said. “He not only was a great investigative journalist, but he could present what he had found in a way that changed and forged public opinion.”
“Richard had an unusual ability to separate right from wrong,” said Brian Rothschild, a noted marine scientist and charter professor of marine science and technology at UMass-Dartmouth. “He could explain the differences. He could articulate the ethical and moral issues that impeded progress, (and) he did all of this with grace and skill. Richard’s skill magnifies the vacuum created by his passing.”
Gaines, who grew up in Newburgh, N.Y., but whose family were regular summer visitors to Gloucester, honed his skills and passion for journalism as Statehouse reporter with United Press International in the 1960s and ‘70s. A graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., he then moved on to serve as political writer and later as editor-in-chief at The Boston Phoenix from 1979 through 1989, when, under his leadership, the alternative publication carved out a niche in investigative political coverage, placing as a runner up for a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.
Along the way, he also authored a book profiling then-Gov. Michael Dukakis’ rise to challenge then-Vice President George Bush in the 1988 presidential election. The book, titled “Dukakis: The Man Who Would Be President,” drew a lot of attention and sold well in paperback form, Gaines’ wife, Nancy, recalled Monday.
He then shifted to political consulting, working with a U.S. Senate run by James Rappaport, who challenged then-Sen. John Kerry in 1990. And he moved to Florida, working on a congressional campaign and both journalistic and marketing projects there before returning to the Boston area. He joined the staff of the Times in 2002, covering City Hall and other local political races, including for state offices, Congress and U.S. Senate.
“He was always an insightful and penetrating questioner,” said Salem Congressman John Tierney, who drew pointed questions from Gaines over the years, yet worked well with him in getting out word about recent fishery-related legislation. “He was just a good guy with a good heart and a good soul.”
In that sense, Gaines was an old-school journalist. He endured but constantly struggled with changes in technology. He was also an avid sports fan and proud family man, deeply committed to his wife and her work as a journalist, too, whether as a Times correspondent or for her work as co-founder of Boston Business Journal and writer with Improper Bostonian.
“Richard and I spent many hours together talking over the past 10 years,” Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Monday. “Never did he seem happier though as when speaking of his grandchildren, or his daughter’s joy of being a (high) school basketball coach, or being able to tune into Internet radio to hear an interview given by his son across the country, or when speaking of the accomplishments of his wife Nancy.
“The city of Gloucester offers its sincere condolences to Richard’s family,” the mayor said. “Their loss is our community’s loss, too.”
Calling hours Friday
In addition to his wife, he leaves a son Benjamin of Utah, a daughter Rachel of Boston, three grandchildren, and his stepsons, Eric Pomerene of Holbrook and Samuel Pomerene of Dennis. There are, as of yet, no firm plans for a memorial service, but there will be calling hours Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Greely Funeral Home, 212 Washington St.
Gaines seemed to find a new level of journalistic passion in 2008, when he embraced the opportunity to cover the harborfront and the commercial fishing industry on a daily basis.
From the delayed U.S. Coast Guard response to the fishing boat Patriot in January 2009, to the uncovering of wrongdoing on the part of NOAA law enforcement and the federal-led push for a catch share management system that has brought about a recognized “economic disaster” in New England’s groundfishery, he wrote proudly about Gloucester as a “co-capital of fishing nation” in addition to being America’s oldest seaport. And he gave voice at every turn to rank-and-file fishermen and their dealings with federal regulators.
“I received calls from a number of fishermen whose hearts were broken at the news that a family member had passed,” state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante said Monday. The push by her and state Sen. Bruce Tarr for fishery reforms was well chronicled by Gaines from the start, and soon sparked national calls for changes within NOAA and an Inspector General’s investigation into NOAA enforcement.
“My hope,” Ferrante added Monday, “is that Richard will be remembered as a generous mentor who taught so many of us to look beyond the smoke and mirrors of politics and into the authenticity of individuals and their communities’ collective souls.
“Richard’s legacy should be about putting a spotlight on rights and wrongs and of encouraging and giving others the courage the do the same, whether they be bureaucrats, politicians, young aspiring writers — or just simply fishermen,” she said. “I will truly miss Richard, the self-righteous warrior who would mount his white horse of social justice not with the sword but with the pen trying to keep all things equal and honest.”
That passion and commitment to uncovering injustice also drew notice from others, inside and outside the fishing and journalistic worlds. And accolades for Gaines and his work poured into the Times Monday.
Coakley, Brown accolades
“Richard embodied a passion for robust local coverage and his daily stories will be deeply missed,” state Attorney General Martha Coakley said Monday in sending her condolences to Gaines’ family and to the Times. “His outstanding, in-depth reporting on the fishing industry will serve as a lasting contribution to the Gloucester community, the commonwealth, and the nation.”
She was joined by Scott Brown, who defeated her in the 2011 special election Senate race.
“One of my lasting memories of Richard came in the fall of 2011 during an early Saturday morning press conference in Gloucester,” Brown wrote in an email to the Times. “... As I looked out to the crowd, I saw Richard standing there, wearing a flannel jacket, notebook and pen in hand,” he added. Members of the community and elected officials came up and greeted him warmly, aware they were standing in the presence of an advocate and a friend of the fishing profession that meant so much to all of them.”
Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Cameron Kerry — brother of Secretary of State and former Sen. John Kerry — also issued a statement on Gaines’ passing. “I was greatly saddened to learn of the passing of Richard Gaines,” wrote Kerry, whose department, as umbrella agency for NOAA, has frequently been a target of Gaines’ critical eyes. “For close to 30 years, I’ve known Richard through his reporting as an award-winning journalist, first when he was the political writer for United Press International, then as political writer and editor-in-chief at The Boston Phoenix, and finally as staff writer at the Gloucester Daily Times.
“Richard didn’t hesitate to call our agencies out on stories about the fishing industry, an issue important to his Gloucester community and across New England,” Kerry wrote, “but that’s what the press is for, and I respect Richard’s passion and intensity in pursuit of a story and his vivid writing.”
In September 2010, Gaines and the Times were honored with the Offshore Mariners’ Wives “Friends of the Fishermen” awards, presented annually in conjunction with that city’s Blessing of the Fleet. It marked the first time that the award — whose past winners included then-Mayor Lang and Congressman Barney Frank — had ever gone to a journalist, and Gaines, who shunned awards and any recognition, was clearly touched.
“I consider this award the highest and most gratifying in my 42 years of scribbling, trying to decipher what’s happening to our civilization and giving readers a series of stories that can be read as a narrative to help them decide what to do about it,” he told about 100 in New Bedford’s State Fish Pier that day. “This is my Pulitzer Prize — and I will cherish it always.
“We row as best we can against that tide,” Gaines said, referring to the fishing industry and the Times’ coverage of it. “Inspired by Gloucester’s great fisherman, Howard Blackburn, we will row until the oars rot away — then we’ll paddle with our hands.”
Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3432, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.