There won’t be another like him for some time.
Richard Gaines was a total original. Gloucester lost one of its best last week. He leaves an enormous hole in our community, and I’m not sure we ever will be able to fill it.
Reporter Gaines was a complete throwback to the golden age of his profession, back to the 1930’s and ‘40’s, when newspaper reporting was a contact sport, when pounding the pavement and hard work was part of the regimen. When Gaines got a hold of a story, watch out, because he was going to put life on the bones of that story. He would flesh it out until it was practically sitting in your living room reading itself out loud to you.
Richard passed at the top of his game. He had been part of the founding era of the Boston Phoenix, when that paper meant more editorially to Boston. He had exposed some very shady dealings in the 1980’s from some even more shady characters and had spent some sketchy times staying out of their retributive grasp. The Phoenix gave the other Boston papers headaches back then and it was Richard at the heart of it.
He delighted in making trouble for people who lived in high social places and people who lurked in low moral places. It was a heady, exciting time for him and the paper, which became a “hot property.” But it kind of outgrew its troublemaker potential and, as time passed, became less confrontational and edgy in more corporate times that lay ahead.
Richard, however, had lifelong childhood ties to Gloucester and had snuck out of Beantown over the decades in his country mouse self. Richard relocated to Bay View, to a wonderfully idyllic spot up in the spacious canopies of Quarry Street where he could spread out and shut out the world. He had married the wonderfully brilliant editor Nancy Gaines, who had put the Boston Business journal on the map in a very short time. They were living happily ever after in their professional and private lives, both continually making the waves they were known for in the publishing world.
Richard had, as every Gloucesterite knows, developed “The Story” — or should I say, mined The Story, unraveled The Story, rode in the saddle of The Story for the last four years. It was not a story people necessarily wanted told, especially NOAA and the feds. For a while, it was only Richard Gaines who was turning up the heat and the truth on the runaway federal agents who used Gloucester as their personal sandbox to play at the power politics of retribution. It felt like Richard should have won a Pulitzer for unraveling The Story, but the outside world couldn’t seem to even be aware there was a problem.
Richard Gaines came sailing with me four times in Gloucester Harbor. Each time, he insisted on fishing off the boat as we sailed. Never caught anything on our trips, but he loved to get that line in the water. Guess it took his mind off his work for 10 seconds, because he loved his work. His best piece was the one he was working on.
He was also a college football and basketball nut. Not the pros — hated the pros. But he would watch the entire NCAA March Madness tournament every year, beginning to end. I saw him get a hit in a birthday softball game once and then he threw a guy out on a ground ball in the next inning. So you see, Richard really could do it all.
When you work for a daily, you have to be a little crazy and, of course, he was — but in the best way.
He had that wonderful way of talking in a kind of drawling, resigned, amused tone of reminiscence whether he was talking music or politics. Two days after his death, he popped onto my TV screen on a Chronicle piece about Gloucester, looking very Dylanesque. He sounded great on his subject, which he knew better than anyone.
It was pure Richard and I missed him already. He did a lot for the fishermen. He did a lot for all of us here in Gloucester.
How will we ever carry on without him?
Gordon Baird is a local actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine, and producer of the community access TV show “Gloucester Chicken Shack.”