McCormack Speaks

November 21, 2017
by McCormack Speaks

McCormack Audience Learns of the Quiet, Passionate Leadership of Their Namesake, Speaker John W. McCormack

by Robert Turner, Senior Fellow

Speaker of the House John W. McCormackThe monumental career and little-known personality of Speaker John W. McCormack were brought to life in the Ryan Lounge in November when Professor Garrison Nelson spoke of the history he knows so well.

Nelson’s 910-page book, John William McCormack: A Political Biography, was published earlier this year to enthusiastic reviews and is headed for a third printing. Interim Chancellor Barry Mills welcomed Nelson to campus, and particularly to the McCormack School, saying that the current atmosphere in Washington makes it especially important for citizens to understand the workings of government.

In a wide-ranging discussion with McCormack Dean David W. Cash, Nelson described his subject as a man who avoided publicity, but who earned a reputation as a dominant debater on the floor of the House. Nelson related that McCormack once said he would have preferred to stay as majority leader – debating, assembling coalitions, and counting votes–rather than presiding as speaker. Still, his nine years as speaker (1962-1970), including most of John F. Kennedy’s presidency and the entirety of Lyndon Johnson’s, saw a wealth of accomplishment rivaling Franklin Roosevelt’s first term.

Asked by Dean Cash which part of his book he would recommend specifically to the current House speaker, Paul Ryan, Nelson unhesitatingly answered Chapters 2 and 3, containing the story of McCormack’s childhood and family history, marked by extreme poverty, anti-Irish prejudice, and a father who abandoned the family.

Indeed, when asked by chair of the Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs and Professor Christine Brenner about McCormack’s attitude toward women, Nelson described how much he revered his mother, who demonstrated almost unimaginable fortitude in holding the family together despite numerous hardships, including multiple losses to tuberculosis.

Nelson described McCormack as a man both passionate and pragmatic. One major example: the friction between him and the Kennedy family went deep, yet McCormack helped John F. Kennedy several times.

  • In 1952, Congressman Kennedy’s candidacy for the Senate was in trouble with Jewish voters, but “Rabbi John” rescued him with an appropriation for Israel and a meeting with Jewish leaders in Boston. His motive in helping Kennedy, according to Nelson: “to get him out of the House.”
  • In 1960, Kennedy appointed McCormack the floor manager at the Democratic Convention that nominated him for president. One key reason, according to Nelson, was the desire to get Lyndon Johnson to accept the nomination as vice president. Johnson might well have refused but for the endorsement by Speaker Sam Rayburn, and Rayburn might not have done Kennedy’s bidding without the intercession of his own protégé, McCormack.
  • In 1964, the Civil Rights Bill that was seen as the signal legacy of the assassinated president was in danger of being bottled up, but McCormack joined an effort to discharge his own Rules Committee Chair from control of the bill, and it began to move within hours.

Nelson is one of the nation’s most respected and prolific experts on the government, especially the workings of Congress. He has also written about the presidency and the Supreme Court. He is retiring as the Elliott A. Brown Green and Gold Professor of Law, Politics, and Political Behavior at the University of Vermont.

Two of Speaker McCormack’s three grand-nephews–Edward J. (“Skip”) McCormack III and Sean McCormack–attended the talk, along with Skip’s wife, Linda. They exchanged anecdotes, including Skip’s recollections of numerous functions and Sunday-morning drives his great-uncle had invited him to when he was a student at Georgetown University.  Skip and Sean McCormack are both grandsons of Edward J. McCormack–famous in Boston political lore as “Knocko” McCormack.

All in the family expressed a desire to strengthen the relationship between the speaker’s family and his namesake school.


November 21, 2017
by McCormack Speaks

A Closer Look at Bulgaria’s Aging Population Challenge

This post originally appeared on the Gerontology Institute blog

by Natalie Pitheckoff, McCormack student

picture of Natalie PitheckoffMost Americans know very little about Bulgaria. Even fewer are aware of its aging population, which is creating great challenges (and opportunities) across the country. People often hear or read about aging in countries such as China and India due to their large projected increases in older adults. It seems like Bulgaria gets lost among the giants, even though the country’s current rate of population aging ranks fourth worldwide behind only Japan, Italy, and Germany (Karpinska & Dykstra, 2014; Velkovska, 2010).

As a Bulgarian citizen, I felt it was due time to shed some light on the country’s aging and demographic landscape. I decided to write a manuscript for The Gerontologist, published in the October edition, which describes in detail the factors that have led Bulgaria to its current circumstance and examines the serious implications for the years ahead. Continue reading.

Natalie Pitheckoff is a PhD candidate in the Department of Gerontology at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.

November 17, 2017
by McCormack Speaks

Do The Right Thing: Technology and Ethics

By Jack Whitacre, a McCormack Graduate School student

virtual reality gogglesTomorrow’s disaster responses may well incorporate drones and other unmanned vehicles that deliver needed food, water and medicines. They may send back images for first responders to process in real time and even communicate in whatever languages are needed. One can argue that militaries and other organizations cannot respond to these disasters without proving that their practices are responsible and humane. Debates on morality don’t always keep pace with human-machine interactions, drone deliveries, and mixed reality portals. Discussing value systems and what’s right helps aid recipients, providers, private companies, and governments. Inventing a new application for technology showed me that humanitarian “solutions” can bring their own problems and dialogue is essential to trust. Continue Reading →

November 13, 2017
by McCormack Speaks

Panel Recommends Ways to Improve Identification, Treatment For Hospital Patients With Dementia

This post originally appeared on the UMass Boston Gerontology Institute blog, written by Steven Syre.

puzzle pieces depicting woman with dementiaHospitalization is a stressful experience for most patients. But a person with dementia typically needs three days to recover pre-hospital function for each day hospitalized.

That caution has always stuck with Nina Silverstein, a professor of Gerontology at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School. She kept it in mind as a member of a state Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Acute Care Advisory Committee.

The 16-member committee recently published its recommendations for Massachusetts hospitals treating patients with dementia. Their report is intended to drive future discussion that will ultimately shape best practices to identify dementia and/or delirium and adjust care plans accordingly. Read more.

November 11, 2017
by McCormack Speaks

The Freedom to Fish: International Fishing through a Local Lens by Jack Whitacre

By Jack Whitacre, a McCormack Graduate School student

image of a fishing vesselI’ve heard it said that life is about survival, and just as animals use their teeth, people use the law. Growing up I fished on the shores of Maine, however over the years the fish stopped biting. I learned from National Geographic how commercial vessels have overfished international waters too. A lonely fishing lure launched a question about the roots of the international legal order at sea: Which rules are governing our planet’s fishing and how did they come to be?

While many people associate global fishing with the industrial revolution and the offshore processing plants of the 1930’s, the Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas reveals that itinerant European fishing expeditions crossed the Atlantic well before Columbus. Many of today’s finest fishing vessels pale in comparison to the boats of the past. For example, as early as 1540 the Spanish and French Basques had fishing ships weighing up to 600 tons. Continue Reading →

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