November 6, 2014
Brian T. Mulhern - (Brian)
Posted: 11/15/14, 11:53 PM EST
Speaking with John Furlow the other day, I was temporarily surprised at something he said.
“You know,” he told me, “we have too many friends.” My first reaction was, “How can you have too many friends?” Then I understood what John was saying. The more friends you have, the more grief you’re going to experience when you lose them.
Last week, both Furlow and I lost a dear friend. His name is Brian Mulhern. He was one of those rare individuals who left a lasting, favorable impression on everyone fortunate enough to know him. You may only run into him every six months or so, but if you needed anything, his answer always was the same, “How much do you need and how soon do you need it?”
To casual acquaintances, physically Mr. Mulhern was a grizzly of a man, the kind you wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley. Often profane in speech, what he may have lacked in social graces he more than made up for with his goodness, for within that barrel chest beat the heart of a puppy dog.
Mr. Mulhern was a builder by trade. When we first met, he was an All-Delco lineman at Sun Valley High. In time, thanks to Furlow, he would enroll at West Chester U., where he became an All-Conference and Little All-American lineman, as ferocious on the field as he was kind off it.
Furlow, who overcame a rough childhood on the hard scrabble streets of South Philadelphia (his neighborhood was known as Devil’s Pocket), was recruiting for West Chester when he first saw Mr. Mulhern.
“It was during the annual all-star football game in the county,” he said. “I talked to Brian after the game. He had several offers, but I sold him by telling him West Chester was so close that his parents not only could come to the game, they could come to practices.
“Brian got a $200 scholarship, which doesn’t seem like very much now, but it was pretty good back then,” Furlow said. “Then we got him a job as a waiter in the college dining room, and before long he was running an entire section.
“I’ll say this about Brian Mulhern, and say it with full awareness of all the great linemen who went through West Chester. There wasn’t anyone, and I mean no one, who was a better lineman than Brian.”
One incident in particular brings Furlow’s assessment home. In Mr. Mulhern’s senior year, West Chester U., with an entirely white squad, played in Florida in the Tangerine Bowl against Morgan State, whose roster was entirely black. Morgan State was so good that six of its players went directly into the pros. West Chester lost, but the Ram put up quite a battle.
“After the game,” Furlow said, “there was a big banquet with squads, all the coaches, support staff and fans in attendance. Coach Banks of Morgan State got up to speak and this is what he said: ‘I don’t know this young man’s name, but his number is 64 and he is one fine football player.’
“Somebody shouted, ‘That’s Brian Mulhern’ and the room exploded into yells, cheers and applause.”
Unfortunately, by now you may feel Mr. Mulhern was a really fine football player, and so what? That’s my fault. Blame it on me being an old time sportswriter. Football doesn’t begin to reveal the real Brian Mulhern.
Just ask Nick Trainer.
I once described them as “The Odd Couple.” Trainer usually drove a Lexus or a Mercedes; Mulhern preferred a pickup truck. Trainer frequented Brooks Brothers for his clothes; Mulhern leaned to blue jeans and flannel shirts. Trainer worked in executive suites. Mulhern could be up on a ladder or down in a basement at a home he was building.
Yet for more than 50 years, they enjoyed as close a friendship as two men possibly could. When Brian went to West Chester, he requested jersey No. 64. That’s the number Trainer wore playing for Pennsylvania Military College. In time, four of Mulhern’s five sons (one was a running back) wore No. 64, as did one of Trainer’s sons, quite appropriately named Brian.
Trainer said Mr. Mulhern never forgot that $200 scholarship he received at West Chester.
“Every year, Brian contributed at least $200 and sometimes as much as $1,000, depending upon what kind of year he had,” Trainer said. “Years ago, one of his granddaughters, Olivia Fender, was successfully treated for cancer at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. From then on, he worked for every fundraiser the hospital had.”
Then there is the story of the seven quite fine children raised by Brian and his equally remarkable wife, the former Anne Lothwell. They met when both were students at West Chester. The have batted 7-for-7 with their kids. In other words, 1,000.
Michael, the oldest son, played three years as a starting center at Widener U., and now has his own civil engineering firm. Patrick was a four-year starter as defensive end at Delaware U. Chris wisely elected to go into business with his father. Danny also starred at Delaware U. as a linebacker. John, whose Strath Haven High team almost won a state championship, played on a national championship team at Delaware. Today, he teaches and coaches in Virginia.
Pat, Chris and Danny worked with their father.
Their daughter, Colleen Fender, a West Chester grad, is responsible for three of the Mulhern’s 18 grandchildren. The other daughter, Kate Jones, now also a mom, was an All-American field hockey player at WCU.
One final story.
Years ago, Mr. Mulhern expressed an interest in buying and fixing up the home of Furlow’s mother in South Philadelphia.
“Can’t do it, Brian,” Furlow said. “My mother would have no place to live. So he said to me, ‘John, your mother can stay in the home as long as she likes.’
“Not long after that, I learned that Brian had been sending my mother $100 every month. I told him, ‘Brian, you’ve got to stop sending my mother money.’ And he said to me, ‘Let me worry about that.’”
You’re right about one thing, John. We have too many friends.
Ed Gebhart is a retired public relations executive. His column appears every Sunday.