By Bill Cantwell
Whether on the pages of this newspaper of its sister publication The Eagle-Tribune, the stories and photos of Barney Gallagher were a fixture for more than 70 years.
That commitment to providing the people of his hometown their news earned Gallagher the title "Mr. Haverhill."
Cementing that title was Gallagher's loyalty to his city, his desire to make sure Haverhill was recognized for its rich past, dynamic present and hopeful future.
The Barney Gallagher era in Haverhill's news and civic circles has ended. He died April 14 at Penacook Place nursing and rehabilitation home. He was 90.
"Barney Gallagher was a role model, the journalist's journalist," said Tom Vartabedian, a longtime friend and colleague. "He covered the city like a blanket ... With Barney, I think of the three S's — servant, soldier and saint."
It used to be said that Gallagher slept with a police and fire scanner under his pillow. No emergency escaped his attention. He'd be out of bed in an instant to cover a fire in the wee hours of the morning, snapping photos and filling his notebook with information.
One story sums it up: A police station dispatcher radioed a cruiser one day to send it to a reported car accident, but moments later cancelled the cruiser's response. "Barney's there," the dispatcher said. "He said it's just a fender-bender."
Gallagher would have breakfast with the fire chief and neighborhood types. He knew the politicians, but preferred to spend time with people who knew what was happening in the street.
"Barney didn't miss a serious fire or accident in Haverhill if he was in town," said Alan White, editor of The Eagle-Tribune. "He often got there before the police or firefighters. Even veteran reporters were in awe of Barney. Whenever they'd get together and start trading stories about Barney, they'd say, 'I want to grow up to be like that.'"
Gallagher's newspaper career began in 1936, when he covered sports at Haverhill High School where he was a student. His work appeared in the Haverhill Gazette.
He was part of the self-proclaimed Illustrious Class of 1939, which had several members go on to high places in government and business. He was also part of the Haverhill High student body that inspired classmate Bob Montana to create the "Archie" comic series about teenagers who attended the fictitious Riverdale High.
Gallagher's commitment to journalism brought him places few people were able to go. In 1945, he was a journalist for the Army Air Forces when Japan's leaders signed surrender papers, ending World War II. He flew overhead in a military plane and took photos of the event.
A few years after the war, he returned to newspaper work, again with The Haverhill Gazette. He worked as a reporter, photographer and eventually editor. Gallagher often said the greatest benefit of working in journalism was the education he got learning the inner workings of government and how to get things done.
In 1983, Gallagher joined The Eagle-Tribune, working first as a night reporter covering breaking police and fire stories throughout the region. He represented the complete journalism package — covering an event with both stories and photos, a police scanner always in his pocket and a camera always hanging from his neck.
In 1984, The Eagle-Tribune opened its first Haverhill office, downtown on Washington Street. The newspaper shifted Gallagher to its Haverhill beat, and the change immediately brought dividends.
He and the rest of the Haverhill staff were involved in an old-fashioned daily newspaper war with The Haverhill Gazette, and most days The Eagle-Tribune came out on top. There was no better source of news in the city than Gallagher and his network of contacts.
"Barney Gallagher was the consummate reporter, a great mentor and an even better friend," said Gretchen Putnam, who worked alongside Gallagher in The Eagle-Tribune Haverhill office in the 1990s and is now managing editor of The Eagle-Tribune. "He lived for newspapering. He had ink in the veins."
Putnam said she was still "pretty green" when she started at The Eagle-Tribune in 1995, and a little intimidated by the man they called "Ole Barn." As a young reporter, Putnam said she was eager to get bylines on breaking news stories, but often found she was second to Gallagher at the scene.
"He would already have the shot, the IDs, and the whole story, and I would just be pulling up," Putnam said.
Thanks to the hard work of Gallagher and others, in 1998 The Eagle-Tribune won Haverhill's newspaper war with the Gazette. The Eagle-Tribune bought the Gazette and converted it to a weekly newspaper covering Haverhill, as it remains today.
"Barney was a legend," said Al Getler, publisher of The Eagle-Tribune and Haverhill Gazette. "No matter where I am in New England, I come across people that did time in the trenches with Barney and learned a great deal from him.
"The Haverhill Gazette and Eagle-Tribune family will miss Barney,'' Getler said. We will miss his wisdom for our craft and his knowledge of Haverhill and the Valley."
Gallagher was a member of the Kiwanis Club, working on charitable events and other projects with that group. He fed his devotion to Haverhill poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier by working to help preserve Whittier's Birthplace as a tourist destination. Gallagher wrote stories and columns to remind the community of the significance of Whittier's poetry and efforts to abolish slavery in the 1800s. He also worked on the board of the Salvation Army and other Haverhill organizations.
Gallagher was part of a committee that won the title "All America City" for Haverhill in a national competition in the late 1970s. The award recognizes communities whose residents work together to identify and tackle community-wide challenges.
In 2003, Gallagher received a lifetime achievement award and was inducted into the New England Press Association Community Newspaper Hall of Fame.
Starting in the mid-1950s, the Gallagher family lived for decades on Rosedale Avenue off upper Main Street, a half-mile from the Plaistow line. Barney and his wife, Gladys, raised their children there. They are James and Melissa Gallagher and David Fitzgerald. Gladys died in 1994.
In the last few years, Gallagher reduced his work load primarily to writing his "My Haverhill" column, which was published every week in the Sunday Eagle-Tribune. Gone were the days of chasing sirens. But he had trained and inspired a new generation of reporters who still keep their ears to the police and fire scanner and run for the door, camera and notebook in hand, when there is an emergency.
"You don't know if you don't go," he used to say.
As Gallagher's health slipped in the last year or so, he stopped writing his column — but never let go of the goal of returning to print.
He eventually did, and his final column appeared in the Sunday Eagle-Tribune on Feb. 26.
A few days before his death, Gallagher was dozing in his nursing home bed. He had become very tired, evidenced by his slender frame and tendency to sleep for long stretches.
But one thing had not changed: In his hands was a copy of that day's Eagle-Tribune, front page up, ready to be scanned for the news of the day.