By Bill Cantwell
Haverhill Gazette Editor
---- — EDITOR’S NOTE: Bruce Amaro, a correspondent who wrote stories for the Gazette for several years, died unexpectedly last week. This column remembers him as a writer and a man.
When I became the editor of the Gazette and met Bruce Amaro, I reached out for a handshake.
He quickly reached back, but used his left hand to grasp my right hand firmly.
It was an awkward moment, but I came to find out why he used his left instead of his right.
When Bruce was a child, he was afflicted with polio. It cost him the use of his right arm and hand.
As I got to know Bruce, I came to realize the impact this had on him — physically and emotionally. I learned this not through complaints or excuses or even a bad attitude, because Bruce rarely engaged in any of these, but through the stories he would share about his childhood.
I learned, for example, that because of the polio damage, he was never able to play competitive sports like many of his peers. Some of the kids at school teased him about his disability, uttering things like his mother probably tied his shoes for him.
But even as a kid, Bruce never gave in to bullies. If he got teased about tying his shoes, he would reach down and untie them, then quickly retie them with his single good hand. Everyone would watch in amazement and the bullies would shut their mouths.
When push came to shove on the school yard, Bruce defended himself with his strong left arm, learning to punch and wrestle one-handed against any bully who challenged him. He learned at a young age not to feel sorry for himself, and to use whatever tools God gave him to become a success.
Those tools included a strong work ethic. Bruce never turned away a story when we offered him one. He would be the first to admit he wasn’t the best writer around and could be a bit brash during interviews, but he always brought back the heart of the story. He was hungry to get out there and meet people, learn about new issues and have a chance to be creative.
His favorite thing to cover was boxing. He talked all the time about the book “Townie’’ — a memoir by local author Andre Dubus III about growing up in Haverhill and learning to box at a local club, gaining a way to defend himself against bullies. Knowing I boxed a bit when I was a teenager, Bruce used to ask me questions about the sport. He loved to write Gazette stories about local boxers, their training and matches.
I suspect part of him wished he could have tried the sport, gained the satisfaction of a gut-busting workout, tasted the excitement of getting into the ring for just one sparring session.
But, just as in his childhood, there was no time to feel sorry for himself. There was only the next story to go after, like the one he did a few weeks ago about Haverhill boxers in the Golden Gloves competition in Lowell, or the one he planned for next week about younger local fighters competing in the Silver Mittens.
Though Bruce couldn’t spend time boxing, he did have a favorite pastime — reading. He liked all sorts of books and was a reader of mysteries, American history, biographies of presidents and biographies of famous journalists like Ernie Pyle, who reported from areas of military combat.
Rarely a week went by that Bruce didn’t talk about his frequent trips to the Broken In Books shop in Rowley, and how the owner would order him any book he wanted. When Bruce found out she could order almost anything else, like a fancy new computer keyboard, he was in heaven. He really didn’t like driving around his rough-running 1980s Volvo to different stores if he could avoid it.
Perhaps he put the time he saved on shopping into his livelihood. No matter what time of day or night¸ he always seemed to be working on stories, either for the Gazette or for another paper, or doing freelance work for trade journals. He filed for Social Security retirement several years ago at age 62, but still put in many more than 40 hours a week writing.
“Anyone who met Bruce could never forget him,’’ said fellow reporter Mike LaBella, who writes for both the Gazette and The Eagle-Tribune. “He was a true character who enjoyed talking about life, about people and his trials and tribulations, and he seemed to know a little about a lot of things. There weren’t many topics he couldn’t maintain a conversation on.’’
Bruce died last week at home, where he lived alone.
The community has lost someone who cared about Haverhill and the challenges it faces.
Our readers have lost a reporter who did his best to inform them.
And we have lost a colleague and a friend.
God bless you Bruce Amaro, always.