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President Ronald Reagan's Visit to the Eire Pub, January 23, 1983
Ronald Reagan at Eire Pub
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 Reagan at the Eire Pub: A Promise made to Tom Stenson

The Story Behind the Story: 2 Secret Service agents who once live in Dorchester made the secret plans for a memorable surprise visit.

By Vic Campbell

Published in the Dorchester ’83 Supplement to the Dorchester Argus-Citizen, June 2, 1983

1983 is remembered for the day when President Ronald Reagan dropped by the Eire Pub for a beer.

At about 1:35 p.m., January 26, 1983, the radio news reports had taken on a markedly excited tone in what was expected to be a routine story of a presidential visit to Boston for a high-technology conference.

Radio and television coverage was adjusting rapidly to an unplanned diversion from the anticipated route and schedule of the presidential motorcade. One talk show host, Dave Finnegan, after several minutes of banter with a fellow radio field reporter, speculated that there might be reason to suspect that the president’s southbound expressway excursion, which had just begun at the Mass. Ave. ramp near City Hospital and the Digital Corp. plant he would visit later, was headed for a quick lunch stop in Dorchester.

On a hunch he called John Stenson—manager for his father Tom—of the Eire (pronounced Eerie, hereabouts) Pub in Adams Village. Moments later, a whirlwind of secret Service agents, Boston police, media reporters and photographers blew into the Wednesday “late lunch” crowd, depositing a somewhat parched and hungry Ronald Reagan, President of the United States.

Ed Hickey
President Ronald Reagan and Ed Hickey
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 Among those in the entourage were two former Dorchester residents who are both now in important positions in the White House and the Secret Service. Mingling with regulars on the right side of the bar, beyond range of the press’ flash guns and interviews, was the man most responsible for the President’s visit to Dorchester—Edward V. Hickey, Jr.—the man who when Mr. Reagan asked where he might get a bite to eat, responded that Dorchester’s Eire Pub would be easy enough to get to.

The visit accomplished several things. It countered—on a nationwide news hook-up—the “everyman” episode of U.S. House speaker Tip O’Neill’s visit to the NBC “Cheers” tavern, giving the President a much-needed chance to rub elbows with the “common folk.” It allowed the President to play up, if ever so slightly, his Irish ancestral roots. And, for Edward Hickey, it kept a promise he had made years earlier to Eire Pub owner Tom Stenson.

Born in July 1935 in Dedham, Hickey was attracted to federal service, and after graduating from high school, did a two-year tour in the Army from 1954 to 1956. Returning to the Boston area, he attended Boston College. Just prior to receiving his business administration degree in 1960, he married a Brighton girl, Barbara Burke, moved to the Popes Hill section of Dorchester, and applied to the Secret Service for an agent’s position. The service had only three hundred or so agents then, and accepted only two applicants a year, so it was not until 1963 that he was accepted. He served the Massachusetts Dept. of Youth Service, then the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in the intervening years. His first assignment was in the Boston office in the counterfeit currency division. It was at this time, in the course of his work with “bogus bills” that Hickey and Stenson became friends. Stenson related recently that Hickey would stop in at the Eire Pub Fridays after work for a few drinks—a “highball or a few beers” on his way home. Their friendship developed over the years, and the two kept in touch even though Hickey’s assignment took him across the country, across the Atlantic and back to Washington, D.C.

John R. Simpson
John R. Simpson
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 Another member of the Presidential party at the Eire Pub was John R. Simpson, present Director of the Secret Service. His presence (and that of longtime friend Father James H. Lane of Saint Brendan’s Parish, which just happens to include the Eire Pub) was well-recorded by the media, since they were just behind the President’s right shoulder most of the time in the tavern. A native of Saint Paul’s Parish in Dorchester, the fifty-one year old Simpson received a business degree from Loyola College and an LLB degree from the New England School of Law. Serving as a youth worker at Dennison House and a baseball coach for St. Paul’s, he worked with Father Lane, then a curate there, initiating a friendship that sees the Simpson family—wife Gerry (Teehan) of the Ashmont section of Dorchester and two teen-age children, John and Jane—visiting the Lane Cottage on Cape Cod yearly.

Following his two older brothers in to the law enforcement profession, Simpson weighed joining the FBI or the Secret Service, finally opting for the mix of criminal and protection assignments available in the Service. His first position was here in the Boston office beginning in August of 1962. His career has taken him, progressively, to the White House Detail, then to the Protective Support Division, the vice-Presidential Protective Division, Foreign Missions Branch of the Uniformed division, Inspector-in-Charge for the 1976 campaign, supervising positions in the Dignitary Protective Division and the Office of Protective Operations. From Special Agent-in-Charge at the White House in 1978, he moved up to Asst. Director for Protective Operations, then, in December of 1981 to the Directorship of the Service.

In the mid-sixties, when Hickey was being reassigned to Washington, Father Lane introduced him to Simpson, who had already moved there. In 1968, both were called on to protect then-governor Ronald Reagan who was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. (This protection was accorded all presidential candidates after the assassination of Robert Kennedy). Hickey and Reagan first meth then, and liked each other from the outset, each given to spinning yarns about his Irish background. Reagan nicknamed him “Boston Blackie.”

In a 1981 interview for the BC Alumni News, Hickey allowed that “when you’re at a guy’s elbow night and day, traveling around the country, it’s not uncommon for a close relationship to develop between protector and protected.” Although Hickey had guarded others, a special bond—like father to son—grew between him and Reagan. Hickey described this to Tom Stenson on several visits to the Pub at the time. While celebrating in Washington after the Nixon inaugural, Gov. Reagan asked Hickey to come to California to head up the state police and create a plain clothes protective service for him. After a trip with his wife to Sacramento to sample the prospect, Hickey moved to California with his family, including six sons, from the Boston home in Hyde Park.

Conservative governor Reagan drew a number of threats and assaults in his appearance on college campuses in California in the early seventies, and Hickey’s job was by no means an easy one. He and his family, however, were quickly drawn into the close confidence of the Reagans, to the point that now-chief advisor Edwin Meese took care of the Hickey’s seventh son’s 4 a.m. feeding when Barbara became seriously ill after his birth.

In January 1974, governor Reagan left the post, and Hickey took an assignment with the U.S. State Department. Based in London from 1977 to 1980, he was in charge of Embassy security I the United Kingdom, Ireland and Iceland. When Reagan was elected president in 1980, only a day later Hickey was requested to return to the Reagan team.

At the March 1981 banquet of the “Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick” in Boston, at which Hickey was the guest speaker, he mentioned to Stenson that if ever he was in Boston with the President, he would “try to get him over” to the Eire Pub.

Hickey’s title of assistant to the president for special support services includes overseeing military aides to the White House, operations of Air Force One and HMX-1 (the presidential helicopter) and White House limousines, liaison for protection by the military and Secret Service—dealing with his compatriot John Simpson, and telecommunications (read “secure phone”). He is involved daily with decisions on the President’s agenda and itinerary, meeting with Mike Deaver to iron out details.

Despite his closeness to the President, he was not with him when he was shot on March 30, 1981. He went to George Washington University Hospital to console Mrs. Reagan and he remembered it all too clearly:”It was very tense, nobody really knew what was going on. It wasn’t until eleven o’clock that night that they said he was stable. It was a long day.”

On the fourth Monday of January of this year, though John Stenson had no idea that the businessman who asked how busy the Pub was on Wednesdays “cause I’ve got some workers in the area I want to take to lunch,” was actually an advance man for the President’s visit to Boston, checking out the Eire for a possible “lunch stop.” It was not until he slipped him a business care when he brought in the Wednesday “lunch party” (which also included secretary-designate for HEW Margaret Heckler and former governor John Volpe) that Stenson learned he was James L. Hooley—special assistant to the President.

On Wednesday the 26th, Ed Hickey could not give the Stensons any advance warning, and Finnegan’s phone call was the only precursor of things to com—ever so swiftly—moments later. John Simpson called Father Lane to join him at the Pub “for a bite” but also could give no inkling of what was about to happen. Because no warning was given, tavern owner Tom Stenson, who is usually no more than five miles away, happened to be vacationing in Florida and missed out on the whole affair.

Visit to Dorchester
Outside the Eire Pub when President Ronald Reagan was in Dorchester
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 Managing the bar that day for his father, John Stenson was so overwhelmed by the Presidential presence looming through his portal that he extended the telephone—the one with Dave Finnegan at the other end—and said, “Hey, Ron, it’s for you!” before recovering with a “Mr. President” seconds later.

After the ritualistic “pressing of the flesh” that the politicians visiting the Eire Pub have developed to a fine art, Reagan, exited almost as fast as he entered, and his entourage headed up Adams to Minot and down Minot St. to Neponset Ave. and the expressway inbound.

Tom Stenson
President Ronald Reagan in Dorchester
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 Talking to Tom Stenson later, Hickey expressed disappointment that the big event at the pub was stated without his being there. The next time Stenson got to Washington, Hickey would make sure that he met the President. No doubt about it…

The next time Stenson was to be in Washington turned out to be only a matter of weeks away. He was invited to be present at Mrs. Heckler’s swearing-in ceremony in March. The ceremony was set for for in the afternoon. Stenson was on an eleven a.m. flight from Logan with some Pub “souvenirs” to present to Mr. Reagan and thos present. What could possibly go wrong…

Ed Hickey had set up the meeting with the President for Stenson, but then was sent to California to coordinate the funeral for the three Secret Service agents who had been killed in a highway accident in Yosemite National Park during Queen Elizabeth’s visit.

And Social Security legislation to relieve the funding crunch was “on the hill.” President Reagan had to confer in the afternoon with congressional leaders. Mrs. Heckler’s swearing-in would have to be moved up to before noon. It happened at eleven, just as Stenson was lifting off the Bird Island Flats of East Boston!

When Stenson got to Washington, everything was over, his friend Ed Hickey was at the other end of the country. Tom Stenson sat in a fast food restaurant a short distance from the White House, wondering why the gods were not favoring him…again… Later, in May, Father Lane delivered a secret package—sealed with Mylar tape—from the Eire Pub to Ed Hickey at the White House. It contained, we are told, by usually reliable sources enough souvenir beer mugs, T-shirts and caps to equip a Dorchester softball team. After a chuckle or two, Hickey and John Simpson treated Father Lane to lunch at the White House staff dining room (along with William Cameron of Minot Street—now assigned to the White House police but being reassigned to the Boston Secret Service Office; and Richard Harrington of Milton Street—assigned to the “White House Detail.”

And what of Tom Stenson’s meeting with the President? The third time never…

Related Images: showing 5 of 5 (more results)
Here are some images from the Atheneum archive related to this topic. Click on any of these images to open a slideshow of all 5 images.
Ronald Reagan at Eire PubOutside the Eire Pub when President Ronald Reagan was in DorchesterPresident Ronald Reagan in DorchesterPresident Ronald Reagan and Ed Hickey
John R. Simpson
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Created: February 1, 2011   Modified: February 1, 2011