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The Irish Immigrant Whose Life Was So Large, NYC Shut Down for Him

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 13, 2022 3:00 am

The Irish Immigrant Whose Life Was So Large, NYC Shut Down for Him

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 13, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Jimmy Neary was an Irish immigrant who boarded a ship to America in the 1950s and went on to open a namesake restaurant in Manhattan that has for more than a half century been a famed canteen in the heart of New York City. Here to tell his story is Jimmy’s daughter, Una. 

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This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. And to search for the Our American Stories podcast, go to the iHeartRadio app, to Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Jimmy Neary was an Irish immigrant who boarded a ship to America in the 1950s. And he went on to open a namesake restaurant in Manhattan that has for more than a half century, been a famed canteen in the heart of New York City. Here to tell his story is Jimmy's daughter, Una.

Let's take a listen. My father was born in a small town called Tubbacurry County Sligo, which is in the west part of Ireland, very rural country. He was one of six children.

He was the second youngest. His father passed away when he was quite young, so his mother was the one that raised the family on the farm. However, my father was certainly not somebody who was interested in farming. He loved people. He loved dealing with people.

So the thoughts of my father being out on a farm was nothing that ever appealed to him. Obviously, he went to school, but he only went to sixth grade. But I would always describe, and I always do describe my father as being one of the smartest men I know, and it wasn't from a classroom. So my father, his love was people. And anytime his mom would bring him into the town of Tubbacurry, which was a small little town at a bunch of little shops, and she would go into the local grocery store.

Part of the grocery store had a bar and a little lounge, and dad would just watch the bartenders behind the bar and watch them engage in conversation and joking and pouring drinks with the men that were in the lounge, while the wives were typically in the grocery store getting the week's groceries. And my father knew literally from a very young age, he said, that's what I want to do. Now, what's interesting about my dad, if you see pictures of him or for people that knew my father, he was very tiny.

We jokingly called him a living leprechaun. So my father first started out as a hackney driver, which is also known as a cab driver, in the local area. And because my father was so tiny, he needed books underneath him so he could actually see over the dashboard. And everybody in town knew my father. He was a tremendous storyteller, a great joke teller. And he knew that Tubbercurry was a fantastic place to grow up, but he knew it wasn't big enough for him.

He wanted to experience something different. And this one particular day, my grandmother was at home and she had a visitor from America and her name was Annie Gallagher. And she mentioned to my grandmother, I'd love to take and they called my father back in Ireland, his name is Seamus.

Everyone calls him Seamus Neary. She said, I'd love to take Seamus back to America if he's interested. So my grandmother asked my father and my father said, I would love to go to America.

And she's like, what would you do there? He's like, I don't know, but I'll figure it out. So obviously dad didn't have much money, even though he had these two jobs. But what he did have was he had been given two lambs by one of his neighbors. And my father, being a very smart man, knew that lambs would make him money. So he had the lambs and he borrowed one of our neighbors, the farming neighbors' rams.

They let the rams and the lambs get together. And each year over a couple of year period, multiple lambs were made and created. So dad at this point had raised 14 lamb. And so he decided the way he could pay for his trip to America was by selling his lamb. So he brought his lamb to the fair day and got a very good price for them, the equivalent $196, dad was able to pay for his fair to America.

This, just to give everybody a sense, this was in 1954. So he came over on the USS Olympia and docked in New York city, but he had no job. So his first job, he went to a woman named Maureen Melkaye, who was very known to the Irish community, would help place you in jobs. Well, she sent him to a warehouse and the gentleman was pretty brutal and pointed out that my father's height, that it would be no way he could get a job in the warehouse because he's too tiny to do anything. My father, instead of being upset about it, burst out laughing, thought it was the funniest thing. And he said, well, how about that?

A fellow Irishman, what a fabulous greeting to America. And dad just laughed and left. And dad was living in the Bronx at the time. He went into a small coffee shop up by his apartment and he saw one of his friends from Ireland that was sitting at the coffee shop and he told him the story. So this gentleman said to him, I'll tell you where you go tomorrow.

I'll arrange it for you. You go to the New York athletic club and see the general manager at the pool. Sure enough, dad goes the next day. He meets the general manager of the pool. And my father said, you know, I had this experience yesterday, so I don't know anything about pools, but you know, do you have a job for me?

And he said, and obviously I'm not tall, so this may not work out. And he said, hold on one second. And then he brings out the employees that were working at the pool. And my dad became lifelong friends with him. They were all Mexican and they were all tinier than my father.

And he said, you're going to be the largest, tallest pool boy that we ever had at the New York athletic club. And so sure enough, dad got the job and he loved it. And they just fell in love with dad.

I mean, it's the experience. Everyone meets dad for the first time and there's just something special about him. And dad did that for a period of time. So this was in 1954. He got drafted. That was one of the requirements coming to America. If you got drafted, you had to serve. So sure enough, dad got the letter announcing that he had to serve, but he went into the U S army.

So he left the job obviously at the New York athletic club. He only served for 13 months in peace time. He went to Fort hood, Texas for his basic training. And then he went to Germany where he was a tank driver, which he was very proud of that because back then, the way the tanks were made, you had to be small to fit in, to drive it.

So it was, it was an asset for my father that his height was tiny because he was driving the tanks. And you've been listening to Una Neri tell a heck of a story about her father, Jimmy, one of six children. He only had a sixth grade education. Una said about her dad that he was the smartest man I know he didn't get his education in school. She also pointed out that he loved people and of course what better business to be in and the business you're about to hear that Jimmy finds himself in. And last but not least, I'd love to go to America.

He said to a relative, I don't know what I'll do, but I'll figure it out. And did he ever, when we come back more of this remarkable love story, a daughter's love of her father, the father's love of his work and in the end, the country that adopted him here on Our American Story. Here at Our American Stories, we bring you inspiring stories of history, sports, business, faith, and love stories from a great and beautiful country that need to be told, but we can't do it without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love our stories and America like we do, please go to our American stories.com and click the donate button.

Give a little, give a lot. Help us keep the great American stories coming. That's our American stories.com.

And we continue with Our American Stories. We last left off with Jimmy Neary leaving his job at the New York Athletic Club in 1954 to serve in the army as a tank driver. Let's return to the story as told by Jimmy's daughter, Una. But when he came back, he went right back to his job at the New York Athletic Club and got that back. And he was doing that during the day when one of the members was a gentleman named PJ Moriarty.

And PJ happened to be a very well-known Irish restaurateur. He had two very famous places in New York and he just loved dad. He loved my father's joke telling and storytelling. So basically he told the general manager at the athletic club, he wanted my father to work for him at night in one of his places. So when the general manager called my father over and said, I want to let you know PJ Moriarty wants you to work for him. And dad said, are you firing me? He said, no, I'm not firing you. You're keeping your day job with us and you're going to work with him at night.

And so dad literally did that. He had the two jobs. He worked in the day as a pool boy in the athletic club and then started bartending and learning the restaurant business by working for PJ Moriarty at night. And he loved both jobs.

He absolutely loved it. A funny story you might get a kick out of. So while dad grew up in Ireland and there was plenty of lakes around, dad never went in the lakes.

He didn't know how to swim at all. And one day the general manager said to my father, you know, Jimmy, you have to wash down the tables and chairs. So dad said, sure, no problem. So he took the tables and chairs and threw them in the pool. The general manager comes out and said to my father, Jimmy, what did you do?

And dad honestly didn't know he did anything wrong. He goes, I don't know what you mean. You told me to wash down the tables and chairs. He goes, not in the pool. Get in there and get them out. Dad goes, I'm not going in there.

I don't know how to swim. Somebody else is going to have to take the chairs out of the pool. That was one of the famous stories of the athletic club that gets told over and over over the years. So eventually my father did leave the job at the New York Athletic Club to work more full time at PJ Moriarty's. And PJ was so good to my father.

He really taught my father the ropes, but he started really as a bartender. But PJ was a character in his own right. So out in the front of the restaurant, PJ would pull up in his car and in the trunk of his car, he had a fake fire hydrant. And one of my father's jobs was to put the fire hydrant in the front of the restaurant to protect the parking spot.

So when PJ pulled up, dad would lift up the fire hydrant and PJ would get the spot and dad would throw it in the trunk of the car. So dad and PJ just had a fantastic relationship. And PJ, like I said, really taught my father the ropes of the restaurant business.

But dad just knew he wanted to find an opportunity for the right place at the right time to open up his own restaurant. But in the meantime, he had met my beautiful mom. Eileen Toomey was her name. And she was from Dublin. My dad was from Sligo. My mom was from Dublin and she came out to America many years earlier. My mother was actually dating a gentleman named Kevin Higgins who owned an Irish bar in Queens. But she had heard about this Seamus Neary. Dad had a reputation.

Everybody knew this Seamus Neary, that he was a character. Everyone had to go into PJ's to meet him. So my mother came in for the first time with a couple of girlfriends and relatives, cousins of hers. And she just was attracted to him right from the first time she saw him.

So they would periodically go in. And then this one particular night they were in for my mother's birthday. And my cousin, my second cousin Madeline said to my mom, you know, why don't you say something? She said, well, I'm not saying anything to Seamus. And so Madeline said to my father, you know, Seamus, Eileen's coming in here on her birthday because she's attracted to you and she's interested in you. And he's like, she's dating my friend Kevin Higgins. And she said, well, she'd rather be with you. And so dad, clueless about these things, he said, okay, I'll ask her out.

So we asked her out. And their very first date was quite memorable. So my father loved John Wayne movies, absolutely loved John Wayne. And my mother had no interest in John Wayne at all.

She found them boring and they would put her to sleep. So the first date they decided they'd go to a movie. And dad picked my mom up and whatever the first movie house that they came upon, that would be the movie that they would go see.

Well, it happened to be a John Wayne movie. Anyway, sure enough, shortly into the movie, mom fell asleep. So dad watched the rest of the movie, the movie ends, he wakes my mother up and he said, come on Eileen, I'll drop you off and you can finish the rest of your sleep at home. And that was it.

He was done. He was never going to take her out again. And my mother was devastated because she really liked my father. But PJ Moriarty and his wife Trudy loved my mother and knew she would be great for my dad. So one night PJ said to my father, I want to take you out to dinner with my wife. The three of us go out to dinner and it was kind of odd, but dad said, sure, of course.

So they went to a restaurant and they're sitting there and it's a table set for four. And then in walks my mother and PJ said, you guys need to get back together. So it was because of PJ Moriarty that my parents got back together and then the rest was history. They got married in 1966. They moved to New Jersey, Demerus, New Jersey, where we grew up and had four children, my brother, Patrick.

Then I came and my sister Ann Marie and my sister Eileen. But now my father knew after my mother and father got married in 66, he knew it was time for him to do something different. And so he and another gentleman Brian Mulligan, a good friend of my father's, started looking for ads in the New York Times. They found a restaurant or a location that they could open up a restaurant at 358 East 57th Street. And they went and looked at the place and dad immediately loved it. It was the ground floor of a brownstone. And he just, he could see the restaurant the second he walked in the door.

He knew exactly what he wanted. So it's a tiny restaurant. It's a three story brownstone, but the square footage is it's 20 by 80. So it's really quite a small restaurant. We seat 20 tables and a long bar up front, but it was exactly what he wanted. He could envision what the future of that restaurant would be. And because he had worked at PJ Moriarty's, which was an upscale Irish restaurant, that was what he was looking for. He wanted it to be fine dining. He wasn't looking for a pub, a traditional Irish pub. And from day one, he also had a dress code. It evolved over the years, but not by much. So for most of the time, it was for men, a jacket and tie. And for women, kind of proper business style dress. It was only in more recent years, he agreed to golf shirts and that you didn't have to wear a sports jacket, but you couldn't wear a t-shirt.

You couldn't wear a baseball cap. He was very strict on those rules. He wanted it to always look like a fine dining restaurant. So when he and his partner, Brian Mulligan, met with Mr. Senville, who was the owner of the building, they looked at it and my father said, we'll take it. What my father and Brian Mulligan didn't know at the time was that same location had been a three time loser before. And three restaurants had come in and out within five years.

And my father would often tell the story, if he had known that at the time, he would never have gone in there. And it was just fortunate that story had never been told to him because it ended up being, you know, the perfect spot for him to open his restaurant. So Brian and my father decided, and I'd really say my father decided that the name of the restaurant was going to be called Neary's. There was enough mulligans around and Neary's was an unusual name, not as common. So sure enough, they agreed on the name Neary's for the restaurant. They opened unsurprisingly on St. Patrick's Day on March 17, 1967. So early days in the restaurant, as you can imagine, were tough. You know, it was a new restaurant in a new location. And my father and Brian literally were working there seven days a week around the clock.

You know, we had very limited staff that we hired because they weren't making any money. Actually, Brian's sister, Liz Mulligan was her maiden name. She got married. Liz Farley was one of our first employees. She started on June 7 of 1967. She is still with us. We also still have Mary O'Connor who has been with us.

She's coming up on 45 years this December. And that was just the type of person my father was. When people came either to as an employee, they felt like they were part of the Neary family, or the customers that started growing in numbers over the years just fell in love with Neary's and my father, his hospitality, his charm, his storytelling.

And they felt like they were coming in to my father's private dining room and that they were invited guests. And that was the environment he created. And you've been listening to Una Neary tell one heck of a story about her father. And life is unimaginable for the Neary family without PJ Moriarty, who helped Una's dad get a job that more resembled what his career would look like. And basically, as Una said, taught my father the ropes of the restaurant business. But then he did something even more important. He insisted that the woman he would marry should be given a second chance.

And he set it up and he made it happen. When we come back, more of this remarkable immigrant story, the Neary family story, here on Our American Story. Should we return to Our American Stories and the story of Jimmy Neary as told by his daughter, Una?

Let's pick up where we last left off. The only day we're closed is Christmas Day. And on Christmas Day, we would have customers who had no family come and spend Christmas with us. Dad would come into New York City.

We were living in New Jersey. Dad would come into New York City, pick them up, and bring them out to New Jersey so they weren't alone on Christmas. And they would have Christmas dinner with us.

And then after Christmas, dinner was over. He would drive them back into the city to wherever they were living because they were part of our family. And in addition to the restaurant being very meaningful to my father, obviously, it was what he loved.

It wasn't a job. He always said he never worked a day in his life. But equally important to him and my mother was their faith. We are Irish Catholic family and my parents would go to Mass every single day.

And the routine, it was quite funny. My parents' routine was very set. It was the same routine every day. They would get up, they would get dressed, they would go to Mass. Dad would do the readings in church almost every morning. After they finished going to Mass, Dad and Mom would go to breakfast and then Dad would get in his car and go into the city and go to the restaurant.

And he'd be in there from anywhere from 11, 1130 until possibly midnight every day. And then Mom would get in her car from the diner and go home and raise us. So Mom was taking care of us, raising the four children and doing all of that to keep the house and us going while Dad was working in the restaurant. But their time together every morning was their precious time, Mass and breakfast every morning. And it was a tradition that they carried on literally until my mom passed away almost 15 years ago.

She passed away of cancer. Actually, after my mother passed away, they had just such a tremendous relationship that Dad's routine changed, obviously, after my mom passed away. But what he didn't change was going to Mass every day. But before he went to Mass every day, he would go visit my mom at the cemetery and visit my mom every day, then go to the cemetery, then go to breakfast and then into the restaurant. There was this beautiful picture of my mom and dad, a wedding picture of the two of them. And before he left the house every day, he would lean in and he would kiss the picture and kiss my mom. Because I was living in the city and I'm still living in New York City, I wanted to always be able to keep an eye on my dad because he was living in the house by himself and traveling back and forth from New York to New Jersey. So I, and he knew this, but I installed the Nest camera so I could make sure I could see him and know that everything was okay.

And, you know, it would flash on my phone. So I knew when he would come in at night or when he was leaving every morning, but I would watch him. He would not only do it in the morning, he would kiss the picture of my mom. But when he came home at night, he stood in front of the picture and he would talk to her.

And I would watch it on the camera. And it touched me in such a way because he wanted to share the day with her and tell her everything that she was obviously seeing from heaven. But he wanted to share the day with her and tell her about the people he saw and the stories that were told.

And that's how strong their relationship was. And people, customers, several years after my mom passed away, said, Jimmy, you know, would you be interested? And interested in what? He knew exactly what they meant. In what? Are you kidding me? He said, I had the love of my life.

I'm interested in nobody except my Eileen. So because my father literally was working seven days a week, his partner that I mentioned, Brian Mulligan, actually passed away in 1985, actually on the evening of his twin daughter's graduation from high school. So obviously, when Brian passed away, my father worked out a deal with his wife, Melda Mulligan, to buy out the business.

So beginning in 1985, dad owned the restaurant outright. So while Brian was a partner, dad was able to take some time off, you know, during the week. Once Brian passed away, dad was there seven days a week, literally lunch and dinner seven days a week. So we never saw my father for no other reason than he was working. The hours he worked, we, the four children, we were going to school early in the morning, dad was asleep. By the time we came home from school, obviously, dad was at work, we would be in bed, dad would come home.

And this was the routine. So we really didn't get to see dad. And so I said to my parents, I was 12 at the time, and I said, I really want to spend time with dad. And I said, so let me work in the restaurant. And both my parents are like, what will you do? And we would go into the restaurant, obviously, to visit dad, but it wasn't enough for me.

I wanted to spend more time with him. So they said, what will you do? And I said, well, let me work in the coat room.

I'll check coats. So it was every Friday night. And I remember I was 12. And I was thinking, oh, my God, this is the greatest job ever. And more importantly, I got to watch my dad. But I was watching my father, and I was watching him deal with people and talk to people and communicate with people. And the relationship he had with every single customer was so special, and every single person felt like they were the most special person in the room. That's how strongly he connected with people.

And I saw the way he treated his staff. Liz Farley, our waitress, who I mentioned, who's been with us for 55 years, her husband had just retired, and unfortunately, in a very tragic way, passed away. And Liz decided she needed to step away from Neary.

She couldn't do it anymore, and she was obviously devastated. So my father said he completely understood. And so my father, a couple of minutes later, picked up the phone and said, hey, Liz, it's Jimmy. I'm checking in on you. And she said, Jimmy, you know, I'm doing okay.

You know, I'm trying to adjust to my new life. He said, great. Well, listen, nobody's covering your shift tonight, so you better get back to work. And she's like, Jimmy, he said, nope, nobody's covering your shift. They've covered it long enough.

It's time for you to get back to work. And she said, okay, Jimmy, I'll be in. And he just knew how to help people feel better and cope with very kind of difficult times in their lives.

And as I mentioned earlier, Liz is still with us 55 years later. The staff adored him. They worked hard for him. They loved him. And I said, if I could learn any of these or be able to pick up any of these skills that my father has that comes so naturally to him that I knew I would do well in my career, whatever that path would take me, it didn't matter who walked in that door. You could be a doorman.

You could be, President Clinton came in. So you could be a doorman or you could be a president of the United States and you were treated with the same love, respect and care. And that's just what set my father apart.

He didn't distinguish anybody by the title, what they did. While he was certainly impressed by lots of customers who came in, they were customers and they were family when they walked in that door. And I learned that all from standing in the coat room, just watching my father interact.

And it was the lesson of a lifetime because there was nobody better than my father. One of my father's greatest joys was the day when he bought the building. So I had mentioned how he had a partner for many, many years, Brian Mulligan, but they were renting downstairs and obviously had a lease. But my father said to Mr. Senville, the landlord, at one point, will you ever give me a shot at the building?

And Mr. Senville, who owned lots of real estate in New York said, maybe one day. And my father made it a priority to never cause him one day of problems. So even when there were issues in the restaurant, something that the building could have been held responsible for, dad just took care of it.

He was always early with his rent payment and he never, never complained about anything. And you've been listening to Una Neri share the story of her father, a New York City restauranteur and legend. And my goodness, what a story she tells about her mother and father, the importance of faith in their lives, that daily mass, that daily breakfast. And when I lean past the love of Jimmy's life, well, he still had that daily mass and still had that daily breakfast, but every day, that stop at the cemetery. Then when I started to talk about her experience working in that courtroom and getting to know her dad in action, I learned so much from working with my dad in that courtroom. He treated doorman or the president of the United States the same.

He treated all people the same. There was nobody better than my father, Una said. And my goodness, there are two kinds of dads in this world.

I've said it many times, the father whose daughter says something like that about you and the father whose daughter doesn't. When we come back, more of this remarkable story of Jimmy Neri is told by his daughter Una here on Our American Stories. And we continue with Our American Stories and with the story of Jimmy Neri as told by his daughter Una.

Let's continue where we last left off. In 1986, above Neri's at the time was a gentleman that lived up there and he had an art studio. It was his apartment, but he had an art studio. And all the customers knew my father wanted to buy the building if the opportunity ever presented itself to him. And a customer is flying back from California, flying first class, sitting beside this gentleman.

They start talking. Anyway, long story short, the gentleman said, yeah, you know, I'm midtown Manhattan. And our customer said, well, where? 57th Street. He said, oh, 57th and what?

First. He said, well, you must know Neri's, my favorite restaurant in New York. And he said, yes, I actually live above the restaurant. He said, you're kidding. He said, yeah, Jimmy is a good friend of mine. And he said, well, I just bought the building. And he said, you what? And he said, yeah, I just bought the building.

So that's the end of the conversation. The flight lands. The customer comes into Neri's and he said, Jimmy, did the guy upstairs buy the building? He goes, I don't know what you're talking about.

He said, I was on the flight. And he tells him the story. Dad goes, I honestly have no idea what you're talking about. Dad calls Mr. Sendville and never raised the question again from the first time he raised it, which was years earlier. He said, Mr. Sendville, can I ask you a question? And he said, sure, Jimmy, what? And he said, did you sell the building to the guy upstairs?

And Mr. Sendville just answered the following way. He said, did I call you? And hung up. The next day or a couple days later, a U-Haul truck comes and the guy moves out. And dad thought it was the oddest thing. So there was no tenant upstairs. A couple of weeks later, the phone rings and it's Mr. Sendville's assistant.

And his assistant never called dad and said, Mr. Sendville would like to talk to you. And dad said, okay, is everything all right? She said, please hold. So he picks up the phone. He said, Mr. Sendville, is everything okay? He goes, this is the call you've been waiting for. He said, I will sell you the building for 1,375,000.

You have two weeks to think about it and let me know. And that was it. So dad's first call, instead of being to my mom, he called the Bank of Ireland and he called the president of the Bank of Ireland in New York. His name was Bill Burke, another man from Tubbacurry County, Sligo.

So a lot of wonderful people came out of Tubbah. And he called Bill and he said, Bill, it's Jimmy Neary. I need to borrow $1,375,000. And Bill started laughing. Is it Jimmy?

Is it to buy that brownstone on 57th street? And he said, it is. He said, then you've got the loan.

So then my father called my mother and he never called her in the middle of the day. And she said to my father, Seamus, is everything okay? He said, sit down. She said, oh no, what did you do this time?

He said, well, I just borrowed a million, $375,000 to buy the building. And mom started laughing. She said, well, you broke us, but you made the kids wealthy.

Congratulations. And dad paid the loan back in a few years. He saved every penny he had with my mom and they paid the mortgage off very quickly. But the reality of it is if dad had not been given the opportunity to buy the building and was able to do it, we would be long gone. The rent, my father couldn't have made the rent payments to continue to be renting the bottom. He just, it's restaurant business.

It's a very tough business. And he knew, he just knew again, only going to sixth grade, but the smartest man I knew, he knew he'd be out in X amount of years in the future because he couldn't afford the rent payments. And the reason we're still there today is because my father was able to buy that building.

You know, COVID, we were closed for 14 months. So there was clearly no rent coming in, but we didn't have to worry. Unfortunately, other small businesses weren't as fortunate, but it was, um, it was the turning point for my dad when he was able to buy that building and a tremendously proud moment for him and for our family. The words my father would say, and people heard him say it over and over again. I love my life.

I love my life. And he meant it. And we talked about this before, but money didn't matter.

It was people. It was being with people was the greatest reward he could ever get. And my father always said that when customers would say, Jimmy, would you ever retire? He goes, retire. First of all, what would I do?

And secondly, not a chance. He goes, the only way they're going to get me out of here is in a wooden overcoat. And actually on his final night, so September 30th, it was a Thursday night and it was a very busy day at the restaurant. And the three gentlemen at the bar, dad grabbed his Irish cap, put it on his head, and he had his little walking cane that he used when he was outside. And he said to the three gentlemen with the big smile and the hand in the air, he said, good night and I'll see you tomorrow. He had a storied life. He really did.

And all went back to having strong faith, love of family, love of country, love of people. And he exuded that. It just was everything in his presence and anybody that knew him and had a chance to be around him just were blessed. After my father passed away, one of our customers, Brian Anderson, came up to me at the restaurant one day and he said, I have a question for you. What would you think about me trying to put a petition together to have 57th and First, co-named Jimmy Neary Way? I literally immediately filled up with tears and I said, absolutely, it would be amazing.

And it was approved. So now 57th and First, hopefully on September 14th, which is my dad's birthday, there will be the unveiling of the street sign and it will be called Jimmy Neary Way. So we had a lot of traditions and I'm still carrying most of them forward since my father passed away. But whether it was a very happy occasion, like a special day of the year, such as St. Patrick's Day or the 4th of July or Memorial Day or even Labor Day, special days that brought happiness or even in very sad days like September 11th, my father was so proud of this country. He loved Ireland.

He loved his history, his coming from Ireland and being raised in Ireland. But he was so proud of America. And our tradition was singing God bless America.

And again, it would be in the happiest times or in the sad times when we needed to unite the country like in September 11th. And every customer without exception would stop whatever they were doing and would join in song and my father would get up there and belt it out. You could feel the passion of him singing God bless America. And it's in the documentary of my dad singing God bless America. And there's one scene with his arms stretched out wide because he loved America. He loved New York City.

That was his favorite song. And you would hear my father talk about this country. If anyone had a bad word to say about America, my father was quick to straighten them out. He would literally say if you don't love this country, then you don't have to be here. But this is the greatest country in the world. It gives you the opportunities of a lifetime. If you work hard and you do your part to give, you'll enjoy the riches of it. And he really did. And my whole family just watching my mother and father be so proud of what they accomplished here in this country obviously trickles down to all of us because we feel equally as strongly. He also not only loved this country for everything it offered him.

My father was a fierce supporter of our military as well as law enforcement. It would be funny. We would be walking down the street. The police officer could be on the other side of the street. And I would be pleased at let's just keep going.

Nope, nope. And we would have to cross the street. It didn't matter where we were going, if we were late or not. And he was absolutely right to do it. But he would literally stop whatever he was doing. If we were on a mission to go somewhere, he would stop and go across the street or go down the block if he saw a police officer.

And he would literally say, thank you very much. Thank you for what you're doing. You're protecting us.

You're protecting this city. And actually, when my father passed away, we had the mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. But what the New York Police Department did was they shut down Fifth Avenue as we came out of the cathedral for 45 minutes. There were people lined up across the street filming this because they could not understand who possibly was the person that was being taken out of the cathedral that they shut down Fifth Avenue.

It just doesn't happen. So, then they closed down Madison Avenue. Then they closed down 57th Street. Then the police closed down First Avenue. They closed down the FDR.

They closed down the Harlem River Drive. They closed the upper level of the outbound of the George Washington Bridge, escorted us across the bridge, escorted us through the Palisades Parkway, and then ultimately passed our house in Demarest. And we did a 30-second stop outside a house where we grew up and where my dad lived and then brought us to the cemetery. And the police officer who helped arrange all of that with me, I literally said to him, I have no words of thanks.

I don't know what to say. And his comment was, in the 30 years he had been doing kind of his job, he said, except for somebody who's lying in state, a civilian does not get these honors. And the only person that is deserving of it was your father. And a terrific job on the editing and production by Greg Engler. And a special thanks to Una Neri for sharing the story of her father.

And you can see the documentary on Amazon called Neri's The Dream at the End of the Rainbow. A beautiful story about an Irish immigrant who turned his love of people into a restaurant you must go to. If you're ever on 57th Street down by 1st and 2nd Avenue in that part of the city called Sutton Place, stop by Neri's and by all means have the pork chops. It was one of my favorites until Una suggested the lamb chops. And I think I'll never eat anything else ever when I go back. And of course, you must have their rice pudding. The story of Neri's restaurant, the story of Jimmy Neri, the story of so much more, but particularly the love of a daughter or her father. All of it here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 19:17:01 / 2023-02-17 19:32:49 / 16

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