Gone But Not Forgotten: Remembering Joe Timilty

Pictured below: Joe Timilty listens patiently to
Joe Finn.

It was 2003. I had just assumed the leadership of the Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance  (MHSA), an advocacy organization and funder of homeless programs. I was only on the job for two weeks when I received an eviction notice from a large non-profit housing provider, from whom we leased 60 units of transitional housing for homeless men in recovery. What could I do?  Where would I ever find enough units for these men? A few days later, I was attending a political fundraiser — for whom I cannot remember — and I met someone who would irrevocably shape my life. State Senator Michael Morrissey (now Norfolk County D.A.) stopped me as I walked in and he said, “I’d like to introduce you to somebody who might be able to help you with your housing problem.” That was the first time I met Joe Timilty. Long story short, MHSA, to this day, continues to occupy those units, and that meeting became a relationship over the next 14 years that would result in hundreds of permanent supportive housing opportunities for some of the poorest and most disabled people in the Commonwealth.

MHSA’s success, in great part, has been Joe’s success. For me, he was a coach, a teacher, a source of wisdom, and a loyal friend never afraid to tell me the truth. More importantly, he was full of passionate intensity for the poor, for those he felt did not get a fair shake, or for anyone persecuted for being who they were. His was not empty compassion, because he channeled it into getting things done. His sense of justice was practical, and his advocacy for MHSA was effective. This was true not only of his direct advocacy efforts but also in what he taught me how to do. There were few days throughout those 14 years when we did not speak by phone.

Much to my sorrow, we have lost Joe. I have been amazed that the news stories noting his death recall his electoral political career, which was marked by the same intensity and sense of justice, but fail to recognize this was a public person who never retired. He achieved more in the last 14 years than many achieve in a lifetime, but you would not know that because he did not take credit for it. I have never met any person before or since who could get as much out of a single day of existence as he could! Rising early in the morning, always maintaining the discipline of the Marine he was, by 8 AM he was off and engaged in any number of projects, all which of seemed to have the common denominator of helping someone in need. Only several weeks before his death, we were speaking by phone and he was providing me advice — in his usual assertive manner — related to MHSA’s advocacy. I had no clue of the illness he had been battling because it was not his style to share such information.

It may sound like a cliché, but it is true: he is gone, but not forgotten. Knowing someone like Joe Timilty carries a great responsibility. It challenges you to be the same for others as he was for you. It means bringing the best you have each day to those you would claim to serve. It means sharing what you know as widely as you can in order to make an impact, without concern for your “image” or status in the eyes of others. It means reaching deep inside yourself to give that day your best in pursuit of some higher good. When I contemplate these things, the memory of Joe Timilty will come to mind. Gone, but not forgotten. Goodbye good friend.

As for us, the words I am sure Joe heard many times at Mass as an Altar Server so many years ago apply, "Procedamus in pace.”                                                                                                                   


Joe Finn
MHSA President & Executive Director

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