Richard V. McCann

November 29, 1915 ~ March 14, 2012 (age 96) 96 Years Old


Richard Vincent McCann, of Newton, a teacher, professor, state and federal research and program administrator, musician, poet, and beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, passed away on March 14, at the Hebrew Senior Life Center in Roslindale. He was 96 years old.

Richard was born and grew up in Portland, Maine. After graduating in 1937 from Bowdoin College, where among other things he was the bell ringer for the Bowdoin chimes, he worked for a time in banking in New York City, attending as many Metropolitan Opera performances as he could arrange. He received the Ph.D. degree from Harvard University in 1955, the first-ever in the Psychology of Religion. He taught at Harvard Divinity School, Andover Newton Theological School, worked with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, the Governor's Board on Higher Education Policy, then as Director of Research for the New England Regional Office of Education, and finally as regional director for the U. S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, New England Region.

He published two books, Delinquency: Sickness or Sin?, in 1957, and The Churches and Mental Health, 1962, which followed lines of inquiry initiated in his graduate studies. He was keenly interested in interfaith and cross-cultural communications and human relations, and helped establish the Boston Indian Center, New England Regional Task Force on Indian Affairs (Federal), and the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs. Throughout his career in state and federal bureaucracy he shared his expertise as a researcher, grant and program developer with others, especially those who fought for social improvement and rights. When the Indian Education Act was passed in 1972, and some Native American communities in New England were about to be disqualified through an inappropriate technicality, he made sure nothing would get in the way of the program's benefit to Mashpee and other New England Native children. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Albert Schweitzer were leaders whom he studied and especially admired.

For 14 years he produced and moderated a non-denominational interfaith television series, Our Believing World, on WBZ. His work was recognized with awards from the National conference on Christians and Jews, B'nai B'rith, the Valley Forge Freedom Foundation, and Temple Mishkan Tefila in Boston. Programs included the first visit to the U.S. of the English Archbishop of Canterbury, broadcast from Old North Church, the installation of Archbishop Burgess, the first African American archbishop in America, first broadcast of a Roman Catholic service, Greek Orthodox service, a family celebrating Passover, and numerous other firsts. His children, though, remember best his producers, especially Lawrence Baker, who brought talents honed at WBZ to advise John Kennedy's campaign for president and particularly his televised debates with Richard Nixon. Many international visitors, such as the religious and political leader Ndabaningi Sithole, of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), came to the family home in Cambridge, bringing discussion of their work for international social justice causes.

His daughter Judy Battat said how hard it is to cover his life work especially because his interests and expertise evolved through many professional contexts. He was an administrator, but he was also a professor, a musician, and successfully wore so many other hats that it is hard to talk about a 'career'. "He certainly inspired us in our interests in cultures, languages, human relations, and arts, but he also enthusiastically followed our interests." He was a fantastic listener, and a deeply caring advisor to his colleagues, his family, and to many friends. Rabbi Herman Blumberg at Hebrew Senior Life, where Richard lived the last year of his life, said of him that "he had so many areas where he contributed and in all of them, each of them, he contributed in a way that made that part of the world better...or made a difference for a group of people."

Richard and his beloved wife Helen, who passed away in 2006, shared a love for music, listening to the Met Opera broadcasts on Saturday afternoon, going to the Boston Symphony, Boston Opera. They shared that love with their family, at the annual performances of The Nutcracker as the grandchildren began to come along. Richard played accordion and piano with the All Newton Jazz Band, sang with the All Newton Chorus, played a fine piano round in the annual First Church of Cambridge Musicale, and would often find a way to a keyboard wherever he was. Interested by his son David's work in Korean literature, he had recently started working with the Korean sijo verse form. His sense of humor was always present, as on the day his son David brought him home with new hearing aids. David asked, "Hear that bird over there?" Richard grinned and answered, "Same bird, but nearer."

In recent years, he suffered from complex medical difficulties, but maintained his
interests in ideas, music and the arts, and his shared interests with his family members. Throughout difficult times, his courage and spirit were supportive to his family. He leaves his sister Phyllis Hollinshead, in Maine, son David and daughter Judy Battat, David's wife Ann, their children Kate and Max, spouses Mark and Jenn, granddaughters Helen and Isabelle; his daughter Judy's husband David Battat, their children Margaret and Daniel, son-in-law Diego Silva and twin granddaughters Gabriella and Carolina; He also leaves nieces Betsy Main, and Nancy Berube and their families, and his unofficially adopted daughter, Gabriele Matzner of Vienna.

A memorial service will be held on April 13 at 2 p.m. at First Church in Cambridge, 11 Garden St.

  • Memorial Service

    April 13, 2012
    2:00 PM

    First Church in Cambridge

    11 Garden Street
    Cambridge , MA

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