WILKES-BARRE – Jim McCarthy, a former city councilman, iconic bar owner and retired radio news journalist, died Tuesday after a lengthy illness. He was 77.
At their meeting Tuesday night, city council members observed a moment of silence out of respect for McCarthy as well as for former councilman Eric Redick Sr., who died on Dec. 19.
Mayor Tom Leighton, who served with McCarthy on city council and worked with him on other projects in the city, said McCarthy was truly a gentleman. He upheld the legacy of his father, ‘Gentleman Jim Sr.'
He and I had a good relationship, said Leighton. We always told each other how we felt, and that's something that's important when you hold elected office. Jim always told people how he felt.
He and McCarthy didn't always agree, but respected each other's opinions, Leighton said.
Jim will not only be missed by his family and by the city, but by the Greater Wyoming Valley for his contributions to the betterment of this area. Leighton said.
City Controller Kathy Kane, whose family was longtime friends with the McCarthys long before either of them entered politics, said McCarthy will be missed.
He always had great stories, from Washington and from the city, said Kane. He was a good friend and he served the city well.
Before working as a radio correspondent for CBS in Washington, D.C., McCarthy was a disc jockey in Allentown, according to his son, Harry McCarthy, 49.
As a boy, I played his old 45s. The variety was amazing, Harry McCarthy said in a phone interview, recalling some of his favorite memories of his dad. We loved to talk about music. He was my best friend and my worst enemy. … Of course, he loved to sing. On karaoke night (at his dad's bar), we would battle against each other.
Born and raised in the East End section of Wilkes-Barre, McCarthy began his broadcasting career as a part-time announcer at WSCR in Scranton and WPTS in Pittston.
After years of building his rĂ©sumĂ© , he joined CBS, spending 25 years with the organization covering the U.S. Congress and the White House
Former veteran congressman Paul Kanjorski, of Nanticoke, wrote in 1996 that as a young man, McCarthy was a highly respected reporter with exceptional access to the leading political figures of the day, including Jack Kennedy as both a young senator and president.
I realize that it may be hard for today's journalists to realize that journalists and politicians could actually form lasting friendships, but that was a different time with a very different atmosphere, Kanjorski wrote to The Times Leader when defending McCarthy over a misunderstanding over a supposed military rank McCarthy said he had been told he had.
He won the trust of many public officials with his warmth, integrity, and discretion, Kanjorski wrote. When Jim visits me in the capital, he is still stopped by congressmen and senators with whom he worked years ago, and I can tell you their respect and friendship is genuine.
One of McCarthy's favorite stories and most memorable experiences was sharing coffee with President John F. Kennedy at the hospital as his wife gave birth to John-John upstairs.
His career behind the microphone took McCarthy around the world. He befriended Presidents Truman and Kennedy, Congressman Peter Rodino, who chaired the Watergate hearings, and House Speaker Tip O'Neill.
He hand-delivered a letter from me to President Nixon, Harry McCarthy recalled. I wrote to all the presidents, but whether you demonize him or not, Nixon was the only president who wrote back to me longhand and signed it on White House letterhead. The others sent form letters. Not every boy has that opportunity, Harry McCarthy said.
Still, among Harry's most cherished memories are those of when his father returned home from work.
I was a toddler and me and my brothers would be standing in the living room. Every night when he got home from work, he would toss us in the air over and over again. … I am what I am today because of my father, he said.
While Jim McCarthy might have been a little disappointed that none of his sons followed his and his father's footsteps into broadcasting – Harry is a fireman; Jimmy, 51, is going to culinary school; Justin, 47, manages the family bar; and Tim, 45, is a freelance photographer and former police officer – he was proud of them.
After his broadcasting career, McCarthy returned to Wilkes-Barre and, with his wife of 57 years, the former Patricia Kessler, began operating McCarthy's Tavern on the Hill on East Northampton Street.
Harry said his father won every election in which he ran except for county commissioner. He was never a party boy, but he just kept on winning, Harry said.
A member of St. Mary's Church in Wilkes-Barre, McCarthy was also a Mason and a member of the Knights of Columbus, Catholic War Veterans and the Elks Club.