It happened again last month. Jack McGreevy sent a letter to the editor and we received several angry responses.
Mr. McGreevy has developed a reputation as this newspaper’s most polarizing letter writer.
The Mattituck man has his opinions on a wide variety of topics, some of which, particularly his views on marriage, have been known to offend many, myself included.
But while I might not always agree with Mr. McGreevy, I’ve come to see him in a different light over the years.
You see, the two letters we publish each month aren’t the only ones we receive from him. He actually writes us just about every day, sometimes more than once. I can recall one day when all three times I checked my mailbox there was a new letter from Jack waiting for me.
Mr. McGreevy handwrites his missives and delivers them himself. Our front office staff knows him by name. And when the office is closed, he can often be found filling our outside mailbox, multiple times some weekends.
While the post office takes Sundays off, Mr. McGreevy does not.
It turns out our newsroom isn’t the only place he sends his letters. A file labeled “constituent comments” in the Town Clerk’s online records shows more than 200 correspondences over the past eight years. Every single one of them is from Mr. McGreevy.
Because I spent my first several years at this company working out of offices in Wading River and Rocky Point, I didn’t actually meet the man until I’d already read dozens of his letters. I suppose it was my own bias that led me to picture an angry loner when I read his letters to the editor. When I finally met him, I was actually surprised to see he was not the neighbor with the shovel in the first “Home Alone” movie.
From my own limited experience, I’ve found he is not a particularly angry man. In fact, despite how some of his opinions might make you feel about him, Jack McGreevy strikes me as a fairly warm man. He’s active in the community — currently serving on the town’s Conservation Advisory Council — and always has a smile on his face.
“That’s me,” he said in a telephone interview this week.
A veteran of the U.S. Army who has had ties to the North Fork since 1950, when his father first bought a bungalow in Mattituck, Mr. McGreevy served 24 years with the New York Police Department before retiring here in the late 1970s. Before moving to Mattituck full-time, he owned his own bungalow for a decade, which he has since torn down and replaced with a pre-fab home he designed himself as part of a retirement project.
He has five children — three daughters and two sons — and 14 grandchildren.
Mr. McGreevy says he was raised to believe that if you have an opinion on something you should share it with people and that’s why he writes his daily letters. That’s also, he says, why he gathers with a group of men at a local farm each Saturday night as part of a group he calls the “Potbelly Stove Gang.” They share and debate ideas over potluck dinners and booze.
“You have to keep people in the circle,” Mr. McGreevy said. “You don’t talk behind people’s backs. If you believe something or know something, you share it. This is very important.”
He doesn’t write letters to intentionally offend anyone or to necessarily provoke a response, he says.
“When I write, it’s all what I believe,” he said. “I know not everyone agrees with me and so we should have a debate. I don’t think I’ve ever made it personal or been out of line with anyone.”
After we hung up the phone, I decided to look through some of Mr. McGreevy’s old letters and the responses they received. I couldn’t find an example of him attacking a specific individual or using directly offensive labels, though I can understand why many would be upset by the implication he makes when he writes, for example, that “anything goes” after gay marriage.
That statement and others have inspired our readers to respond by calling him a bigot or to intentionally misspell his name. Once, when he wished a “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all,” a reader responded that he didn’t really mean “all.”
“Rather, his good wishes are solely for the heterosexual population,” the response stated.
Asked to explain himself this week, Mr. McGreevy said he believes the highest courts should write the definition of marriage, not legislators in Albany. He said he’s not attacking homosexuality, but rather the process that led to the passage of the Marriage Equality Act in 2011.
While I don’t agree with Mr. McGreevy — not on this issue anyway — I do believe he has a right to state his beliefs, just as others are free to sound back.
Remember, he welcomes debate from anyone.
Well, just about anyone.
When Mr. McGreevy gets together with his family, he says there’s no talk of religion or politics.
“We don’t discuss it because we don’t all agree,” he said, “but I know where they stand and they definitely know where I’m coming from.”
The author is executive editor for Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-354-8046.