They were the best they could be

By Ron Leir

As we usher in the new year and, with it, hope for renewal, we bid farewell to three of our brighter beacons who were shining examples of the best we can aspire to in life.

Closest to home among this particular trio is Jonathan “Jon” Giordano, a Kearny comrade dedicated to family, profession and civic virtues.

Jon was just 50 when he was taken from us and had only served half his term as a Second Ward representative on the Kearny Town Council but he has, nonetheless, left a lasting impact on the community at large.

His Second Ward council buddy Rich Konopka, who delivered an eloquent eulogy last week, and the rest of his council colleagues were all visibly shaken by his loss and the town of Kearny has a big gap to fill in his absence.

Belleville’s Jeff Mattingly, who came to know Jon over the past decade through business connections and likeminded civic activities, said his friend had an aptitude for carpentry – “he was particularly good with machinery. I’d ask him where you get used parts and he’d be a wealth of information.”

But as much as Jon cared about putting out a good product, he devoted as much attention – if not more – to the welfare of his hometown, Mattingly noted, and didn’t hesitate in “working with the powers that be” in trying to improve things.

That he did, indeed, said John Peneda, Kearny Urban Enterprise Zone coordinator, who recalled how Jon enthusiastically endorsed the prospective Kearny Rewards card program, designed as a local business stimulus.

And he remembered how Jon had researched the idea of adapting sections of Kearny Ave. for “parklets” – sidewalk extensions installed in parking lanes to provide space for amenities like benches and tables for pedestrians and shoppers.

Most of all, though, people will remember Jon as what Councilman Michael Landy accurately termed, “a good guy, a good man.”

  • ••

Another “good guy” who died Jan. 10 at the age of 59 was Steven McDonald, a member of the NYPD who was left paralyzed at the age of 29 after being shot by a 15-year-old boy in Central Park in the summer of 1986. We relied on a recent New York Times obit to recall details about his life.

Several months after the shooting, as he marked his newborn son’s baptism, McDonald wrote of the shooter, in a statement read by his wife, “I forgive him and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life.” For a while, McDonald corresponded with the teen who was convicted of attempted murder, met with his mother and attended church services with the boy’s grandmother.

McDonald, who was retained on the police force as a first-grade detective, made many public appearances, including trips to Northern Ireland as part of the effort to reconcile warring Catholics and Protestants in that country and speaking in support of those seeking to overcome disabilities.

  • ••

Last but by no means least, we memorialize Clare Hollingworth, who, as a recent Times obit recounted, broke the “journalistic scoop of the century” when – in his first week with the British-based The Daily Telegraph – she called in a story to her editor that German forces were about to invade Poland, signaling the start of WWII in August 1939.

Her article was published on Aug. 29 and on Sept. 1, the Germans marched across the border.

Hollingworth pursued a career as a war correspondent over the next 40 years: She covered several WWII fronts, in Europe, the Balkans and North Africa; civil wars in Greece and Algiers; fighting between Arabs and Jews in Palestine; and Vietnam where she narrowly avoided death from a sniper’s bullet.

In the mid-‘60s, despite reporters being barred from entry, Hollingworth called her friend, Indira Gandhi, then information minister for India, to get to the Indo-Pakistani war front.

Other singular achievements credited to Hollingworth include being one of the first Western journalists allowed access to China; identifying British intelligence agent Kim Philby as a Soviet spy; and breaking the story that the U.S. was preparing for peace talks with Vietnam.

For more details, check out any of her books: “The Three Weeks’ War in Poland” (1940), “There’s a German Just Behind Me” (1942), “The Arabs and the West” (1952) and “Mao and the Men Against Him” (1985).

Her first husband divorced her for desertion in 1951 after 15 years of marriage. In a 2004 interview with The Guardian, Hollingworth was quoted as saying: “When I’m on a story, I’m on a story – to hell with husband, family, anyone else.”

Clare Hollingworth is covering new territory now that she passed on Jan. 10, at the age of 105.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.