Man of His Words

James McGahay ’63 extolled BC honorary degree recipients with elegant prose.

James McGahay

James McGahay ’63, who died at age 78 in April, worked at Boston College for more than three decades in several positions, including associate director of the Alumni Association, acting director of public relations, and senior writer in the Development Office. But his signature contribution to BC went uncredited: Every year for a quarter-century, he composed the honorary degree citations that are read at the University's Commencement Exercises and printed in the accompanying program. These lyrical and richly detailed passages praised the lives and achievements of luminaries such as George H. W. Bush, Maya Angelou, and Seamus Heaney. “You have to find a peg,” McGahay said in a 2000 Boston College Chronicle interview. “There’s something interesting about every person you encounter. I look for things that catch my eye, that capture the personality and individuality of the person. I like to look for a smile.” Following are excerpts from a few of McGahay’s meticulously crafted citations.


Lionel B. Richie Jr., 1986 
“Superstar in the dazzling Motown constellation; creator of ballads as courtly and romantic as roses on the first date; writer of nine number one songs in nine consecutive years…Boston College honors a star of the first magnitude for a glowing humanity undimmed by fame.”


Corinne “Cokie” Boggs Roberts, 1994
“Boston College welcomes an informed and witty commentator as apt to deflate liberal dogma as conservative cant, a worthy descendant of a distinguished American lineage who maintains an unfashionable respect for the work of politicians, and a woman of faith unafraid to speak from religious conviction.”


Rita Dove, 1995 
“To signify admiration for your devotion to spreading the earthly joy of the language of the soul and your determination ‘to walk with grace along beauty’s seam,’ Boston College respectfully proclaims you Doctor of Humane Letters.”


William M. Bulger, 1996 
“Your origins may be found in a Boston neighborhood where politics was as lively a cottage industry as Aran Island knitting, and in the boy whom lifelong friend Congressman Joseph Moakley remembers as the ‘kid who went to the library when it wasn’t even raining out.’”



William F. Russell, 1999 
“Joining the Boston Celtics, fresh from a gold medal victory at the 1956 Olympics, he began a career highlighted by 11 championships in 13 years and five Most Valuable Player awards, in a steady rise to Hall of Fame stature, legend status, and a widely held reputation as the best player the game has ever seen.”