The Braille Monitor                                                                        December 2005

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The Soft Side of Mr. Hardball Chris Matthews Joins Forum on Disabilities

by Matt Viser

 David Ticchi as a Holy Cross student
David Ticchi as a Holy Cross student

From the Editor: The following story first appeared in the November 14, 2004, edition of the Boston Globe. David Ticchi is a longtime leader of the NFB of Massachusetts and the Cambridge chapter. Here it is:

Chris Matthews starts out each show saying, "Let's play hardball." And for the next hour he pummels the pundits with heat and curves. But to David Ticchi there's nothing intimidating about that rat-a-tat voice. It helped the Newton school administrator get through college.

Matthews will be the keynote speaker at a disability awareness event this week in honor of Ticchi, who is blind. The MSNBC-TV talk show host was one of a group of friends at Holy Cross who read course books aloud to Ticchi, essential help in the 1960's when much of the required reading was not available in Braille.

When Ticchi introduces his longtime buddy at the Newton function, he may have a surprise story or two to share with the crowd. Like the one about Matthews's pivotal role in the Holy Cross Doughnut Rebellion, when the cafeteria doubled the price from a nickel to a dime.
It was Matthews's thick Philadelphia accent that first drew Ticchi to him in 1963 on the second floor of Beaven Hall. Ticchi, a West Bridgewater native, recruited Matthews to be one of his readers.

"He's giving me a lot more credit than I deserve," Matthews said in a phone interview. "He got a tremendous grade point average at Holy Cross. He did a lot of his exams orally and impressed the hell out of the professors. But a lot of it was reading, and he needed that support."

Matthews and Ticchi are among a dozen buddies who have stayed in touch since college. When Matthews was in town for the Democratic National Convention, he invited Ticchi to a press briefing at the Union Oyster House. And when Ticchi couldn't attend Holy Cross's graduation last year for Matthews's commencement talk, the talk show host read his entire address to him over the phone.

But it's the odd things that the two remember about one another. For Matthews it's the dorm room wrestling matches. "These rooms were pretty darn small," Matthews said. "But Dave could reduce the size of the mat pretty quickly. He would find you--let's put it that way. And you wouldn't want to be in his grip; he's a strong guy."

"I used to twist them into a pretzel," said Ticchi, referring to Matthews and another friend, Jim Moran, who is now a Democratic congressman from Virginia. "It was just guys horsing around."

Chris Matthews as a Holy Cross student
Chris Matthews as a Holy Cross student

Matthews has since risen to cult stardom on Hardball, an inside baseball show for political junkies. He has also written four books, including Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think and Hardball: How Politics Is Played. Each time a new book comes out, Matthews sends the audio version to Ticchi.

"I love it," Ticchi said about listening to Matthews's books on tape. "It's like being there with him. It's like being back in college in the room, him reading to me. I just sit back with my glass of scotch and listen to him." Ticchi, though, said listening to Matthews's rapid-fire voice is "like a tape on fast-forward."

"I come from Philadelphia, and I blame everything on that," Matthews said. "I had four brothers; we talk fast, that's all. I've always talked fast. My father would always say, ‘Slow down, slow down, slow down.' But that's my type. That's me."

Blind from birth, Ticchi was not one to let his disability get in his way. In college he was a lineman in the Friday afternoon touch football games. He has golfed, bowled, played basketball, and learned to hit a baseball after tossing it in the air. Ticchi was accepted by Cornell's law school and Dartmouth's business school (the first blind student to achieve that distinction), but turned both down to volunteer for a Jesuit program in New Mexico.

When he returned, he earned a master's degree in education at Harvard University. He continued at Harvard and got his doctorate, and in 1969 he became the first blind person to be certified to teach in Massachusetts.

He taught English at Day Middle School in Newtonville and math at Newton North High School. He now works as an administrator in the high school's career and technical education program. Ticchi uses a computer that reads his email to him. He has a machine that gives him easy access to his appointment calendar and phone numbers, although he remembers most of the numbers anyway. He runs stairs and lifts weights. His one compromise is taking the back seat of the tandem bike he keeps in his office.

"It's amazing how he does some of the things he does," Matthews said. "You can sit and watch a basketball game with him at a bar, and he's incredibly on top of things. It's just a fact. He's an amazing person."

Ticchi also has a keen sense of humor. Once when he and Matthews were standing in line at the cafeteria, Ticchi turned to Matthews and said, "Matty, you need a haircut." Matthews still laughs at that joke.

"It was the sixties," Ticchi said. "I knew the percentages were with me." Matthews and Ticchi will speak on Tuesday night at the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the Understanding Our Differences program, which teaches Newton students about disabilities. Roger Berkowitz, president of Legal Sea Foods, will also speak at the event, and Ticchi and Berkowitz will be presented with leadership awards.

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