The Grande Dame of Worcester Square: Rose Mehegan Passes at 98

If one searched hard enough, somewhere in the center of Worcester Square park in the South End, they would likely still find the thumbprint of Rose Mehegan – a former resident of the Square who ran traditional lodging houses there and elsewhere in the South End, headed the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) for many years and was the kind of colorful character so common in old-time Boston but increasingly extinct these days.

After more than 60 years, Mehegan left the South End in 2005 due to increasing health complications, and passed away in a Rhode Island nursing home on May 29 at the age of 98.

Rose Mohegan getting an award from the late Mayor Tom Menino.

Born in Rhode Island, she came to Boston in the 1940s and found a base in Worcester Square. She ran multiple lodging houses on the Square and through the South End – with the full experience of providing her lodgers one meal a day, transport to appointments and even haircuts. It was much more common in the South End those days to have “roomers” and Mehegan’s base was 5 Worcester Sq.

She was a member of WSANA for many years, serving as president for a time, and being credited with keeping it all together over the many years she lived there. She gave her heart and soul to caring for Worcester Square park, keeping it up and beautifying it at a time when the South End didn’t do that often. Her forte, however, was Christmas in the Square.

Adrienne Kimball moved to the South End with her young family in 1991, and lived next to Mehegan until she had to leave – actually buying her home at 5 Worcester Sq. at Mehegan’s request.

“She loved the Square and the tree lighting was her pride and joy, always with lots of colored lights,” she said. “It was charming, very 1950s, but it was the highlight of her year. She lived for it and loved it. I’m glad they continued on that legacy…She was a character. It was very hard to see her declining. She had a short-term memory loss. She was really important to Worcester Square when she was younger and energetic. She was constantly in City Hall, lively and always happy.”

Pamela Mason, who still lives on Worcester Square, met Mehegan in 1973 when she moved to the South End. She said Mehegan was very politically connected, fair and nice to everyone.

“She was the grand dame of Worcester Square,” she said. “You would always see her puttering and cleaning up the park. She had a big and good network in informal politics. She could call any politician and they knew who she was. None of the mayors ever missed the tree lighting, from Mayor White on to Mayor Menino. Halloween in the Square was always a big deal too, and we’ve kind of continued that too.”

Greg Jackson, who moved to East Springfield Street 40 years ago, said there are no others like Mehegan.

“Rose was one of a kind,” he said. “My partner and I moved to East Springfield 40 years ago and Rose was here 60 years altogether. She kept Worcester Square going. She was a ball of energy. She would go out and sweep the whole square, maybe one or two times a week. When nobody else cared too much, she was out doing it. She also swept and shoveled other people’s steps…Politically, she was a force to be reckoned with.”

That was the case in 1978 when she was arrested near a polling location at the Bethel Tabernacle Pentecostal Church. She was handing out leaflets with others, and apparently caught the ire of Police Sgt. Peter Larffarello. After he gruffly told her to move, they began to argue. According to one account, the officer grabbed her and twisted her arm and hurt her. She was traumatized, and he ended up arresting her. According to the neighborhood account, few realized how roughly she had been treated until they saw her injuries. A newspaper account confirmed she did get treated, and said she was arrested for resisting arrest. The case was continued without a finding.

Both Jackson and Kimball shared that she likely single-handedly saved Worcester Square park at one point – using her political pull to fight the City turning the park into a parking lot. No one was quite sure how she did it, but Kimball affirmed it was true.

“If it wasn’t for Rose, it may well right now be a parking lot for the hospital and it would have destroyed the Square,” said Kimball.

Mehegan also cared for her parents in her lodging house, with her father being an alternative healer and psychologist – specializing in hypnotism and mesmerism. Her brother, Edward, also lived with her for a time, and she had one son, Lawrence, and was married to Charles Mehegan.

In 2006, WSANA decided to name the Square after Mehegan, and a plaque naming it Rose Mehegan Park now stands for all to see.

In a poem written by long-time resident Helaine Simmonds, she bid Mehegan farewell in 2005, and it is just as appropriate at her passing.

To quote a portion, “She cared not if you were not straight; long as you stepped up to the plate. And with Joe and Jim and others like them; they pols you could hear her berate. You might think that this was not much; but she sure had the magic touch. She kept us in line; But never with wine; With good will and with grace and such. So let’s drink to a lady named Rose; and bid her farewell as she goes. She’s done so much good; In this neighborhood; And never did stick up her nose.”

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