Resident to be Honored at Ramp Dedication
Michael Mahon has lived in Melrose his whole life, and will be honored during a ceremony unveiling a new downtown sidewalk ramp he championed at city hall.
If you cross Main Street by Mexico Lindo, you may notice a small bronze plaque set into the new handicap ramp. It simply says "Mahon," with a shamrock.
It's an unusual plaque, but then Michael Mahon is a remarkable person. A lifelong Melrose resident—he still lives in the house he grew up in—Mahon travels around town in a motorized wheelchair, meeting friends at Turner's and dropping in at City Hall. When the lack of a curb cut made it hard for him to cross the street by Mexico Lindo, he went straight to City Hall--and he not only got his curb cut, he got his name on it as well.
Mayor Rob Dolan will have a brief ceremony on Friday, November 16, at 3 p.m. to unveil the plaque and dedicate the curb cut to Mahon.
"This plaque is a small reminder that everyone comes to the table with different challenges," Dolan said, "and that's why we are celebrating on Friday. You can look at it as a piece of cement, but that curb cut is recognizing that people in our community have challenges and that the little things we can do to help them are paid back tenfold in freedom and quality of life. We are celebrating that in our business district we are able to improve access, whether you are pushing a baby carriage or you have a walker or you are Mike Mahon."
Mahon's sister Tricia Mahon explained that he has a neurological disorder called syringohydromyelcelia, which is generally shortened to "syrinx"; it's a fluid-filled cyst in his spinal cord that presses down on his nerves and prevents him from using his muscles. It was clear when he was born, in 1950, that something wasn't right. "Michael was taken to every specialist, but nobody understood it at the time," she said. "I am two years younger than him, but we reached our milestones at the same time: I learned to walk at one, he learned to walk at three."
As a child, Michael Mahon rode a bicycle and played baseball, and as his legs got progressively weaker, he used braces and then crutches to get around. At Melrose High School he showed a knack for mechanical things, and the teachers in the auto and woodworking shops put him in charge of the tools. He also ran a bicycle shop in his cellar for many years.
Michael's legs continued to get weaker. At first his father simply carried him from place to place, but when he was in his 20s he began using a wheelchair. With encouragement and support from his parents, he continued to do the things he loved. His mother taught him how to drive the Gran Torino with hand controls and how to cook. "I owe it all to my parents," he said. "There was me and my older bother and sister, all three of us, and we were all treated the same, and that's how I enjoy life. I never thought of myself as being disabled because I did as much as I could--I couldn't run a block or two, but I did what I wanted to do."
Although he can no longer use his arms, Mahon still likes to tinker and repair things, including his 72 Gran Torino, which a friend keeps for him in a barn in Topsfield. "Michael is very mechanical," Tricia Mahon said. "He can fix things in his brain and tell people how to fix them. He can repair a car, a boat, plumbing--he knows all those things." He is a stockholder in the New England dragway, she said: "It is his passion to watch these cars go 300 mph, and he has made several trips to Indy." And when he turned 60, 200 of Mahon's friends and relatives flocked to his birthday party, which featured hot rods, a bagpiper, and a bouncy house.
The motorized wheelchair, which Michael got a few years ago, has opened up his world even more. He goes downtown to have lunch with friends, travels in a special van to Topsfield to work on his car, and he even spent ten days touring Ireland with his brother and cousin. "Everybody in the community is great," he said. "If I get stuck, people walking buy will give me a push. The cars will even turn around and come back and ask me if I need help."
Mahon is a regular visitor to City Hall, and on one of his visits, he mentioned that he was having a problem crossing Main Street by Mexico Lindo. "I was riding along the sidewalk, and I saw the crosswalk and was going to cross over, and I looked down and I couldn't get down it," he said. "There was no cutaway. So I had to go over by the driveway to get across, and I had to go at an angle from Melrose Drug. I said 'I'm not going to do that any more. It's too dangerous.' So in order to cross in that middle, I had to go to East Foster or Grove Street."
Mahon asked Dolan to do something about it, and he did: When the city upgraded the downtown area of Main Street, the cutaway was put at the end of the crosswalk. New curb cuts were also added in several different areas.
"Mike is an amazing guy," Dolan said, "and when he mentioned this problem, I knew we had to do something about it. The Main Street project was a perfect opportunity to improve accessibility in the area for wheelchair users, senior citizens, and moms with strollers." With the additional curb cuts, Mahon can now easily travel all the way downtown from his house on East Foster Street.
And that will make it easier for him to continue his already busy life. "His mind is always going and people come to him for his ability to fix things and they come to him for his ability to just handle stress," said Tricia. "It's amazing, you or I might have a hangnail and it might ruin our day, but for Michael his day is fraught with a whole lot more challenges and he is a tougher character than the average person. It is exhausting, but he is very much a strong, strong person. I'm a better person for being part of his life. Anybody who is around him is inspired by him. He is special."