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Walter Brown

the starter

For Boston and its surrounding towns, more than for any other American place, there’s comfort to be found in the familiar. The same Red Sox and Celtics jerseys. The same marathon route, for more than 100 years. The same family, generation upon generation, starting every spring off with a bang.

First there was George V. Brown Sr., sports promoter and future Boston University athletic director, who helped the BAA organize the race from his home in Hopkinton. After his death in 1937, his four sons, including Walter A.—future founder of the Celts, president of the Bruins and member of the basketball and hockey Halls of Fame—took turns on the starting gun.

The one interruption came in 1990, when BAA president Francis Swift insisted on taking the starter’s gun himself. Public outrage was such that, by the following year’s race, Swift had been forced to resign.

For the next 23 years, Walter F. (at right, beside his grandfather’s statue on the Hopkinton Common) carried on the annual family rite. The feeling, he said from his home in Plainfield, Vt., is “indescribable.” Last year, Walter F. was near the finish line when he heard the bombs explode. “I was just as shocked as anyone could possibly be,” he says. “I had to feel: What jerks. What dummies to try to pull something like that off. And the tragedy, the meaninglessness of the gesture.”

This year, Walter F., 68, struggled for months before deciding he could no longer perform his duty. Illness will keep him home in Vermont.

“I’m so disappointed to be an interruption in this process,” Walter F. says. “I’m very sad about it.”

A Brown will be there, though. George V.’s great granddaughter, Christina Whelton—daughter of current BAA vice-president Thomas Whelton—has been tapped to fire the ceremonial pistol on Monday.

“I’m very honored and very humbled—especially this year—to be able to carry on the tradition,” says Christina Whelton, who has attended the marathon for 43 of her 44 years. “All eyes are on Boston this year.”

Courtesy Candace Smith
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