IF YOU LISTEN carefully, you can still hear Joe Montgomery singing "Danny Boy."
It's been some years since Joe graced the choir loft of Transfiguration Church in West Philadelphia with his distinctive Irish tenor.
But there are those who swear they can still hear his voice raised in those songs that never fail to stir the heart or bring a tear to the eye of a true Irish patriot.
And they will remember the image of Joe, garbed in top hat and morning coat, ever the dapper gentleman, as he presided as grand marshal over the St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Joseph E. Montgomery, a longtime leader of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and other Irish-American organizations, a truck driver in the grocery business and proud member of the Teamsters Union, and Army Air Corps veteran of World War II, died Dec. 3. He was 95 and was living in Merchantville, N.J., but had previously lived in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, N.J.
Joe was president for 40 years of what was known as Division 65 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians before the name was changed to the Joseph E. Montgomery Division.
Steve Burns, now vice president of the division, recalled how he startled members in the late '90s when he suggested naming the division after Joe.
Typically, Hibernian divisions were named after deceased persons or religious figures. "Oh, God, we can't do that. He's still alive," was a typical reaction to Steve's idea.
"And I said, 'That's my point. Let's honor Joe while he's still with us.' "
And so the name was changed, one of numerous honors Joe received over the years. He was inducted into the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame in 2009.
The leadership roles Joe assumed in Irish-American organizations included president of the Hibernian division from 1958 to 1998, its 100th anniversary; president of the United Irish-American Societies of Delaware Valley (its Man of the Year in 1983); president of the Commodore John Barry Society; secretary of the Irish Participation Committee of the 41st International Eucharistic Congress; president and corresponding secretary of the St. Patrick's Day Observance Committee.
Joe was grand marshal of the St. Patrick's Day Parade in 1993.
He also worked on the advisory committee of the "Treasures of Early Irish Art," an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He was national chairman of the Freedom for All Ireland Committee, and president of the Pennsylvania state board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
He was described as a "true Irish gentleman," and a "Hibernian's Hibernian."
Common Pleas Judge James Lynn, a longtime friend, said, "I will miss hearing his wise counsel; his wonderful and powerful singing voice; his humor, talking about staying in shape - doing 100 push-ups and lifting weights."
Lynn recalled a conversation with Joe three years ago:
"Me: 'Joe, you still lifting weights?' Joe: 'No, Jim, the doctor told me that at 92, I better put the weights down. But I'm still doing the push-ups.' "
Joe was famous for his quick wit and quips. As recounted by the judge, his way of putting someone down who annoyed him was, "That guy could give an aspirin a headache."
Patrick Mulhern, now president of the Joseph Montgomery Hibernian division, said, "I will remember Joe as the epitome of the Irish gentleman. I consider myself better for having known him, and will sadly miss his friendship and countenance."
Chris Phillips, president of the St. Patrick's Day Observance Association, said Joe "was a pure gentleman, a man who did more for others than he ever did for himself."
Joe Montgomery was born in Philadelphia and attended Roman Catholic High School. He joined the Army on May 1, 1940, and served in the Panama Canal Zone and the Galapagos Islands. He was a waist gunner on B-17 and B-24 aircraft on anti-submarine patrol.
He also taught gunnery at various Army bases. He won marksman medals with the M-1 rifle.
After the war, Joe went to work for the Quaker Grocery Co. and spent the rest of his working career in the grocery business as a driver. He was a member of Teamsters Local 107 and later Local 500.
He married Mary E. Collis on Feb. 22, 1944, while home on leave. She died in 1998.
Joe Montgomery is gone, but the work he did for the Irish community in Philadelphia and the people he inspired with his devotion to the rites and traditions of those places live on wherever green is worn.