It was a lesson learned well by Mike McGrath.
From a humble family of modest means, McGrath understood that to enable his academic and athletic well-being as a student-athlete at Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, he would have to contribute some funds to offset the tuition fees.
So McGrath became a dishwasher and man of many hats at Friendly’s Ice Cream in North Attleboro.
A few years later, while an undergraduate at Boston College, McGrath similarly faced the financial burden of tuition fees and expenses on Chestnut Hill.
So, true to his hard-working nature, McGrath pounded the pavement selling encyclopedias, while he also worked details as a member of the snow removal crew at Boston’s Logan Airport.
The hours of sacrifice and physical toll and the development of his personal and communicative skills, not to mention a book on computers that one of his Bishop Feehan instructors Sister Therese Agnes provided him, opened a door to a career in computer sciences.
Some decades later, McGrath has been involved in technological development nationally, a founding partner at Pittiglio, Rabin, Todd & McGrath, one of the world’s largest high-tech consulting firms.
True to his North Attleboro roots, McGrath never lost his love for the ’Boro’s and Bishop Feehan, one of the benefactors who guided the development and construction of the Shamrocks’ multi-use athletic complex on campus, McGrath Stadium, named in honor of his father, James McGrath.
“My father raised me as a single parent, he worked hard,” McGrath said. “I wanted to acknowledge him when we dedicated the stadium.”
The 1967 Feehan graduate, who is also a member of Boston College’s Class of 1971 and Harvard Business School’s Class of 1973, will be among the inductees at the 50th annual Attleboro Area Football Hall of Fame Jan. 8 at the Attleboro Lodge of Elks. (The induction, originally scheduled for this weekend, was postponed due to North Attleboro High School’s playoff game.)
McGrath will be saluted for his contributions to the game of football in the area joining with fellow Shamrocks Frank Pesanello (’04) and Mike Montagna (’06) as inductees.
Along with the trio of Shamrock alumni, other honorees include Attleboro High School graduates Mark McAloon (’02), Tommy Burns (’14) and Luke Morrison (’14) along with a trio of North Attleboro High School Rocketeer grads – Joe Kummer (’10), Paul Norris (’12) and Eric Beckwith (’13).
In addition, former Bishop Feehan High football coach Curt Smith, who guided the Shamrocks to two MIAA Super Bowl appearances, and members of the North Attleboro High football teams from 1997-2000, who created a 38-game winning streak, will be honored.
McGrath played football at Bishop Feehan for then-head coach Chet Hanewich.
“I ran track one year, too, but I had to drop out of the program because I had to work and make some money to pay for my tuition,” McGrath recalled.
“I remember my father telling me that’s what I had to do to pay for my expenses,” McGrath said of his dad James, who was a grocery clerk at the First National Stores. “I saw how hard he worked and how much that he did to put a roof over my head and food on the table. I realized a few years later that my father had dedicated his whole life to me, to make sure that I was taken care of. In time, those lessons are never lost on you.”
Those self-sustaining habits continued during his days at Boston College. McGrath worked as a construction laborer during the summer months. During the academic year, he sold encyclopedias, shoveled snow and refereed basketball games.
“Every little bit helped,” he said. “You create those good work habits.”
During his final two years at Boston College, he interned at Texas Instruments in Attleboro, where his interest in computer sciences was further percolated.
“I’d literally get up at 5 in the morning, drive down to Attleboro and do a five-hour shift and get back to class,” he said. “It really develops good habits and you carry those habits into your work life.”
Of course, McGrath’s personality and mannerisms were nurtured and developed by the faculty and staff, his classmates and teammates at Bishop Feehan.
“I wasn’t a great football player (a safety in the defensive secondary and a special teams captain) at Bishop Feehan, I wasn’t a star, I was a team player,” McGrath said. “What I learned was that if you worked hard enough at anything you could succeed.
“In particular, if you worked harder than everybody else.
“I carried that into BC and then onto Harvard, where I was one of the youngest to get in there. Then I carried that hard work into my own businesses and my career — you have to outwork everybody.”
During his senior year at Feehan, McGrath recalled how Hanewich coached the team to an undefeated season, with only two opponents scoring, and a Bristol County League championship.
“I was the special teams captain, that was my role,” McGrath said. “Hanewich trusted me. I even called one of the biggest plays in the Thanksgiving Day game against Bishop Stang.”
McGrath fondly remembers a home game with the Hilltoppers of Durfee High School in Fall River, the Shamrocks trailing by three touchdowns, but coming back to win.
And the Thanksgiving Day game at Hayward Field in Attleboro against Bishop Stang.
“It was broadcast live on TV, that was for the championship,” he said. “There had to be 5,000 to 6,000 people there and games were never on TV like they are now. We were down in that game and came back to win it.
“Stang was punting from their own 12 of 15-yard line. I called ‘block the punt’ and we got a touchdown and that turned the game around. To this day, I don’t think Coach Hanewich ever knew that I called it. He had his back turned to me when I called all 11 of us in to block the punt. It worked so he never said anything. For my entire life, I’ve always wondered.”
McGrath relishes the chatter nowadays with former Shamrock teammates, recalling the intricacies and plots of various games.
“It’s amazing the stuff that you remember from 50 years ago,” he said. “I remember running track too because Bishop Feehan had put this new track out there and I’m running to get in shape for football. Paul O’Boy comes over and tells me that I had just run a state record, but the track wasn’t a 220-yard track.”
The McGrath family resided in North Attleboro and often spent summers at York Beach in Maine, a favorite vacation spot for his dad, near the historic Stubble Lighthouse. McGrath now resides in Naples, Florida and attempts to improve his golf game.
McGrath was identified by several business and computer trade outlets as being one of the nation’s best minds for technological development. He has also authored books on increasing business productivity, driverless cars and making decisions.
McGrath served on the Board of Trustees at St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vt., for 19 years and currently sits on the board of several computer technology and nonprofit firms.
The PRTM (Pittiglio, Rabin, Todd and McGrath) technology worldwide firm, created in 1976, served as a consultant to Fortune 500 companies. “We were the major tech firm helping big companies with their development and strategy,” McGrath said.
McGrath moved along to Texas to serve as a CEO and chairman for several firms and still serves as chairman of the board of directors for National Instruments in Austin.
It all began with Sister Therese Agnes, one of his math teachers, who later became the President of Salve Regina University in Newport.
“Sister Therese gave me this book on computers and back in ’65, ’66 I never really knew much about it,” McGrath said. “I read it and was fascinated. So I applied to the computer science program at Boston College.
“That book was my inspiration. It’s sometimes little things that change people’s lives.”