Published July 21. 2012 4:00AM
Court officer John E. Hanrahan to retire after Lou Gehrig's diagnosis
Judicial Marshal John E. Hanrahan Jr. has banged the gavel to open court more times than he can count in the past 24 years.
He's shuttled an endless flow of prisoners from holding areas to courtrooms and walked an immeasurable number of files from courtroom to clerk's office.
If a judge forgot his robe when he moved from one courtroom to another, Hanrahan gladly retrieved it. If his co-workers were collecting donations for one cause or another, he quickly reached into his pocket.
Working in all four courthouses in the New London Judicial District during his career, Hanrahan, his coworkers say, did everything he could to bring order from chaos.
Hanrahan, 46, of Stonington, is reluctantly retiring Aug. 1 due to an increasingly debilitating medical condition commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Saddened by his departure and the seriousness of his illness, his colleagues - who fondly call him "The Hammer" - are planning a dinner and raffle in his honor and have established a fund to help defray medical expenses not covered by his insurance.
"The doctors say I should retire because of safety concerns," Hanrahan said during an interview Friday at the G.A. 10 courthouse on Broad Street, where he has been stationed for the past six years.
He admitted that his pride and his affection for his colleagues kept him working as his condition worsened over the past five years. He said he started having problems with his speech in 2007. He said he was initially misdiagnosed with a stroke and then with three or four other conditions before specialists in Boston told him he has cerebellar ataxia, a form of ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
"I hid it a lot," Hanrahan said. "That's how much I love my job."
The disease has started to affect his gait. Hanrahan said people have seen him in public and have called the police, thinking he was drunk. He wears a medallion around his neck that identifies his illness.
After retiring, Hanrahan said, he is going to try to travel - he has always wanted to go to Hawaii and Ireland - and plans to get his estate in order.
"I'm going to move forward to a new chapter in my life," he said.
His supervisor, George Hall, said it was a sad day when Hanrahan announced he was leaving.
"If I had 10 more like him, it would be an easy job," Hall said. "He never questions you, just does it. John is a true professional."
"He's been an excellent employee, the type that will step up at any time to do anything needed to get the job done," Chief Judicial Marshal James A. Schmitt said. "Even though he's leaving, we know he's still part of our family down here."
Judge Kevin P. McMahon said Hanrahan has gone out of his way more than anyone else to help the judges.
"He spoils us," McMahon said. "It's almost embarrassing how much he does for us."
Michael E. Kennedy, supervising prosecutor at the courthouse on Broad Street, said Hanrahan has been a vital member of the marshal's service for 24 years, physically intervening in the courtroom when needed to keep the public and staff safe.
"He's also very courteous and helpful to the general public," Kennedy said. "He always goes the extra mile to assist the court in its daily functions."
Kennedy, admitting he was almost tearing up thinking about it, said, "We don't know what we'll do without him."
The employees in the clerk's office felt the same way.
"You wouldn't want it to happen to anyone, but especially not him,' Jessica Argento said. "He shows so much courage every day."
"He's always thinking of others," Kristi White said. "If you have a question, he'll get you an answer."
Hanrahan's friends want to be there for him.
"Everyone wants things to be as smooth as possible for him," said Joe Winski, a fellow marshal. "He's always put everybody else's needs before his own."
Stonington Police Capt. Jerry Desmond, a longtime friend, said it is rare to find a person like Hanrahan, who genuinely cares about people and never hesitates to offer a helping hand.
"He wasn't sure what he was dealing with for a while and he was obviously very courageous," Desmond said. "He was very insistent throughout that he wanted to keep working and wanted to hang in there and overcome this illness. It's taken its toll and he's going to step back and work on his health."