There are many people who have had an impact on West Chester. Along these people comes countless stories that are factual and then there are some “Big Fish” tales. This is a true story about a man who was bigger than the “Big Fish” stories that preceded him.
A giant once roamed the streets of West Chester. The Howard Stern Radio Show dubbed him “Bigfoot”. The world was introduced to him when he starred in the movie, Big Fish, as the gentle giant in Ewan McGregor’s imagination. Most recall him as, “the really tall guy who was a doorman at that bar in town”. I had the great fortune to simply call him a friend.
Matt McGrory was born and raised in West Chester, PA. He graduated from Bishop Shanahan when it was located in the Borough. His Father, Bill Sr., owned Rosie O’Grady’s which you now know as Barnaby’s. Matt has a brother and two sisters. His mother, Maureen, is alive and well living in Florida with her husband George. Matt’s father passed away in 1995.
There are a few stories that I tell about Matt, but the story I’m about to tell is my favorite for many reasons. It tells of Matt’s emotional struggle and his triumph over society’s fear and abuse of anyone who is different. Matt may have set records for his size, but it was Matt’s heart that that set the record for compassion and strength in the face of cruelty.
It was around 8:30pm on a cool, crisp Saturday night in October. Matt took his usual spot while working at 15 North, at the time, a busy hot-spot for the college crowd. He was stationed at the front door and responsible for checking I.D.’s and collecting a cover charge. The bar was almost vacant because 8:30 was incredibly early for the usual college crowd. On this particular night, a couple came in and immediately stood out since they appeared to be a few years older than the typical coed. The couple approached the steps leading up to Matt’s post with thier heads down, navigating the steps to the entryway. When they reached the top, the woman looked up and screamed in horror, almost falling backwards down the steps. She said, “I thought you were wearing a mask.” The husband tried to cover for her and said, “She’s crazy, you’re a good looking guy.” If that wasn’t enough, the woman said as she was walking away, “That was worse than a mask.”
Stunned, I paused for a moment to fully process what just happened. I was ready to throw these knuckleheads out of the bar when, to my surprise, the man walked back to the front door and said, “I’m very sorry for my wife’s reaction. We are both at our wits end right now because our son is in the hospital. We just left to come out and grab a bite to eat before going back. He just went into surgery to have a cancerous tumor removed and they are not sure if this will solve the problem or if they are just putting off the inevitable.” He went on to tell us that his son was a big fan of the movie, Big Fish and Bubble Boy.
What happened next is what separates the men from the boys, so to speak. More accurately, it shows how the size of Matt’s heart completely surpasses the size of ’The Giant”. Matt told the man that he would stop by and visit his son in the hospital and sign a copy of the movies he starred in, if he wouldn’t mind. The husband, wife and son were ecstatic when Matt stopped by the following Wednesday.
Now, Matt could have told those people where to go or just been angry and no one would have blamed him. This is what separates him from the pack to rises above the occasion and be a person whom we could all aspire to be.
I challenge everyone who reads this story to, “Be nice to someone today” even if you find yourself in mists of a difficult situation. That’s what Matt did, and that’s a segue for another story……….