Normally, even the most popular mayors have opponents. But no one ever uttered a hint of criticism about Wally.
Normally, even the most popular mayors have opponents who insist they are too liberal, too conservative, too pro-business, not pro-business enough, too pro-police, too anti-police, not filling enough potholes, not picking up the trash regularly, or just generally favoring one part of the city over another.
But no one ever uttered a hint of criticism about Wally, known by neighbors as “The Mayor of Abington Avenue.”
Wally, who died in Chestnut Hill on April 13, always took the time to sit patiently with a constituent or listen attentively to any problem. He never turned anyone away and was quite liberal with his kisses, which pleased people from across the political spectrum. His mere presence made everyone who met him smile and he never voted for any new taxes.
Wally, you see, was a golden retriever. He would have been 11 years old on May 8.
Most days, unless it was raining or snowing outside, Wally would shuffle around the fenced-in front yard of the house he shared on the unit block of East Abington Avenue with Matthew Young and Sara Mierke, two educators who have lived there for five years.
That yard is where he kept his office hours, and greeted anyone who walked by with an excited wag of the tail. He was so good at his job that his reputation spread, and people from other blocks would walk by to say hello and chat.
“He was so adorable,” said Jane Hughes, Wally's next-door neighbor. “So many people who did not even live on our block would stop by the yard to see Wally!”
Mierke, one of Wally’s own personal humans, said their canine companion was quiet and polite – a great family ambassador.
“We used to meet people through our kids. Then, after our kids were grown, we met lots of people through our dogs. It's a very nice way to meet people,” she said. “We made so many friends through Wally – from Pastorius Park and Abington Avenue. Really a great group of people. Some would even dog-sit on weekends. There's lots of love in this community.”
Since Wally was in the small front yard during almost all daytime hours, weren't Young and Mierke afraid someone would take him?
“Nobody kidnaps a mayor for ransom,” Young said.
Both Young and Mierke grew up in Cleveland and met in their high school geometry class. Their grandfathers met one another in 1913, and knew each other well. They have been married for 32 years and are quite the peripatetic couple, to put it mildly.
Young, who is currently the Germantown Friends School's director of upper school, previously worked for schools in Cleveland, India, Massachusetts, the Serengeti region of Kenya, Washington, D.C., Macedonia and South Africa. Mierke has worked in international development in many locations as well. She is now a consultant to schools with her own advisory firm that seeks to deepen schools' community engagement.
Young and Mierke have three adult children: Cloe, 25, works with the Met Gala in New York in video production. Oliver, 28, works with the Jewish Federation of N.E. Ohio, and Sally is an emergency medical doctor at the University of Chicago Medical Center. “They all love Chestnut Hill,” Young said. “When they visit us here, we are whole and happy.”
The couple has always had dogs. In fact, they got a dog as a wedding present. In 1994, they got a black lab, Maji (which means “water” in Swahili), who lived with them in Macedonia. “We lived on a mountainside,” Young said. “Old men with goats would walk by, and Maji would run off with the goats and have a great time. The goat herders would bring her back at the end of the day.”
Maji lived until she was 9 years old, and was followed by Dudley, a golden retriever named after Sara's great uncle, who also made it to his ninth birthday.
Then, after a nine-month period of grieving, they got Wally. He was bred by the same Ohio family that bred Dudley, and in fact, the two were related.
“Wally was a wise old soul from day one,” said Young, who was on a South African game reserve when he got news of Wally’s death. “He assumed the title 'Mayor of Abington Avenue' by popular vote. All day long people would chat with Wally, even if they did not have dogs themselves.”
Wally’s ashes are now sitting on the fireplace mantel in a fishing camp cabin in Northern Ontario, where he and his humans spent their summers.
Will there be a replacement for Wally any time soon? “I need a little time,” Mierke said. “I know when the summer comes we will want another dog.”
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org