The Somerville Times Historical Fact of the Week – September 6

On September 6, 2017, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Eagle Feathers #137– Fill the Boots

By Bob (Monty) Doherty

Since Labor Day of 1894, the first Monday in September has marked the annual tribute to the American worker. Its weekend celebration also observes the symbolic end of summer and the beginning of the new school year for kids and young adults.

Over 307,000 firefighters from across America and Canada are members of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). For the last sixty-five years, this Association has worked together with thousands of others in the battle against Muscular Dystrophy (MD) and its over thirty related neuromuscular diseases.


For 44 years and covering over two generations between 1967 and 2011, singer, actor, comedian, philanthropist and humanitarian, Jerry Lewis was a Labor Day crusader for disadvantaged children. His Labor Day weekend telethons made billions of dollars for “Jerry’s Kids” and the Muscular Dystrophy cause.

Over the years, fire fighters were Jerry’s largest contributors and still carry the tradition on today breaking their own records with their “Fill the Boot” campaign. They have raised over $600 million to date. This tradition began 65 years ago in 1952. Boston fire fighter George Graney, father of retired Somerville fire fighter and District Chief Thomas Graney, was as tough as nails. He swam in the cold waters of Boston Harbor almost every day. He was also one of the first fire fighters on the scene of the horrific 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire that claimed 492 lives.

Ten years later, while on watch at his South Boston fire station, he received a distraught visitor. A penniless father of two young sons with Muscular Dystrophy asked him for help. George Graney “dug deep” and then passed his boot around tapping his fellow firefighters to do the same. This led to a 1953 Boston and vicinity drive. The next year in 1954, George successfully petitioned the IAFF to adopt the Muscular Dystrophy Association as its charity of choice. The drive continues today.


Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day telethons ended in 2011. The drawing power Jerry exhibited was phenomenal, and he used it to the hilt. He was a multi-talented, matchless ringmaster who brought together companies, celebrities, Muscular Dystrophy Association workers and millions of television viewers who contributed to the good cause. Jerry Lewis died this year on August 20th. . . just days before his cherished Labor Day weekend. He would be the last person to say that no one could fill his boots. Like fire fighter George Graney, the father of the Fill the Boot Campaign, he would more aptly just say, “Dig deep and fill those boots!”



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