Mayor Honors Late Walter Ryan, the Sportswriter That Coined the ‘Hillies’ Name Decades Ago

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini presents citation to Ann Ryan, daughter of Walter A. Ryan, who coined the term “Hillies.” (WHAV News photograph.)

Walter A. Ryan interviews Jimmy Piersall of the Red Sox. (Courtesy photograph.)

The man, credited with coining the term “Hillies” as early as the 1940s to represent Haverhill’s athletes and residents, was remembered Friday during a City Hall ceremony with three generations of his family.

Walter A. Ryan, Haverhill Gazette sports editor and WHAV on-air contributor from 1943 until his untimely death at age 52 in 1966, was honored by Mayor James J. Fiorentini. Ryan’s daughter Ann, the last living of his three daughters—Sheila, Ann and Martha—said it is important to her and the family that Ryan received the recognition he deserves for the “Hillie” moniker and his role in helping name the Patriots.

“Nobody knows where the term ‘Hillies’ came from. I thought, ‘I do.’ The thought was planted in my head,” she said.

Since her dad was a writer, she said, “He liked to play with words.”

Walter A. Ryan, as shown in the photograph that accompanied his Sportfolio newspaper column. (Courtesy photograph.)

“He coined it. He told me. I asked him why he named them that—because of all of the hills in Haverhill. Of course, they walked a lot when they were young. Of course, ‘Hill’ is a part of Haverhill,” she explained.

Ryan said she fondly remembers sitting with her dad on Sunday afternoons at the old Gazette offices on Merrimack Street, where he would catch up on sporting news from the teletype or work on his “Sportfolio” column. They would also use the elevated perch of the newspaper’s editorial offices to watch local parades. With her dad, she became familiar with the newspaper’s luminaries, such as J. Joseph Moran, Vincent H. Driscoll and Bernard J. “Barney” Gallagher.

During the formation of the the-then Boston Patriots, Ryan had a role in naming the football team.

“I think it was the Boston Herald that had a contest with their readers to come up with names. They selected four sports writers—and my dad was one of them—to choose from that list,” she remembers.

She said her father was also “instrumental” in having the Patriots play one of their first exhibition games in 1960 at Haverhill Stadium. Although he was disappointed that hospitalization kept him from attending, he worked with Haverhill Lions Club member William Miller who sought a charity game to support Lions Club-sponsored eye research.

After his first heart attack, Ryan said, her father also became a chronicler of Haverhill, writing a second column called “Diagnosis: Nostalgia.”

“It is a wonderful column because it is rich with the history of Haverhill—particularly Riverside—and what it was like for him as a youth,” she said.

Walter Ryan’s influence seems to have made its way down the line to his 11 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. She said “The grands and great grands have excelled in sports including baseball, football, soccer, field hockey, basketball, hockey and baseball.

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