Making the world a better, tidier place
Published: January 8, 2006 | 3223rd good news item since 2003
“My mom never forgot where she came from and what it meant to grow up the poor child of immigrant parents.” – Mike Harvey. She never carried a gun or made an arrest, but Mickey Harvey was the heart and soul of the San Fernando Police Department.
“I called her my boss,” says Chief Anthony Alba. “She had the run of the place.”
It seems wherever Mickey Harvey went in life she had the run of the place. It wouldn’t surprise anyone in her family or the police department if she was up in heaven right now straightening things out and taking care of people who could use a little help.
It was what this remarkable woman who died of a heart attack at 87 on New Year’s Eve did best.
“Mom lived on $1,300 a month, but would give you her last nickel if she thought it would help you,” says her son, police Lt. Mike Harvey.
Every weekday morning for the last 20 years, Mickey arrived at the San Fernando police station at 5 a.m. to straighten things out and clean up the report room so when the detectives arrived around 7 a.m. everything was ready to go.
“Once in a while she’d leave a little note saying, ‘Your mother doesn’t work here, but I cleaned up for you anyway, so please try to keep it tidy,”‘ Alba said, laughing.
Actually, Lt. Mike Harvey’s mother did work there.
“I was in the detective bureau back when she started,” he says. “Our commander wanted us to go to lunch together, but we needed someone to stay behind to answer the phones.
“I asked my mom – who was retired and lived close to the station – if she minded volunteering once or twice a week to answer the phones for an hour. She said sure.”
Once or twice a week grew to five days a week. Twenty years later, Mickey Harvey was still answering the phones, tidying up, and basically having the run of the place.
“It wasn’t long before she had better access in the department than I did,” Mike says. “Everybody just fell in love with her.”
It didn’t surprise him. Everybody always fell in love with his mother.
She was born Rosealien McNamees, the youngest daughter in an immigrant Irish family that moved from Coney Island, N.Y., to an Italian-Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn when she was 7.
“Whenever my Italian friends saw me coming down the street they’d yell out, ‘Here comes the Mick,’ and the nickname just stuck,” Mickey Harvey told me seven years ago when she was being honored by the city for her volunteer work on her 80th birthday.
It was a term of endearment for the neighborhood’s only Irish lass – a nickname hung on Irish immigrants when they came to America at the turn of the century and began cooking and selling potatoes that were called Mickeys in ashcans on the streets.
“During World War II, as I was leaving for work in the morning, the Italian grandmothers would shout out from their windows, ‘You be good, Mick,”‘ she recalled.
They needn’t have worried. The government was already making sure of that. Nobody in the old neighborhood knew, but the Mick was one of the most important women in the country as she walked down those streets each morning to catch the Brooklyn-to-Manhattan subway line to work.
She was one of only three people in the country who had the combination to the vault room of Carl L. Norden Inc. on Beaver Street in Manhattan where she worked.
Inside that vault were all the records and plans for the Norden bombsight – a mechanical computer designed to determine the exact moment bombs needed to be released in order to hit their target.
Nothing got out of that vault room without the Mick’s OK. Barely 21, she was guarding one of this country’s most precious military secrets when most girls her age were working at Macy’s or Gimbals.
“I’d be locked in that vault all day locating pieces of plans and records that the country’s top engineers needed to refine the bombsight to work even better,” Harvey remembered.
“They had me taking a different route to the subway at night, just in case anyone was watching me. Then I’d get home and have dinner with my family like nothing was happening.
“I couldn’t even tell my mother and father what I was doing all day. They just had to trust me.”
They did, until the war ended and their daughter left national security to work in a less stressful job – assistant director of tours for NBC Studios at Rockefeller Plaza – then later as assistant to the president of a private investigative firm in Los Angeles until she retired.
Then her phone rang one day 20 years ago, and her son, the cop, wanted to know if his mother minded answering the phones at his station house during lunch a few days a week.
Later this week, Mike and his sister, Sheelin, will fulfill their mother’s last wish by returning to her birthplace, Coney Island, to scatter her ashes on the beach.
“She loved growing up near the ocean and was very proud to have come from America’s first melting pot, a place where the world’s poor came to make their American dreams come true,” Mike says.
It was just like their mother not to want any of her friends on the police department to send flowers or make a donation to a charitable cause in her memory. She had something else in mind.
“She wanted everyone to spend a little extra time with their loved ones this year, especially parents and grandparents,” Mike says.
“Mom always felt there was nothing more precious than the memories of time spent with your loved ones after they were gone.”
R.I.P., Mick. You were one classy lady.