The Character of Mike Garvey

Remembering a man who marshaled his erudition in melodic prose and in pursuit of social justice, always on his own path.

Author: Dennis Brown

Garvey Bike
Photo by Barbara Johnston

For 25 years, from 1991 to 2016, Mike Garvey ’74 and I were colleagues in Notre Dame’s media relations office, and for the first 18 years we worked in offices adjacent to each other in 317 Main Building. We were close in proximity, but, in those days, not so much in ideology. I leaned right, Mike leaned left, though he never belonged to either political party. He aligned with conservatives on many issues and with progressives on many others. He was a man without an ideological home. He liked it that way.

Mike died on February 13, at the all-too-young age of 70. I am indebted to him for influencing for the better my outlook on life — not politically or religiously, but just on life and on how Jesus wants us to live it.

As the new guy in Notre Dame’s Office of Public Information in the early 1990s, I learned early on that I was an intellectual inferior to Mike. He was the smartest, most well-read person I’ve ever encountered. In our conversations, I had no chance against his erudite perspectives on most every subject imaginable. His conversations with Dick Conklin ’59M.A. and Denny Moore ’70 — Notre Dame media relations colleagues who also have passed — were intense, insightful and inspiring. While I did not attempt to match wits with them, I gained perspectives that have remained with me through the years. More than anything, an understanding of and commitment to social justice and Catholic social teaching as a whole.

Mike’s intellectual prowess extended to his work in our office. As an assistant director of media relations, he produced thousands upon thousands of words that told the story of Notre Dame. His citations for recipients of the University’s highest honor, the Laetare Medal, were without equal. He weaved words that melodically recognized the honoree’s accomplishments. With no offense to the many great writers I’ve worked with at newspapers and Notre Dame, I tweeted on the day of Mike’s death that he was the best . . . simply the best.

For my first 10 years in South Bend, my family lived in the same neighborhood as Mike, his wife, Margaret, and their kids, Michael, Joe and Monica. It’s only about a mile north of campus, near the intersection of Juniper and Cleveland Roads. One of the enduring memories of Mike for many of us is him methodically riding along Juniper on his single-speed bicycle. We would pass in our cars wondering just how he managed to remain upright while pedaling so very slowly.

My favorite Mike bike story dates to the mid-1990s after a staff lunch at the old Wharf Restaurant on the river downtown. During lunch, a huge rainstorm began and, as we were leaving, Denny and I told Mike to put his bike in the back of my car. He said no thanks, and started his ever-so-slow ride back to campus. Denny and I passed him and Denny, his best friend, said, “One of Michael’s goals is to be the biggest character he can be.” If a character is “one of a kind,” that definitely was Mike.

When the Garvey family met after Mike’s death to decide upon a plot in Cedar Grove Cemetery on campus, they were surprised to learn that there was a place directly adjacent to Denny’s burial site. It seems no coincidence to me that these two loyal sons of Notre Dame should rest in peace side by side at Cedar Grove.

Dennis Brown is Notre Dame’s assistant vice president for news and media relations.