Bobby Stephen's celebration the place to be seen and heard on St. Patrick's Day

New Hampshire Union Leader
March 18. 2017 12:21AM
Bobby Stephen, right, sings with Tom Barlett, left, and the Unicorn Band during the annual Bobby Stephen's St. Patrick's Day Celebration at the Executive Court Banquet Facility in Manchester on Friday. The event benefits the Bobby Stephen's Fund for Education. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — After such a nonstop and unpredictable election year in 2016, you might think politics would take a back seat for a change at Bobby Stephen’s 39th Annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration Friday to benefit student scholarships and clients of Easterseals New Hampshire.

Think again.

Most of the nearly 600 people who packed the Executive Court Banquet Facility in Manchester probably had that full-course Irish meal with a beer chaser or a glass of wine on their mind while the potential candidates of 2017 and 2018 election seasons aggressively worked the room.

There was former Manchester Alderman Joyce Craig, two days after she confirmed she was running again for mayor, going from table to table.

Meanwhile, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who’s expected soon to say if he’ll seek a fifth term, wasn’t shy either renewing acquaintances.

“This is the place to be,” Gatsas said. “I think it’s important to recognize Shirley Stephen for her dedication to this program as well as for all the support she’s given to Bobby over the years.”

And Gov. Chris Sununu, the new GOP chief executive, said it was fitting he would end a St. Patrick’s Day tour of fundraisers Friday by stopping here.

“This is where there is the greatest celebration,” Sununu said.

Sununu made light of his father’s Lebanese-American heritage that former Gov. John H. Sununu shares with Bobby Stephen.

“Don’t forget. My mom is Irish so I got her good looks and we all know I’ve got more of her personality,” Sununu joked. Most political observers view the First Congressional District race in 2018 as the early one to watch as a growing number of Republicans consider running for the chance to try and take out four-term, Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter of Rochester.

Stephen’s eldest son, John, is one of those who’s exploring such a run which would be the third time he ran for this seat that his father, Bobby, once ran for and lost as well.

But that didn’t stop state Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, from paying his respects while doing his own networking for what could be a congressional bid.

Bobby Stephen, the ageless, former state senator and longtime state boxing commissioner, had the cat bird’s seat for it all as he always has since starting this tradition in 1978 at his Vault Restaurant in downtown Manchester.

“We used to have a party that would stretch over two or three days,” Stephen recalled. “Former Senator John Durkin said an Irishman couldn’t organize a two-hour funeral yet you managed to make this thing go on forever.”

Stephen spends six months of the year at his retirement home in Florida, much of that on the telephone to line up the litany of corporate sponsors and the entertainment acts for this big bash.

“My wife figured it out that I spent about three months time putting this together,” Stephen said.

“But it’s always been a labor of love.”

Rob Stephen, the part-time presiding judge of the circuit court in Salem, said this is a lasting family legacy.

“When he sees these students come back and say what that scholarship meant to them becoming a success in their lives, it’s powerful,” the younger Stephen said.

“We’ve got two generations under Dad, his kids and our kids now working on keeping this alive.”

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