Dearborn native Peter J. McInerney has an interesting life to look back upon, which he does in the autobiography, “Tellings of Youth and Age.”
He had a solid record at Sacred Heart Grade School and High School (graduating in 1965). Pete continued his studies at Notre Dame, attaining a bachelor’s degree in history in 1969.
He moved on to law school at the University of Detroit, attaining his JD Degree in 1974. But cursory treatment of Pete’s academic career cannot in itself explain the charm and excitement of Pete’s life.
Disclosure rule: Peter J. McInernay is an old friend of mine. His family and my family share a friendship dating back to Sacred Heart. But it’s amazing how one can know someone for this many years and still find his autobiography a revelation. On a personal note, my greatest revelation was to learn that Pete’s brother John is the youngest in his family. My assumption was that his sister, Patricia Brennan, was the youngest of the McInerney clan.
Pete describes growing up in a family life in which his highly educated parents demanded excellence. Pete certainly kept his part of the bargain, diving into extra-curricular activities at Sacred Heart as an assistant editor of the school paper, being a member of the golf team, and playing high school basketball. Yet this busy schedule did not compromise his ambition in the classroom.
On the face of it, attending Notre Dame is a story in itself, but Pete did not just attend Notre Dame. He skillfully describes his college years in the context of the times, specifically the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. Pete joined a group of students who traveled to the southern United States two straight summers to register black voters. And there is no denying the courage this entailed when considering the hostility Pete faced from a culture resentful of those viewed as outsiders trying to improve the lives of those in the south.
Nor did Pete leave activism behind upon graduating from college. After Notre Dame, Pete served two years in VISTA, living in a crowded apartment with disadvantaged roommates in Wisconsin. Pete’s motives to serve in VISTA were certainly altruistic. But he is honest enough to acknowledge that he shared the hope that service in VISTA would amount to a deferment from military service. In the end, the Nixon administration did not grant deferments for VISTA service but Pete was still able to avoid the draft.
Pete is modest about his years in law school. But he makes the point that he still passed the bar exam, as did his late wife, Chris Oldani (who was a law school classmate and for whom Pete writes a moving tribute in the wake of her death in 2021).
On a side note, Pete made an unsuccessful run for city council in Dearborn in 1981. But this by no means ended his career in public service. Pete would go on to serve the cities of Dearborn, Wyandotte, and Wayne as a specialist in municipal law.
There is one aspect of Pete’s life that cannot be overlooked. It is the subject of Eugene McCarthy, who ran for president as an independent candidate in 1976. Pete ran McCarthy’s campaign in Michigan. His older brother, Michael McInerney (who died this past summer), and his younger sister, Joan McInterney, were also active in the 1976 McCarthy campaign.
Pete worked tirelessly to get McCarthy on the ballot here in Michigan (and he succeeded). Pete’s commitment to McCarthy was admirable. Yet the two of us have over the years conducted friendly debates as to Eugene McCarthy’s place in history. My take on McCarthy is that his fifteen minutes of fame were up after challenging President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Moreover, my take on McCarthy even in 1968 is not flattering. But this disagreement between Pete and myself has made no dent in our friendship.
And speaking of friendship, one can see in Pete a loving husband and father and true friend to everyone. And though he no longer lives in Dearborn (he lives now in Chicago), Dearborn will always hold a special place in Pete’s heart (and vice-versa). What amazes me is how one can know a person for years yet learn so much more about the same person when his / her life is put into writing.
“Tellings of Youth and Age” is an enjoyable read. This is not an epic in which an author wants to bore you with his life story. Pete’s story is inspirational and one in which even his oldest friends will find refreshing.
John O’Neill is an Allen Park freelance writer.