Black and white photo of Robert R. Meehan

A Daughter’s Eye View

By Guest Contributor Date: May 05, 2022 Tags: SUNY Press Authors, Excelsior Editions

Guest Post by Kathleen Meehan Do (SUNY Press Editor)

The first time I read my father’s manuscript for The Hayseed DA, I was unprepared for my emotional reaction. By now, I have read the retitled Confessions of a Hayseed DA well over 100 times and the flood of emotions has yet to subside. I find myself getting teary-eyed at the end of almost every chapter.

Okay, so yes, he was my father. And reading this book was personal. It was like sitting at the dinner table again, listening to my father as he regaled us with stories about bad guys and good guys, undercover operations and courtroom dramas, close calls and near misses.

However, Confessions of a Hayseed DA is more than that. The book is really 13 separate stories that take the reader back in time to Rockland County and New York State in the Sixties and Seventies. A time when Miranda was becoming the law of the land and wearing a wire meant scotch-taping a tape recorder to your chest (and hoping your heart wasn’t beating too loudly as you tried to get the perp to spill the beans.)

The stories are heartbreaking, like when a train hit a school bus and killed 5 teenage boys in Congers, NY in 1972. They are shocking, like when a murderer who gunned down two gas station attendants for sport, terrorized local residents while hiding in the bitter cold Ramapo Mountains in 1970. And they are occasionally humorous, like when my Dad and his three-person merry band crisscrossed the state in a small Cessna in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to win a race for New York State Attorney General against powerful and well-financed New York politicos.

For me, the story that hit home hardest was the 1973 assassination attempt against my father, the story he called “Attention To Roll Call.” It was a time that changed our lives. My memories of that frightening time had faded over the years. But reading my father’s account brought them all back. I remember my little brother crying after hearing an erroneous radio news report that Dad had actually been shot. I remember how my mom tried to act brave, but I could see her hands shaking as she and my dad sat us all down to let us know what happened. I remember the sheriff’s deputies in the house and following our school buses. I remember being scared and thinking that all those crime dramas my dad loved so much were becoming a little too real.

In Confessions of a Hayseed DA, Dad recounts these stories with passion, reverence and humility. And he introduces us to the unforgettable real-life characters that colored his world during his nine years as DA. Characters like …

… Tex Brown, the large, knife-wielding broad with the little-girl voice who melted my father’s heart.

… Eric Vrhel, the hard-bitten investigator who stepped out of a Mickey Spillane novel to help my Dad fight crime in 1960s and 70s Rockland County.

… John Barkley, the cold-blooded killer who longed to turn the clock back to happier days.

… Dick Van Zandt, the public defender turned DA’s investigator who went through life with his heart on his sleeve and a pork chop in his pocket.

… And Ann Hickey, the tigress who protected her charges with equal measures of ferocity and good humor.

It does make me a little sad to think that Dad is no longer here to see the publication of Confessions of a Hayseed DA. But in his memory, I hope readers enjoy his stories and perhaps understand what he tried to accomplish during his years as District Attorney of Rockland County so many years ago.

Kathleen Meehan Do is a communications specialist who has served in the administrations of New York Governor Mario M. Cuomo, Pennsylvania Congressman Joseph Sestak, and Rockland County Legislature Chairwoman Harriet Cornell, as well as college presidents in New York and New Jersey.