Journal-News: "Barkeep a giving person right up to his own death"

Barkeep a giving person right up to his own death
Barbara Livingston Nackman
666 words
17 June 2008
Poughkeepsie Journal
(c) Copyright 2008, Poughkeepsie Journal. All Rights Reserved.

GARRISON - For a decade, Fishkill resident John Guinan each year rode his bike hundreds of miles to raise money to combat AIDS, the disease that took the life of his brother-in-law. Now, friends and relatives of the man whose family founded the legendary Guinan's pub will do the same to honor his memory this fall.

Guinan, 56, died June 3 at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie after a two-year battle with brain cancer. Guinan first realized some numbness in 2006 during his last ride for Braking the Cycle, which benefits health services at New York City's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.

Garrison resident Gwendolyn Bounds rode with Guinan. A columnist for the Wall Street Journal, she wrote "Little Chapel on the River," chronicling how Guinan's pub became a welcome home along the Hudson and the regulars became an extended family for her in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks near her Manhattan apartment.

"It's rare to find genuine selflessness in a person, both in business and in life, but John Guinan embodied that more than anyone I've known," she said in an e-mail interview. "He helped continue his family's legacy of turning average or bad days into good days for those who passed through their store. All it took was a simple kind word, an umbrella to borrow or dollar lent on trust - gestures hard to find today."

"John gave all this freely and more, which is why his loss hangs like a cloud over the town," Bounds said. "He was singular."

Guinan's Pub and Country Store closed Jan. 31 after nearly 50 years, and there is debate in Garrison over one proposal to reopen it as a pub/cafe. Last week, in front of its padlocked and boarded-shut doorway stood formal flower sprays, garden cuttings and messages to John Guinan, whose illness prompted his father, Jim, 81, to close the family business and retire. Dozens turned out for Guinan's funeral services June 7.

In March 2007, the many people who knew and loved Guinan threw a fundraiser to help his family offset his medical bills. In an article published days before that event, he contemplated how hard it would be to thank them, saying, "It's going to be tough to get my emotions together and stand there in front of them."

Guinan was born March 10, 1952, in Birmingham, England to James and Margaret Curnyn Guinan, and came with his family to the U.S. in 1957, settling in Garrison. He worked as a paramedic, landscaper and golf course manager, but most recently, at the store. He coached youth basketball, football and baseball in Philipstown.

A sportsman, Guinan first joined the 275-mile Braking the Cycle ride with his brother-in-law Tom Caruso, who was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1996 and died several years later. Last year, unable to ride, Guinan nevertheless met bikers at the finish at the center's headquarters on West 13th Street.

"His was the first face I looked for," said Blake Strasser, rider coach for Braking the Cycle. "He was part of our family and he will be so sorely missed."

In addition to his father, James of Lutz, Fla., he is survived by his wife of 32 years, Mary Jane of Fishkill; daughter Kelly of Garrison; two sons, Sean of New Haven, Conn. and Casey of Fishkill; a granddaughter; two sisters and a brother.

Reach Barbara Livingston Nackman at or 845-228-2272.

In memory of John Guinan:

Donations may be sent to Braking the Cycle, c/o Global Impact Productions, 127 West 26th St., Suite 402, New York, N.Y. 10001 or go to

This year's trip is Sept. 26-28 and will go from Gettysburg, Pa. to New York City.


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