Friends set up UMass journalism scholarship for late prosecutor Joseph Quinlan


Staff Writer
Published: 9/10/2020 9:34:27 AM
Modified: 9/10/2020 9:34:15 AM

AMHERST — Joseph A. Quinlan left the news industry in the 1980s to pursue a law career so he could start influencing outcomes rather than merely reporting on them.

He became an assistant district attorney, spending 16 years with the Northwestern district attorney’s office, during which time he worked primarily in Greenfield and Orange, and lived in Colrain. Still, Quinlan never lost his passion for journalism.

On Aug. 28, the one-year anniversary of his death at age 61, his family and friends announced a journalism scholarship established at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in his memory. Quinlan, who died from a rare thymus cancer, graduated from UMass in 1980 with degrees in journalism and political science.

“He was really a news junkie,” said his sister, Marian Quinlan Walsh. “He was a lifelong journalist, even though he went over to law and prosecuting.”

Walsh said the scholarship, which will be awarded to a journalism major at UMass, was established by some of her brother’s friends and fellow alumni. She is helping solicit donations from family members, friends and former colleagues.

Quinlan worked for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, UMass’ independently funded and student-operated newspaper, for four years and spent two summers interning at The Boston Globe before reporting for the Associated Press. He left the AP to pursue a law career. According to his obituary, he received his law degree from Western New England Law School in 1988.

Walsh said some of Quinlan’s old college friends proposed the idea for a scholarship late last year.

“I was very pleased about it, because … I always considered my brother a special person,” she said. “I just felt it would be a nice commemoration, a great way to remember Joe.”

Eligible recipients will have demonstrated financial need as determined by the Office of Financial Aid and be in good academic standing.

Donations can be made by visiting or mailing a check to: Joseph A. Quinlan and The Daily Collegian Alumni Scholarship for Journalism, c/o Records and Gift Processing, Memorial Hall, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 134 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA. 01003.

Quinlan, a Lowell native, lived in Swampscott at the time of his death. A prosecutor for 31 years, he was named the William C. O’Malley Prosecutor of the Year by the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association in 2008. He counted Judges Judd Carhart and William Mazanec III as friends.

“He was a very good lawyer, and we all knew that he started off in journalism,” said Carhart, who is now a legal studies lecturer at UMass. “That was something that was very dear to him as well.”

Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan said he met Quinlan as a defense attorney.

“Joe loved being a prosecutor. He was tough but he was fair, and he always listened,” Sullivan said.

He said he knew Quinlan for years before learning of his journalism background, but noted this information was not surprising.

“He had a passion for seeking the truth,” Sullivan said, adding that Quinlan had a knack for not looking at just one side of any story. “I’m so happy that he’s being honored, because he did so much good as a prosecutor. He did a lot for the justice system.”

Walsh said Quinlan could have made much more money in private practice but never went down that road.

“He wanted to work for the commonwealth, for victims,” she said. “Even before he became a victim.”

Walsh was referring to a harrowing experience that embedded itself firmly into her brother’s life story. Quinlan was working late in the Hall of Justice in Springfield on Oct. 23, 1989, when he inadvertently stumbled upon State Police Detective Lt. John Mace staging a burglary in the district attorney’s private office, with the intent of burning a file to cover up stealing at least $118,000 to fund his gambling addiction. Mace handled all money seized during State Police raids in Hampden County.

A fight ensued and Quinlan was stabbed multiple times before triggering a silent alarm that summoned police to the courthouse. Quinlan sustained face and neck wounds that required about 200 stitches.

Quinlan had related nightmares, and drank heavily to cope with his feelings before enrolling in a program to help deal with the near-fatal trauma. Still, Walsh said Quinlan forgave Mace, who was sentenced to 18 to 30 years behind bars, and did not oppose his 1998 parole, even visiting his attacker in prison. Mace was released after nine and a half years.

Walsh said she is not as forgiving as her brother.

“I’m still angry. I still hold a grudge,” she said of the attack, adding that her brother “was way better than me.”

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