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Most of the time when Charley Feeley worked on Heartbreak Hill he was teaching children how to ride their bicycles. He would sit inside the big Newton Police Department cruiser and drive behind the wobbly line of kids. He would dispense amplified instructions from his loudspeaker as the group moved slowly along Commonwealth Avenue.
When Feeley worked on Heartbreak Hill during the marathon, he also was in his cruiser. He also was talking into his microphone.
"It's funny how I started doing that," he says. "At first, my job was to clear a path for the first-place runner. I would drive along the route and tell everyone to move back because the runners were coming. I always made two passes. One to open the path. The second to make sure it was still open.
"One time, though, I somehow got caught. When I came back to make my second pass, the runners had come farther than I thought they would, and I had to stop the car at the top of Heartbreak Hill. Since I was in the car and had nothing to do while everybody passed, I started talking...and I guess somebody liked it."
Feeley is 68 years old, retired as a lieutenant after 42 years with the Newton police, but until three years ago he was the voice of Heartbreak Hill. Feeley offered encouragement to the worn and tired folk who, on finally reaching this rise in the land, would have a view of the Prudential and Hancock towers of Boston.
"Congratulations, you are now at the top of Heartbreak Hill," he would say. "You have five and a half miles to go. Most of it is downhill."
This is the place, the end of the hills, where sprints are traditionally made. This is also the place where legs grow old. "You could tell who was going to make it and who wasn't," he says. "You'd see some of them...the greatest grade going down the hill is three degrees. You knew that if their feet weren't bleeding at the top, their feet would be bleeding at the bottom."
He congratulated survivors. He directed the casualties of the race to the MBTA stop at Boston College, where they could hop a Green Line ride into the city. Once he even ordered Paul Newman off the course. Newman was directing a movie that featured his wife, Joanne Woodward, as a runner. Feeley said that he hadn't heard about the movie. Off.
"One year I was sitting there and this guy helping a blind runner comes up to the car," Feeley says. "The helper has lost his steam, can't go anymore, but the blind runner wants to finish. The guy asks if I can guide the blind runner into Boston.
"I start driving the car, giving the blind runner directions. I tell him when to turn left or right, when to move around a hole in the road. All that stuff. It works fine until we get near the finish. The crowd is so large I can't move the car in there.