Greenport native recalls generosity bestowed upon him in new book


In most cases, a thank-you note consists of the standard folded card with writing on one side. Sometimes, the writing will flip to the back of the card, if the author wants to include an extra-special note — or just has large handwriting.

But for former Greenport resident John Sullivan, a card simply wasn’t enough. 

To fully thank the people of Greenport for the significant role they played in shaping his life, Mr. Sullivan, 76, wrote an entire book: “Raised by a Village: Growing Up In Greenport.”

“I think I’ve done pretty well and I just absolutely know it wouldn’t have been possible without the support — emotional and material — that I got from the people of Greenport,” he said.

Mr. Sullivan — a retired Central Intelligence Agency polygraph expert who now lives in Reston, Va. — moved to Greenport as a young child in the early 1940s with his mother and older brother, Billy, after their father died. While living in Greenport during the 1940s and ’50s, it was clear that the family was not well off.

“Anyone who knew me and my family, back in Greenport, would’ve had to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know we were poor,” Mr. Sullivan said.

He described the three of them as looking unkempt, scrawny and underfed.

“They were such a poor family, but such a lovely family,” said lifelong friend Edie Kudlinski, 89, of Greenport.

Seeing this, the people in the village at the time took it upon themselves to help the family out when they could. Mr. Sullivan recalled one particular instance when he went to mail a trunk of his belongings to Albany the day before he left for college and the railroad freight manager shipped it for free.

“That was so typical of what so many, many people did for me in Greenport,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Another time that was particularly memorable was the day he graduated from Greenport High School in 1957, when he received loud applause as he accepted his diploma. He described that situation as “a Horatio Alger-type story” — stories characterized by impoverished boys who go on to live comfortable, middle-class lives through hard work and honesty.

He recalled speaking with a former teacher — Maureen Van Popering, to whom his book is dedicated — after the graduation ceremony. While the applause had such an impact that it’s still a clear memory to this day, Ms. Van Popering told him she wasn’t as surprised by the “incredible” reaction as Mr. Sullivan was.

“You have to remember, John, you were Greenport’s favorite son,” she said to him at the time.

Throughout the book, Mr. Sullivan lists numerous people and events that gave him the support he needed to succeed.

And succeed he did. After Greenport High School, he graduated from Albany State Teachers College in 1961 and later spent five years in the Army. He then attended graduate school at Michigan State University, where the CIA recruited him, beginning his 31-year career.

Following his retirement, he published two other books: “Of Spies and Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam” and “GATEKEEPER: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner.”

“[John] said the same thing in his book coming up,” Ms. Kudlinski said. “He said what Hillary Clinton said: ‘It takes a village to take care of a child.’ And I think that’s the relation of John to this [village].”

To celebrate his third book — released by Archway Publishing, a Simon & Schuster self-publishing company — Mr. Sullivan will hold a book signing at Port of Egypt in Southold next Sunday, Dec. 27, from 2 to 6 p.m.

“So often, I realize that many people showed me a lot of charity and I was in no position to reciprocate,” Mr. Sullivan said. “I just remember that day when I gave Mr. Coyle my trunk. He said, ‘You know, you owe the people of Greenport a lot. Someday you’re gonna have to pay them back.’ And I think I’ve done that.”

Photo Caption: Maureen Van Popering and John Sullivan holding a copy of Mr. Sullivan’s book, “Raised by a Village: Growing up in Greenport,” which he dedicated to Ms. Van Popering. (Credit: Courtesy)

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