He is survived by his loving wife, Mary Garvin (nee Lynch), his children Brian (Alexis) Garvin and Brigid Garvin; grandchildren, Paige Garvin, Rory Garvin, and Liam Garvin; siblings, Teresa (Hugh) McNicholas, Walter (Nancy) Garvin, Mary Cleary, and John (Nancy) Garvin; many nieces, nephews, cousins; and countless friends.
Michael was born in Philadelphia on Jan. 17, 1940 to Walter Garvin and Teresa Boyle, proud Irish immigrants from County Mayo and County Donegal, Ireland. He grew up with his family in the Tacony and Mayfair sections of Philadelphia, where his father developed a succession of Irish bars. These “Irishman’s Cafes”, as they were called, would become fixtures in the Irish-American community of Northeast Philadelphia and where Michael and his siblings first learned the art of storytelling, conversation, and the importance of hospitality. As a young child, Michael developed an affinity for traditional Irish music and began playing the “squeeze box”, or button accordion, as an elementary school student. Throughout his childhood, Michael watched his parents support other Irish immigrants, providing work and sometimes a place to live for many family members and neighbors from back home. As an adult, Michael would continue this legacy by supporting many young Irish as they too pursued the American dream.
Michael attended St. Leo’s Parish School in Tacony, where he first met a young Mary Lynch, who he would later marry and spend 40 of his happiest years. Michael continued what would become a life-long passion for learning at St. Joseph’s Prep, St. Charles Seminary, and later Villanova University, where he earned a master’s degree in counseling. It was also during these years where he formed some of his most valued friendships with his classmates.
Over the course of his life, Michael had many “jobs”, including priest, bartender, bar owner, lobster fisherman, teacher, juvenile probation officer, school guidance counselor, and founding member of the South Jersey Ceili Band. In his last post, he proudly served for decades as the Deputy and then County Clerk of Atlantic County, New Jersey. During his tenure he worked side by side with his treasured colleagues to expand the services and accessibility of the Clerk’s office to the community. A natural public servant, Michael also dedicated his own time to the constituents of Atlantic County as member of the Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey, the South Jersey Rotary Club, the Longport Scholarship Fund, the Atlantic County Historical Society, and served as founding member and past president of the Irish-American Cultural Society of South Jersey. Michael was recognized for his dedication to his communities and honored as the Grand Marshall of the Atlantic City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Man of the Year by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, and Mainlander of the Year by the Atlantic County Chamber of Commerce, among other awards and distinctions. True to his nature, Michael accepted every accolade with humility and grace.
Although eclectic, Michael’s resume, accomplishments, and recognitions reflect his most wonderful gifts, including a passion for education, an ease for conversation and listening, a knack for giving guidance and advice, a duty for public service, and, of course, his love for Irish music and good craic.
Michael raised his own family at the shore, in Longport. He never took for granted the tranquility and peace that comes with living by the ocean. Michael enjoyed every moment of his evenings breathing in the fresh, ocean air while greeting his neighbors and friends from his favorite seat on his porch. In his retirement, Michael spent months at a time at the Boyle family cottage in Drimnaha, Co. Donegal, the same home where his mother was born and where he spent memorable summers as a boy with his beloved aunts and uncles. In recent years, Michael and Mary returned to Philadelphia to be closer to their children and present for first steps and first words as they watched their grandchildren grow. Of course, Michael continued to enjoy the abundance of Irish culture in Philadelphia and managed to fit in a few sessions at the local Irish pubs.
Michael is remembered by all who knew and loved him as a compassionate, genuine, and kind man. Whatever the setting or size of the crowd, Michael managed to make everyone he met feel like the most important person in the room. People were drawn to his warmth and gentle demeanor, and he left a lasting impression on everyone who crossed his path. If you asked Michael in his final days, he would have said that he was happy, fulfilled, and the luckiest man that ever was.
A funeral mass will be held 11 a.m. Saturday Jan. 2, 2021. Keeping everyone’s health and wellness in mind, the family welcomes all to participate virtually via the following link:
When it is safe to do so, the family will host a celebration of Michael’s life in the form of a true Irish wake. Stay tuned. This page has been established for those who wish to share memories, stories, or upload photos.
Mass cards or other condolences can also be sent to John F. Fluehr and Sons Funeral home, 3301 Cottman Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19149. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Project HOME in Michael’s name. https://projecthome.org 1515 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19130.