Back in the 1970s, Tim French used to cut through neighbors’ yards from his house on Hardy Road, across Evans Avenue, and over to the Woodmoor Acres neighborhood.
Nobody seemed to mind – except Charlie McCaffrey.
“He used to yell at me, even when I started working for the town,” said French, who has been with the Department of Public Works for 32 years and is a Highway Division foreman.
Sometimes, French recalled, when he was shooting baskets under the streetlights with Adam Stuart, “after 9 o’clock he would start yelling and screaming and threatening to call the police.”
It took awhile, but despite a generational age difference, the two became close friends.
McCaffrey, a veteran of World War II who for many years was general manager at Minuteman Volkswagen, died last week at age 95.
Since August, French said, McCaffrey was living in a retirement home near Concord, NH. His daughter Susan resides not far away.
“I went to see him two weeks ago Saturday,” French recounted. “We had breakfast in Goffstown – he liked to go out for breakfast. The foliage was incredible. We had a great day.” Then he was hospitalized with Covid-19.
“He called me when they released him,” French continued. “He said, ‘When I’m better, come up and take me out for breakfast.’ I said, ‘There’s nothing that can kill you.’” But a few days later, McCaffrey succumbed to pneumonia.
“He was a very charming, personable guy. We had some good times,” French, 57, reflected. “He had a great life. He had his wits about him; he read all the time. He was very smart, very witty.”
McCaffrey went to high school in Medford and joined the Navy in 1944. He was a gunner on a PT boat in the Pacific.
French said McCaffrey rented a house from Phil McGovern before moving into the new house on Woodmoor Drive in 1964. He had various business interests; “he owned Hi-Fi Pizza in Central Square,” French reported. “He retired at 62 and never worked again.”
Early in his DPW career, French related, a plow took out McCaffrey’s mailbox, and French showed up to repair it. “I started joking around, and he asked me to do some work for him,” he said.
He said their friendship blossomed after the death of Jean McCaffrey in January 2003. She was the founder of the nursery school at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
French invited McCaffrey to American Legion Post 221 on The Great Road; “he said he hammered the nails when they built it.” The World War II veteran was welcomed; “they treated him like a king.”
A student of American history, French said his friend was one-degree-of-separation from the middle of the 19th century. “Charlie said to me that when he was a kid, he used to talk to Civil War veterans at parades.” McCaffrey marched with the Lexington Minute Men for many years,
“He had a good memory,” French related. They were driving near Antrim, in south central New Hampshire, and they passed Gregg Lake. “He was telling me about a family vacation there in the 1930s when they saw a hurricane strip all the trees around the lake.”
When McCaffrey was 77, French related, “He said, ‘Do you want to drive me to Florida?” They made that trip 18 times – French drove, McCaffrey in the passenger seat. Then the driver flew home, after which he would keep an eye on the empty house over the Bedford winter. The car stayed with its owner; French said his friend finally stopped driving in June.
French said the drive down to Hutchinson Island near Stuart, FL, was straight through; he took naps at rest areas along the Interstate. McCaffrey, he testified, “never slept.” Once, French mistakenly stopped in a “no-parking” zone near Richmond and dozed off. His passenger was “walking around and talking to people.” French was awakened by an officer who pointed out the space was posted. “Charlie told him, ‘I told that idiot not to park there.’”
A few years ago, the Patriotic Holiday Committee chose McCaffrey to serve as a grand marshal in the Memorial Day parade. French, who takes care of the flags that line The Great Road, took a few minutes for a photograph.