On June 22, 2013, family and friends gathered for the funeral and burial of my dad, Jim Rafferty. Here is a slightly revised version of the words I read at his service.
Most people probably don’t know this, but I’m the third James Rafferty in the Rafferty line. My dad’s father, also named James, died tragically young from complications in the aftermath of an accident he suffered as a firefighter in Hartford around 1918. From 1930 on, my dad and his siblings were raised by their mom, Theresa Rafferty, a woman who would always find a way forward and who reminded everybody that we were all part of one family.
My dad shared those same values. He worked hard for a living as a salesman for a variety of companies, but he never forgot the family that was back home. He made many sacrifices during his career for us and we appreciated his role as the breadwinner and family leader.
Around 1950, Dad met the love of his life, an attractive stewardess named Kathleen LeHane from Bloomfield. He proposed to her about year later and they were married in January 1952 in Bloomfield. They moved to Hartford and had their first child in late October. Within 4 years, I was joined by two other brothers.
Jim, Kay and the sons moved to South Windsor in 1957 and raised the family in Avery Heights, one of the first subdivisions in the town. Our youngest brother Richard was born two years later. South Windsor was a sleepy farm town, but all of that would change over the next several years.
Around the time I was eight, Dad bought me a baseball and glove and we’d play catch after work. This was the beginning of my lifelong love of baseball. Dad didn’t expect us to be star athletes – and we weren’t – but he’d encourage us and tell us that by hustling we could still make great contributions to our teams.
Dad brought that same spirit to his work and play. He wasn’t a high powered executive, but he worked hard, joined a startup called Springfield Label and Tape in the early sixties and helped build a company that is still successful to this day. In golf, Dad didn’t have great natural ability, but he loved the game. His analysis and practice enabled him to craft a steady golf game and one year he competed for the club championship at the Pine Hill Country Club in Windsor.
The Rafferty’s were a family that grew up in a small town that was on the rise. South Windsor grew so fast, I changed schools every 2 – 3 years, because it seemed like they were always building a new school that was closer to our neighborhood. I was a good student, so my parents decided to send me to a private school, East Catholic. This wasn’t easy for them, but it felt right, so they made the sacrifice. In return, I got a fine education at East and got on the fast track for college. Later, I applied to several colleges and was accepted by Rensselaer, an outstanding engineering school. I received some scholarships and loans, but my parents backed it up totally and found a way to afford the education. More sacrifices, but ones that taught my brothers and I lessons about priorities.
Jim Rafferty was the first person in the Rafferty family to graduate from college; he got his BA from Providence College in 1950. My brothers and I were all encouraged to get a good education and we all attended college with my parents’ help. As I became an adult, I followed my Dad’s lead in some ways and chose sometimes to go other ways; but he made it clear that the big decisions were mine. This was another character lesson and one I’ve emulated in raising my own children.
In 1988, Dad retired at age 66. All the hard work enabled he and Kay to live a comfortable life during retirement and they spent most of this time in the original house which they loved. This was a time for special adventures. I took a trip to Ireland with them in the late 1980s and we all loved seeing the land of our ancestors. Dad loved sitting on the park benches in a small city called Kilkenny and watching the people go by. Dad didn’t suffer fools gladly and was sometimes impatient, but he could also be quite charming and was at his best in a one on one conversation.
In the 1990s, my brother Bruce organized several golf trips down to the Poconos in Pennsylvania and the four brothers and our dad would play 27 to 36 holes per day. Afterwards, we’d eat dinner together and tell tall tales about how close we got to making those birdies.
Two years ago, Mom and Dad moved into the an assisted living facility in South Windsor. They enjoyed staying in the home town and we discovered that the building had great places for the family to gather.
I remember a series of weekends where the family gathered and we all celebrated my Dad’s 90th birthday. Dad loved his grandchildren and was now blessed to also have three great grandchildren. That’s how I’ll remember my Dad – having a grandchild close at hand, smiling and getting ready to savor that next cup of coffee.