Published August 1, 2019
Updated: August 3, 2019 at 3:30 p.m.
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — Jack Garrity entered an exclusive club last Friday when he became the town’s newest centenarian. And he couldn’t be happier about it. His smile lit up the activity room at the Royal Meadow View where he now resides, as he greeted friends and strangers alike in his gregarious manner.
A century of good living, great friendships, loving family, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude were evident throughout the afternoon as he worked the room, chatting with fellow firefighters, politicians, family and friends. A natural leader, he’s at ease around people. He served his country in World War II as a member of the Army Air Corps and then continued a career of service after the war, rising through the ranks of the Malden Fire Department, his hometown, where he retired as Fire Chief in 1984 at age 65.
Born on July 26, 1919, he and his late wife Lillian shared 65 years of marriage before she passed in 2014 at 92. They raised three daughters, June, Lillie and Lorri, and adored their four grandchildren, Caroline and Laura McBride and Joe and Liz Fagan. They enjoyed their retirement years in Sarasota, Florida before returning to Massachusetts in 2012 to be closer to family.
“They were best friends,” said his daughter, Lorri McBride, of North Reading, recalling how easy-going her dad was when they were growing up. With three daughters she said he never knew what he was going to come home to, but he took it all in stride. Before moving to Meadow View he divided his time between living with her family in North Reading and her sister June’s family in Wilmington.
Asked what led him to have such a long 43-year career, he said he simply “enjoyed working with such a wonderful bunch of guys.” So much so that he didn’t want to leave. But in Massachusetts, firefighters must retire by their 65th birthday. “I’ve had good health. I was still sliding down the pole at 65!” he joked. Looking back now, though, he thinks 60 is a good age to retire from that job.
He said he is also very thankful that he still “has his mind.” Reading newspapers is one way he remains engaged with the world.
Among the party guests was Malden’s Assistant Fire Chief Bill Sullivan whose father and grandfather both worked with Jack. Sullivan brought a special gift from the department — a bright red “Malden Fire” polo shirt. He explained the backstory as to why firefighters wear red polos as part of their official uniform every Friday.
It was a decision made after 9/11, he said. The color R.E.D. is an acronym symbolizing the need to “Remember Everyone Deployed” and the sacrifices they continue to make every day in our defense.
There is a natural bond between first responders and those who serve in the military; many enter the fire service or become police officers after their military service ends or they were firefighters or police officers before deployment. The nation will always remember the sacrifices made by first responders on 9/11, as well as those who answered the call in its aftermath, assisting the recovery efforts at the World Trade Center.
North Reading Fire Capt. Eric Pepper also stopped by with his two daughters to wish Jack a happy birthday. Capt. Pepper first met Jack about 20 years ago through his wife Jolene who worked with Lorri at the Little School.
After family members gave Jack a birthday toast of white wine, state Sen. Bruce Tarr was on hand to bring official birthday greetings from the State Senate while the state’s Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, Francisco Urena, brought a birthday card from Gov. Baker.
Also paying a visit was the North Reading Fire duty crew of Capt. Joe Marotta and firefighters Tom Harris, Nick LeColst and Jeff Carey. Jack was thrilled that they arrived in an engine. Everyone gathered around it for photographs and at the urging of Sen. Tarr “Happy Birthday” was sung.
North Reading Fire Chief Don Stats also attended and was joined by retired Chelmsford Fire Chief Jack Parow, a North Reading native who started his career in town. They brought citations and a badge for Jack from the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts.
Finally, it was time to cut the cake that was shaped like a fire truck, of course, made out of Jack’s favorite flavor — strawberry shortcake.
So how do you top off such a great 100th birthday celebration? With another party, of course. On Sunday afternoon, Jack was once again feted at large family party hosted at the Horseshoe in North Reading. But that’s a story for another day. Happy 100th birthday, Jack!