Obituary of Harry C Riley
Harry C. Riley passed away at Billerica Crossings Assisted Living on Thursday evening, April 18, 2019. The beloved husband of the late Joan (McGowan), who passed away in 2012, Harry was 92 years old.
Harry was born in Cambridge. He was the son of the late Harry and Edith Riley. Harry graduated from Cambridge Rindge Technical High School. After high school he served his country in the United States Navy during World War II and the Korean War. He continued his service to his country serving with the National Guard. On June 10, 1956 Harry would marry his longtime sweetheart Joan McGowan. They settled in Burlington where they would raise their six children and become part of the community.
Harry worked hard to provide for his family. He worked as a machinist/machine shop supervisor ending his career working for the Department of Corrections both in Concord and Shirley. Harry was a man who had many interests. As a family the Riley’s would enjoy camping vacations. He was not one to sit idle and was a member of the Woburn Sportsman Association, the Burlington VFW, the Burlington Knights of Columbus. He was also an active member of the Council on Aging in Burlington where he made many friendships throughout the years. Harry was an avid golfer and enjoyed bowling. Harry was a talented woodworker and was extremely handy around the house always looking for a new project to tackle. He was a man of deep faith and a longtime member of St. Margaret’s Church in Burlington where he taught religious education when his children were younger.
Harry’s family was the center of his life. He had a wonderful marriage to his wife Joan and together they were true role models for his children. He was proud of his six children and their accomplishments. Nothing made him happier than when his family expanded to include his grandchildren and great grandchildren. Harry’s friendly and outgoing personality defined him and endeared him to many.
Harry’s family would like to thank the staff at Billerica Crossing for the love, care and support they provided their dad, grandfather and great grandfather.
Harry was the beloved husband of the late Joan (McGowan). Loving father of Judith Gauthier & her husband Conrad of Hudson, NH, Pamela Ayotte & her husband Don of Lowell, Maureen of Lowell, Priscilla Tobin & her husband Kevin of Wilmington, William & his wife Suzanne of Stoneham and Timothy & his wife Michelle of Tyngsboro. Grandfather of Jesse Moltenbrey, Nancy Gauthier, Brittany & Trevor Ayotte, Michelle Forget, Kevin, Daniel & Corey Tobin and Diana, Sean, Catherine, Lindsay & Colin Riley and the late Heather Kathleen Tobin. Great grandfather of Ryan & Brooklyn Forget and Kevin, Nora & Leighton Tobin. Visiting hours will held at the Edward V Sullivan Funeral Home, 43 Winn St., BURLINGTON (Exit 34 off Rt. 128/95 Woburn side) on Tuesday, April 23 from 4-8 p.m. Funeral from the Funeral Home on Wednesday, April 24 at 9 a.m. Followed by a Mass of Christian Burial in St. Margaret’s Church, 111 Winn St., Burlington at 10 a.m. Burial in Chestnut Hill Cemetery, Burlington. Memorials in Harry’s name may be made to the Burlington Council on Aging, 61 Center St., Burlington, MA 01803.
On behalf of our family, I want to thank you all for being here today and celebrating Dad’s life with us.
Dad was born on December 17, 1926. Those born that year were in the crossroads of two generations:
The Greatest Generation-Those who lived through world wars and an economic depression that the world had never seen AND
The Silent Generation: Those who lived in a time of the “McCarthy Era” of espionage where many felt it was too dangerous in this country to speak out. Also named the “Lucky Few,” this generation was smaller than those before them. They feared having large families because of global and financial insecurity. Funny, I bet nobody would’ve imagined Harry being a member of the “Silent Generation”…… I can recall a funny story mom used to relay to me.
When all us kids were grown up and out, our folks used to vacation every summer in Virginia. Mom said that dad would always venture outside the condo and…..“roam”….. That was Harry talk for ….“find someone to talk to.” What this really boiled down to was Dad hanging around his car in the parking lot and waiting for folks to roll-in, so he could strike up a conversation. Well….. Mom said it was humorous to watch. As the days went by, she could literally see the parking spots on either side of Dad’s car become vacant……….and stay vacant. And……when the two on either side became vacant, it was only a matter of time…..before the next two also became vacant. If you knew Dad for more than a minute, you knew he had the gift of gab….. But that was the kind of guy dad was. He always wanted to talk to people and get to know them. And, he always thought everyone was from Cambridge…Fort Rucker, Alabama, a thousand miles from home…Dad sees a guy and somehow suspects there’s a remote chance the guy was from Cambridge! But that was Dad!
What I found very impressive is that both Dad and mom, born five years apart, and both single children, challenged that “silent generation” mentality and its fears of uncertainty. They married and went onto have four girls…..I’ll tell you, I gotta hand it to my father…After four girls, I may have thrown in the towel, personally..…but Dad…somehow…. and Mom persevered, and back-up for dad finally arrived with the birth of our brother Bill and a little less than two years later, me.
They say that members of these generations were thrifty and resourceful. Boy, did Dad have plenty of that!.... They have an old saying in the Army “give me some 550 cord and 100 mile an hour tape and I can fix anything”. Well….I swear they stole that saying from our Dad. And the term “Gerry Rigged”?........it should have been named “Harry rigged”!!!....If anyone could figure out a way to make something work in a non-traditional way, it was Dad. But that was the way he was and the way he taught us: To use what you had at your disposal to get the job done…. To think things through and be crafty…. To conserve as much as possible, and still succeed. He grew up in an era where you would peel foil from cigarette packages, ration gasoline and grow victory gardens, all for the war effort. It was a way of life. that’s how he did most of his teaching…..to me at least….. by doing….. [TJR1] By working through problems…good or bad…. succeeding or not… but continuously working to the desired result. Not every lesson ended well, but it was still a lesson. Like anyone with any sense of understanding would know, sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than our successes.
Dad’s generation was also known for salvaging valuables and finances….ooof!….where do I start with this one. To Say Dad was frugal would certainly be an understatement. I bet everyone can tell a pretty good story of Harry and his “frugality”! …He certainly knew how to stretch a dollar! However, I can honestly say, there wasn’t a year that went by…that I can recall…that we didn’t take a summer vacation camping in New Hampshire or an Easter where we didn’t have our Sunday best. He just got it done…..He made the numbers work…He provided…and we never heard a word. As kids, we never once worried about where our next meal would come from or if it would be a good Christmas. One story really showed Dad’s passion for salvaging valuables.
My mom was following my dad down to the auto repair station one evening a long time ago in Burlington.…..at the time, I believe she was pregnant with either Bill or me. Anyway, while going through the traffic intersection, my mother got rear-ended by the vehicle right behind her. Both cars pulled into a donut shop just outside the intersection, with my Dad making a U-turn and following. As the man got out to approach my mother, they both saw Harry dismount his vehicle and begin a very fast walk towards them. My Mom said… “that’s my husband”….to which the man let out an audible “Gulp”…..My Dad went right past the man, who was probably preparing to duck a right hook….. and my mother, the pregnant wife…. who likely was thinking Dad was about to go to jail…. and proceeded right to the back of Mom’s car to check the condition of the trailer hitch he had recently installed.
If I were to honestly sum up how our Dad raised us to become young adults, I would have to say it was” tough love”. I don’t mean that in any way to be negative. As a matter of fact, I say that with pride. That was just the way Dad was.
One of my most cherished stories that my father told me, and for which I will always be eternally grateful, was the story of when my grandfather made my father enlist in the Navy. My grandfather was a sailor in the Navy during the 1920s and saw quite a bit of action during World War II. When he returned home from the harsh battles of the invasion of Normandy, one of his first orders of business was to pull my dad out of high school and make him enlist. “I saw too many dead soldiers on the beaches in France” my grandfather said to my dad, just shy of 18 years old. “You’re going in the Navy” “if you’re going to die, you’re going to die clean”
Now I tell you, if that isn’t “tough love” then I do not, for the life of me, know what is….But that was during a very difficult time….And my father’s generation knew that there was business that needed to be taken care of and there was no exception to that…..Tough Love…That was him… Personal Responsibility, Work Ethic, Determination and Willpower…..All characteristics of him and his generation. And it was those same characteristics that were handed down, taught, and played a critical role in his four girls and two boys becoming very successful in life.
Dad would go on to be recalled back to active duty for the Korean conflict…and many years later, finish up his military career with an honorable retirement as a Master Sergeant in the Army National Guard. That same desire to serve would carry forward to his two sons, who also served full careers in the military.
I neglected to mention what Dad did when he finished his first hitch with the Navy after WW II….He came home to finish high school in Cambridge. For his graduation photo, Dad had to borrow a friend’s tie…… He never attended any formal college, but you might say that Dad….like many of his generation….did attend college…The University of Hard Knocks…and graduated magna cum lauda.
a 1947 Newspaperman named James Comstock, actually founded the “University of Hard Knocks”…..an honorary society whose goal was to recognize people who made a success of their life without the luxury of higher education. You don’t have to look past the first few pews in front of me to determine if Dad was successful……I think the six children; fourteen grandchildren and four great grandchildren is all the proof you need…. All which was due……in large part….. to two people….single children…. who chose to challenge fate and begin a family. Thank you for all that you have done for us and our families, Dad……and rest easy for a job well done. We love you…. Mom, take care of him, as I know you will.
Edward V. Sullivan
43 Winn Street
Burlington, MA 01803
Ph: (781) 272-0050