By Emily Royalty

eroyalty@nashobapub.com, Twitter: @Emily_Royalty

PEPPERELL -- The doors of the Pepperell VFW were propped wide open on the evening of Sept. 28, as dozens of residents crowded the hallway and stairs, unable to find space to stand in the banquet room already packed to the brim with their friends and neighbors. Outside, cars unable to find a space in the already full parking lot lined the nearby streets. What appeared to be the entire town population showed up for John McNabb's retirement party, a visual testament to the number of people whose lives he touched in his years at McNabb's Pharmacy, and later McNabb's General Store, which has been a staple on Main Street for the past 46 years.

State Rep. Sheila Harrington presented McNabb with a certificate for his years of service to the town. Derek TenBroeck, on behalf of the Pepperell Business Association, presented McNabb and his wife Kathy with two matching rocking chairs to enjoy retirement. Then, one after another, residents lined up in front of a microphone, telling tales of McNabb's unwavering generosity and kindness, both through his pharmacy and in daily life. Those unable to reach the front of the room shared similar stories amongst the crowd.

"My husband was very sick one year just around Christmas time. Finances were low and John was kind enough to let me get my husband's prescription and pay him back the next month," said Irene Leddy.

Gail Danforth, who said her sisters had raised their children as single mothers, said that they could always rely on McNabb for assistance.

"He wouldn't hesitate, he'd give you anything you needed," said Gail Danforth.

Whether it was medicine, kind words or a piece of candy, everyone could rely on McNabb.

Jody Lohnes said after chipping his tooth on a fireball, McNabb's first words to him were "You look great."

"No matter how bad you looked, he told you you looked good," said Lohnes.

"And whenever I came in, he always gave me a Reeses' cup," said Lohnes' 10-year-old daughter, Emma.

And the stories extended beyond the limits of his storefront.

"John took me into his home, and Kathy (his wife) too, on holidays when I had no where to go," said Nina Williams. "He always made sure I had food in my stomach."

Even those who didn't know him well personally, like Amos Mahony, had known him for his kindness within the community and came out to show support.

"We came to show our appreciation for all he's done. I just know him as a great guy," said Mahony.

Former employee Tracie Ezzio of the Pepperell Family Pharmacy organized the entire event. Ezzio said she was by no means surprised at the turnout.

"It's well-deserved," she said. "John always made everyone feel like a contributer, like they really mattered."

Kathy McNabb said she was thrilled that her husband was retiring, and just as much so by the amount of love and support displayed in the room that evening.

"It's a great tribute," she said. "I know probably a quarter of the people here, but they all know John."

Kathy received her own words of praise amongst the crowd.

"Kathy is a saint, too, because John would get up in the middle of the night if somebody needed something. He never said no. He's just an icon," said Kathy Harris.

Although McNabb will no longer be greeting customers behind the counter any longer, Harris said residents had another face to turn to for the kind services that he had provided all these years.

"Tracie is just as loving and caring. She knows every one of her customers. You don't get that in big chains. She never turns anybody away and neither did John."

McNabb was occupied all evening with droves of people coming up to congratulate him on his retirement and thank him for his kindness throughout the years. Between handshakes and pats on the back, he expressed his gratitude to the residents of Pepperell for their support.

"It's overwhelming," he said. "They've been very kind. I'll miss the people. I'll miss this."