By M.E. Jones
SHIRLEY -- When Richard Hatch started up his own excavation business many years ago, he'd been working for the P.J. Keating Company in Lunenburg for seven years. At that time, Shirley's fire chief, Rueben Landry, was the head mechanic there. "He offered me the job," he said. "He called me Sparky."
Maybe the nickname came from the time he shuttled Landry to a fire on his bicycle. Pedaling home from school one day, young Richard Hatch saw a glow in the sky that looked like a fire, so he hurried to the chief's house. About the same time he arrived, Landry's phone was ringing, he recalled. The Fields' barn was on fire. Landry had to get to the fire station but his wife had the car, so Hatch gave him a ride on the handlebars.
It all ties together in retrospect, all those incidents, opportunities and some happenstance. For example, it was thanks to his job at Keatings, Landry and a friend named Charlie Sanderson that Hatch met his future wife, Dorothy. He was in charge of the gravel plant when Landry asked Hatch if he had any friends who'd like to work there as well. He suggested Sanderson. "I went to see him," Hatch recalled. And there was Dorothy, visiting from Canada. The couple has been married for over 60 years.
Wrapping up, the interviewer asked Hatch if he and Dorothy had children. "Rhonda and Tim, of course," he said, naming two, but he sounded hesitant and he amended that answer on the way out the door.
Old Shirley Remembered
Hatch's recollections of old Shirley were laced with references to work he did at the time, both to earn a living and as a volunteer for the town.
For example, he served on the Planning Board for 27 years. Asked what kinds of development projects came before the board in those days, Hatch said it was "routine stuff." Like the time a Boston group wanted to build a horseracing track on land between Peabody and Patterson roads. That caused a lot of consternation and the project never got off the ground. Hatch remembers the Town Meeting when the proposal was voted down.
He remembers all the Town Meetings he's attended, which is to say all of them.
"I used to speak up a lot," he said, sometimes causing friction. Once, the moderator evicted a man who yelled in anger at Hatch. "He said I was full of horse
-!" he said.
Hatch almost always attended selectmen's meetings, too and kept doing so until the meetings, filmed by SPACO, started airing live on local public access cable TV.
Less a firebrand these days than he once was, Hatch recalled that years ago, when Jackie Esielionis - a local Realtor and one of SPACO's founding trustees - was the selectman's secretary, she used to say that his visits to the board always gave her headaches. As Hatch tells it, it sounds like she was only half kidding.
Which brought up the old fire station controversy again. When the new station was built, the town had to take some property by eminent domain, including the Odd Fellows Hall and two houses. Later, Ray Farrar bought the buildings and moved them elsewhere on Leominster Road, Hatch said. But at the time, the goings on "caused a lot of turmoil."
Hatch acknowledged he could probably go on and on about all the things he knows about town business, past and present. And like many folks of a certain age who have lived in town a long time, Hatch can offer a vintage view no postcard could provide. He's seen a lot of changes over the years.
Some time ago at a Historic Commission meeting held in a building owned by St. Anthony's Church, the pastor, Father Derosier, expressed surprise at how many businesses there once were in Shirley and how much the town has changed. "We had a bowling alley, stores on every corner..." Hatch recalled, including sev
But when the priest asked him, "What did you pay for a gallon of milk then?" Hatch didn't have an answer. "I don't know," he said. "We had a cow."