Harry McCabe in 2009Harry McCabe holds forth in May 2009.

UPDATED, March 9: Harry P. McCabe -- the longtime irascible voice and former moderator of Arlington Town Meeting, as well as a staunch supporter of services for senior citizens -- died Tuesday, March 4, in Boston. He was 85.

McCabe and Elsie Fiore represent the current "living history of Town Meeting," both having served for 52 years.

"We were always there," Fiore said in an interview March 6. "I think we hard near-perfect attendance" at Town Meeting.

Noting his crusty nature -- "something like mine," she said -- Fiore recalled McCabe's work with the Conservation Commission, where Fiore was a member, to preserve the Mt Gilboa neighborhood, where McCabe lived.

He was Town Meeting moderator from 1977 to 1989, immediately before John Worden, and a selectman from 1972 to 1975.

Like former Red Sox player Manny being Manny, it was Harry being Harry.

-- Bob Tosi Jr.

Bob Tosi Jr. offered comments March 6 that reflect the breadth of the man's service:

"Harry McCabe was a mentor to me in so many ways. We served together in Town Meeting, Finance Committee and COA board. He was my friend who always challenged me to be better.

"In the Knights of Columbus, he was a leader in regular blood drives. I admired him as a moderator and leader on senior issues. Even where I work, at Minuteman Senior Services, he served on the board of directors.

"Harry was quick to seek out selectman or the town manager when he felt an injustice was done to remedy the situation. Harry also supported our youth as member of Arlington Touchdown Club.

"With all this he also served on the Board of Selectmen and the Arlington Senior Association and countless other committees, especially those honoring others like the late Peg Spengler.

"With his persistence, he may have worn some peoples' patience, but his dedication and integrity were never questioned. Like former Red Sox player Manny being Manny, it was Harry being Harry.

"Arlington lost one of our hardest-working residents, and I for one will miss him greatly but never forget how much he contributed to our town. May he be at peace with his beloved wife, Cay."

Joan Butler, director of Minuteman Senior Services, wrote March 7 that McCabe was one of the original founders of the orgnization, in 1975. He went left the board a few years after that and then came back, appointed as a representative by the Alington Council on Aging about five years ago.

"Harry was always a passionate  and vocal advocate for senior services and for helping people age with dignity in their own homes and communities," she wrote, "I will miss his determination to make Arlington a better place to grow older through his tireless work on the Council on Aging and Minuteman Senior Services Board of Directors."

Memorable Town Meeting impact

As a Town Meeting member, his comments to extend the discussion of articles until curtailed by current moderator John Leone and former longtime moderator Worden were memorable.

Peter Fuller, a Precinct 20 member, wrote:

"I always enjoyed the theatrical effects when Harry would get into his righteous mode in a verbal tiff with the moderator, usually about whether Harry's remarks were within the scope of the article on the floor. This was especially true back when John Worden, who could give it right back to him, was the moderator.

"Once during a midsession break a few years ago, I mentioned to Harry, who always showed up in coat and necktie, that his American flag lapel pin was upside down. His gruff reply, paraphrased: 'That's on purpose. An upside-down flag is a distress signal. I think the country's in distress.'"

Precinct 21 member responds

The chairman of Precinct 21, his Town Meeting neighbors remember him well. Sue Doctrow commented:

McCabe / DeVito photoMcCabe / DeVito photo

"I met Harry McCabe shortly after I joined Town Meeting as a fellow Precinct 21 representative, though his name and faithful service to Arlington had been mentioned to me several times as I’d wandered my neighborhood, seeking support as a write-in.

"So, the night I was sworn in, I was prepared to meet a “legend,” but Harry was so kind and welcoming, and his playful, irreverent humor helped me to feel as though, as a newcomer, I belonged there, too.

"Having asked about my work and found out I was a scientist, Harry would often say things to me like “'so, doctor, what do you think about ...' this or that warrant article, etc.?

"Sometimes after Town Meeting, we’d end up chatting on the way out and driving our respective cars home at the same time. As I pulled over in my own driveway on Westminster, Harry would drive on by toward his house up on Madison with a friendly 'beep-beep.' Many people, like me, will certainly miss Harry's contributions to Town Meeting, but I will, in addition, be so sad to no longer hear that little horn toot from my neighbor on those Monday and Wednesday nights."

'Fully engaged'; tribute due; senior service

Moderator John Leone noted:

"Harry ... was always fully engaged in the debate and would often make substantive amendments to motions and votes." After serving as moderator, he was one of the 'tellers,' who counted standing votes, a function that electronic voting will replace this spring.

"After counting his section," Leone wrote in an email, "Harry would casually stroll back to his seat at the front repeatedly yelling out the count several times, '22! 22! 22!' His presence, humor and blunt delivery will be missed at the meeting."

Worden wrote March 6 that he plans to offer a memorial resolution at the opening session of Town Meeting this spring.

Apart from Town Meeting, McCabe helped found Minuteman Senior Services and was on its board to the end.

A founder of the Arlington Senior Association, he was a longtime member of its board.

McCabe was help found the Council on Aging (CoA) and served as chairman of its board for many years.

From a Friends of the ACoA perspective, in 2009, when the group was gaining its nonprofit status, John Jope, then CoA director, sought council support for the newly forming group.

"Harry was chair of the CoA and brought motions to the board to support and be helpful to us," wrote Art Budnik. "The CoA board approved which was helpful in getting the Friends started."

At the beginning of its Thursday, March 6, special meeting, the School Committee held a moment of silence for McCabe.

Obituary information

Husband of the late Catherine Terese "Cay" (Daley) McCabe, he lived on Madison Avenue.

He was the father of Catherine Ann McCabe of Los Angeles, Calif., Maryann Ruehrmund and husband Max III, of Rock Hall, Md., and Elizabeth Ann McCabe of East Lynn, as well as grandfather of Max IV.

Survivors include his brother Paul and wife Joan of Brookline, Francis X. of Quincy and the late Jack, William, Donald, Elizabeth, Rita, Helen and Margaret, his sister-in-law Evelyn McCabe of Tewksbury, as well as many nieces, nephews and friends.

Relatives and friends are invited to visit in the DeVito-O'Donnell Funeral Home, 1145 Mass. Ave., Tuesday, March 11, from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. and to a funeral Mass at 10 a.m. in St. Eulalia Church, Winchester. Interment to follow St. Paul Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers donations in McCabe's memory to the Arlington Senior Association, 27 Maple St., Arlington, MA 02476, the MIT Retirees Undergraduate Scholarshp Fund, 77 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139 or the Touchdown Club of Arlington, 1090 Mass. Ave., Arlington, MA 02476.

For directions or to send an online condolence, visit www.devitofuneralhomes.com.

Further informtion provided by his daughter

Harry's daughter Elizabeth provided the following further information:

McCabe, Harry P. X. a resident of Arlington since 1955 passed away peacefully on March 4. Beloved husband of the late Catherine Terese "Cay" (Daley) McCabe. Loving father of Catherine Ann McCabe of Los Angeles, CA, Maryann Ruehrmund and husband Max III, of Rock Hall MD and Elizabeth Ann McCabe of East Lynn, MA. Grandfather of Max IV. Brother of Paul and wife Joan of Brookline, Francis X. of Quincy and the late Jack, William, Donald, Elizabeth, Rita, Helen and Margaret. Also survived Sister in law Evelyn McCabe of Tewksbury and many nieces, nephews and friends.

Mr. McCabe was a member of St. Paul's Parish and a scholastic honors graduate of Mechanic Arts High School, Boston, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines 1st Marine Division (1946-1951) and is a World War II and Korean War veteran.

A 1956 Northeastern University graduate, Harry graduated summa cum laude with an associate's degree in engineering and a bachelor's in business administration. He was a full member of Northeastern's Sigma Epsilon Rho business school fraternity. He was a 51-year employee in M.I.T. Lincoln Lab's Ballistic Missile Defense Technology Division, retiring in 2005. Harry is also a charter member of the National World War II Museum.

A lifelong public activist, Mr. McCabe championed issues to aid the elderly, the poor, and the youth of Arlington since the early 1960s. He entered public service as an elected Town Meeting member representing Precinct 21 from 1966 to 2014. He was treasurer of W.E.M.B.R.O.C. Community Action Council (1960s-1970s) and brought full-time Head Start to Arlington in the1960s. Harry was director of the Arlington Housing Corporation for 16 years as well as director of the Arlington Boys & Girls Club for 16 years.

He served as chairman of the Arlington Board of Selectman in 1975 and selectmen board member from 1972 to 1975.

Harry was elected Town Meeting moderator from 1977 to 1989.

He was the founder of the Arlington Council On Aging (1966-present) and advocated for the creation of a Senior Citizen Center, for which a community room has been named in his honor after obtaining a four-year $200,000 federal grant for senior services.

He served for six years as president of the Community Action Council, Arlington's antipoverty agency.

Harry was director of the Arlington Senior Association from 1993 to 2001.

He was a member of the Finance Committee from 1991 to 1996, the Assisted Living Task Force (1997-2001) and the Family Self-Sufficiency Program Coordinating Committee (1997 to 2001).

Harry was currently a board member at Minuteman Senior Service Homecare Corp. in Bedford.

Some of the numerous awards abd honors that Mr. McCabe received during his lifetime were:

Honorable discharge, U.S Marines, 1st Marine Division, 1951.

1971, Meritorious Community Service Award, presented by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

1978, 2nd Annual George P. "Brud" Faulkner Award for outstanding community leadership presented by the Arlington Jaycees.

1989, grand marshal, Arlington Patriots' Day Parade.

Early 1990s, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts DOVE Award nomination.

1992, Town of Arlington Cyrus E. Dallin Award for 30 years of outstanding volunteer contributions that enriched the civic and cultural life of Arlington.

Membership and society in the following organizations:

The American Red Cross, volunteer/donor

Knights Of Columbus, Arlington, honorary life member and blood drive coordinator

Arlington Seniors Association Inc., honorary lifetime member

Touchdown Club of Arlington

Irish-American Club, Arlington

Irish Cultural Society, Boston

Disabled American Veterans (lifetime member)

The American Legion

The Nature Conservancy

The Irish-American Cultural Institute, St. Paul Minn.


MIT, Quarter Century Club


Peirce School PTA, treasurer

Mt. Gilboa Neighborhood Improvement Association, Arlington, 1956 to present

Mr. McCabe would like all to know that "He tried very hard in all things and he loved his wife and Children very much." "America the Beautiful" was his favorite song and Sirach Ch.3: 2-7 and 12-17, as well as Colossians Ch. 3: 12-25 were important to him and how he lived his life.

This story was published Friday, March 7, 2014, and updated March 9.

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