Led Firefighters, Guided Airport, Welcomed Visitors
CHATHAM — The sudden death of Richard “Dick” Hunter Sunday morning has left a wide circle of friends reeling, and the Chatham Fire Department in mourning.
Mr. Hunter was a career firefighter who rose to the rank of deputy chief, and was the longtime chairman of the Chatham Airport Commission. He was actively involved in civic life up to the time of his death from a cardiac emergency Sunday at the age of 70.
When he was a child, Mr. Hunter had a friend whose father was the fire chief in Leominster, Mass., who brought the two boys to fires and told them to stay in the car, where they watched the action through the car windows. As a young man now living in Chatham in 1975, he gave up a job in the parts department at Manson Motors to be a call member of the Chatham Fire Department, which had six full-time members.
Mr. Hunter was a skilled leader, and was promoted to captain two years later; he remained a shift supervisor for most of his 36-year career before being promoted to deputy chief in 2002. Chief David DePasquale said the department is struggling with the loss, with the older members having worked with Mr. Hunter, and with the rest of the department mourning along with Mr. Hunter’s son, Tim, who’s been a member since 2000.
“He was the first friend that I had in this town,” DePasquale said. With Ronald Sgroi and Pete Connick, Mr. Hunter was one of the town’s three first paramedics, and as such helped pioneer emergency medicine in town. As a leader, Mr. Hunter was unflappable, the chief said. “He was always a good listener. He was a mentor to me and a lot of other people. People liked being on his shift.”
Mr. Hunter was active in the town he loved, serving on various committees including the traffic safety committee and the parking working group. He also helped staff the visitor desk at the Chamber of Commerce office in South Chatham, greeting countless visitors to town.
“Dick’s presence, guidance and knowledge will be deeply missed,” Chamber Executive Director Mary Cavanaugh wrote.
Mr. Hunter was also passionate about the Chatham airport and served on the airport commission for many years, mostly as the group’s chairman. He joined the commission not as a pilot, but as a concerned neighbor to the airport. Airport Manager Tim Howard said there was a lapse of management around that time, and the airport had begun to fall into disrepair. In the early days, the airport was using a 1962 tractor to do maintenance. “We couldn’t even cut the lawn,” Howard said.
With his connections at town hall and his knowledge of government, Mr. Hunter helped the airport obtain the equipment it needed to operate safely, often with a minimal impact on town finances, Howard said. “He just felt that the airport was an essential part of this community,” he said.
When public rancor reached new levels over skydiving at the airport, friends and family urged Mr. Hunter to step down from the commission for his own health, Howard said. “He did internalize it. But he certainly always treated people with the best respect he could,” he said. Howard said Mr. Hunter will be remembered as a guiding force at the airport, “but also as a great friend and a super nice guy. He’ll be dearly missed.”
DePasquale said Mr. Hunter had a no-nonsense manner that hid a distinctively fun side of his personality.
“As couples, we used to have Trivial Pursuit night. He would spit out, after 11 minutes, ‘the Magna Carta,’” DePasquale said with a laugh. He said he’ll miss Mr. Hunter both as a colleague and as a close friend.
“He did a lot for the department,” the chief said. “He did a lot for the town.”