Ray Duckler: Birth of a legend, while patrolling the streets
Rob Thomas of Portsmouth, left, reads a birthday card to his grandfather Charlie Lapierre near the end of a 100th birthday celebration for Lapierre held at New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton on Wednesday, November 20, 2013. Lapierre, who grew up in Concord, served in the Army during World War II, returned home in 1946 and worked in the Concord Police Department until 1971. The celebration was attended by retired and current police officers, as well as veterans and family members including two great-grand children, but another family celebration will be held on Lapierre's official 100th birthday on November 30. He is the oldest resident at the New Hampshire Veterans Home.
(Libby March for The Concord Monitor)
Charles Lapierre’s strong-yet-gentle hands touched many lives around here.
And that included the lives of newborn babies.
That’s one of the stories you’ll hear about Lapierre, who died earlier this month at the age of 100. It’s the one about the former Concord police officer who made several deliveries during his 25 years on the force.
“He didn’t go into great detail,” said his daughter, Sandra Cron of Lancaster. “We’d hear about it, but it would be a brief story. Somewhere along the way he’d say, ‘Yeah, I delivered seven babies,’ but that’s about all I got, around the Thanksgiving table or the Christmas tree.”
Those who knew him best described a humble man who did not enjoy talking about himself. He was the oldest veteran living at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton at the time of his death.
His role rebuilding planes near the Battle of the Bulge during World War II earned him a place in the veterans home.
His role as a father, husband, friend and stork earned him a place in lots of hearts.
“His presence, even to the end of his life, was strong,” said the Rev. Terry Donovan Odell, an interfaith minister from Penacook and close family friend. “He was a large man, but that included his spirit too, and his life. He was large in spirit, large in compassion. He was just there for everyone. He went not only the extra mile, but extra miles. He could be depended on.”
Lapierre returned to Concord after the war and planted roots here, with his wife, Sandy. He joined the Concord Police Department in 1946.
Somewhere during his career, Lapierre doubled as an obstetrician, although the full details are sketchy. “In the cruiser was one time,” Cron said, referring to an emergency birth.
Some memories are clearer. Longtime Concord resident Jeff Smith, whose internet column “Off My Wall” is a can’t-miss read around here, honored Lapierre in a recent post.
Smith, a big-time local jock, recalled the days with the old gang, in the late 1950s and early ’60s, when they waited for the National Anthem before slipping into Memorial Field to watch a high school football game.
Sometimes, Officer Lapierre was on duty, “standing at attention,” Smith wrote, “with one eye peeled on the softball field watching us scurry across the field, tumble under the bleachers and high-tail it for a seat in the stands before the anthem stopped.
“All the time,” Smith continued, “Charlie, a White Park guy in his own right, was standing there with a big grin on his face, signaling a silent agreement with us that if we were quick enough, we’d be fine.”
He stayed on the force until 1970. A skilled carpenter and the handiest handyman around, he owned his own remodeling business, putting in long days and sleeping four or five hours a night.
“He was physically strong, really a lot of endurance, stamina,” said Rob Thomas of Portsmouth, Lapierre’s grandson and Cron’s son. “He was tough, really tough, tougher than most.”
Physical toughness came naturally to Lapierre. The emotional stuff, perhaps awkward to him, stayed hidden, for the most part.
His son Chip was killed in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1983, shot while sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car. Chip was 29.
At the funeral, held in Concord, Lapierre built a wall around himself, never letting anyone peek inside. He made sure his family and friends were okay, and he left it at that.
“My first evaluation, first measure of the man was at that funeral,” said Sandra Cron’s husband, William Cron. “He did conduct himself with quiet dignity and strength and compassion. His grace to others really impressed me and stayed in my memory as the years went by. Family was the whole thing with Charlie. He never put himself first.”
“It was the one subject he absolutely would not talk about,” Thomas said. “I figured we spent so many years together that maybe some day, but even my mom couldn’t get him to talk about it. I think he just put it away.”
Lapierre’s wife, Clara, known by her middle name, Sandy, died of a heart attack in 1992, at the age of 72. William Cron remembers a powerful scene at the funeral, when his father-in-law made no attempt to hide what he felt.
Or maybe he did.
“Charlie was the first one out the door, before all the relatives,” Cron said. “He was overwhelmed.”
That’s when Sandra and Will Cron asked Lapierre to live with them, in Lancaster. Lapierre never removed his wedding ring, and Sandy Cron said she’d hear her father talking to her late mother at night, around bedtime.
Meanwhile, Thomas, in middle school at the time, got to know “grampy” really well.
Grampy was stubbon, Thomas said. Once he climbed high to do work on a neighbor’s roof.
“He was 85 and should not have been there,” Thomas said.
But their bond was unique, grampy and grandson, playing cards, hiking, driving around Lancaster. Lapierre liked to listen to others, and that made others like him.
He covered the town, grandson in tow, visiting the car dealer, the mechanic, the grocer.
“I lived and grew up in town,” Thomas said, “and they would know my grandfather and not know me.”
Lapierre spent most of his 90s at the veterans home in Tilton, remaining sharp until the end. The Concord police, the American Legion, friends and family honored him on his 100th birthday, on Nov. 30. He was born in 1913, decades before he helped others celebrate their first birthdays.
He died on Aug. 8 and is buried at Blossom Hill Cemetery, along with Sandy and Chip.