TOWNSEND — A native son was laid to rest with the touch of a grandson’s hand on the casket and all the respect due a firefighter.
Roy D. Shepherd, 79, was honored by flags across Townsend flying at half-staff and signs hung by businesses thanking and commemorating him.
The funeral service Friday for the retired assistant deputy fire chief, farmer and businessman was held at Townsend Congregational Church. Family members and friends spoke to the hundreds in attendance, some watching from the adjoining Fellowship Hall.
“Can we define a life of love?” said son Glen Shepherd. The stories the family heard and shared all illustrated a part of Roy Shepherd’s life. The stories told of his love of family, of his strong work ethic and of his help to those in need.
Shepherd’s grandson, Justin Gay, read a tribute written by his brother, Sasha.
“He was my best friend,” said Justin.
The two reminisced about time spent with their grandfather. Sasha rebuilt a vintage tractor with him; Justin accompanied him on mountain hikes.
Roy Shepherd instilled a strong work ethic in his family through word and deed. His son, Gary Shepherd, drove a tractor under his father’s guidance when he was 8 or 9 years old. “I can’t send a boy to do a man’s job, so buck up,” Gary said he was told.
On Aug. 25, a beautiful summer evening, Gary Shepherd found his father’s body in the field on his Lunenburg Road farm. He was pinned under a four-wheeler.
After freeing him and holding him, Gary heard his father’s voice: “Boy, pick up your boots … get going.” He did, calling the Townsend Fire/EMS Department where he is a lieutenant and where his father served for many years.
Roy Shepherd’s life began and ended in a 500-foot area. The farm where he died is across the street from the house in which he was born. The lessons he taught his family carry on.
Cousin Michael Shepherd read words written by Shepherd’s daughter, Sandra Shepherd-Gay.
“What he would want is for me to do what needs to be done,” he said. This included taking care of the family “because he did that without a lot of preplanning.”
Friends saw his strong work habits.
“Roy’s hands were calloused, they were hard, they were gnarly,” said John D’Angelillo, a 50-year friend and faithful customer at Shepherd’s Sales and Service. Shepherd’s hands were not dirty, but showed the deep, rich patina of labor.
A slide show accompanied by “So God Made a Farmer” featured photos taken of Roy Shepherd on his farm — working with animals, building projects and sitting with his dog.
Roy Shepherd’s contributions to the community were acknowledged. During his 40 years of emergency service, the man who brought the ambulance service to Townsend saw the best and worst of humanity, said William May, an old friend and a retired police chief.
Shepherd believed in the preservation of life and in keeping human suffering to a minimum “without ever the expectation of a thank you,” May said.
“He preferred not to have acknowledgment,” Gary Shepherd said. “Just do your giving in secret.”
“He changed our world for the better, and this is why we are all sad today,” May said.
“He got things done,” Gary Shepherd said. His actions on the emergency service might not have always been by the book, but he could calm a psychiatric patient or find a creative way to fight a fire.
Members of police and fire departments from across the state accompanied the funeral procession from the church on the common to Riverside Cemetery in West Townsend.
Outside the cemetery entrance, the procession went under an American flag hung between ladder trucks from Lunenburg and Pepperell. Pallbearers carried the casket to the grave, where Nancy Shepherd, Roy’s wife of 56 years, received the veteran’s flag.
The Rev. Shayna Appel and the Rev. Kevin Patterson, chaplains for the Fire Department, both prayed before the traditional Fire Department ceremonies began.
Lt. Bill Elliot tolled the bell, in three groups of five, marking the last service call for their comrade. Bagpipes sounded and alarms blared before an announcement over the loudspeaker from the dispatch center ended the service call.
An honor guard of Korean War veterans, all known personally to Roy Shepherd, fired a salute then played taps on the trumpet.
“Roy Shepherd lived an extraordinary life,” Patterson said at the graveside. “We have been privileged to know a giant among us.”
Already spoken were the words of his daughter: “I love you, Dad.”