The drive from St. Bartholomew’s Church to Needham Cemetery does not usually go past Bagels’ Best.
But when the funeral procession for Ford Peckham turned off Great Plain Avenue to Chapel Street on the morning of Jan. 27, Colleen Schaller was not surprised, for that was where her longtime friend had held court, pretty much daily, at his corner table by the door.
“They had the police, they had fire trucks, and then as we’re coming from the church to the center of town they turned down Chapel Street to go past the bagel shop where we always were,” Schaller said. “And all the people that worked there were outside. So that was kind of emotional.”
Peckham died Jan. 12 at the age of 80 following a brief illness.
Born in Springfield, Ford Hurley Peckham was a sixth grader when his family moved to Needham in 1954. He was a member of the first graduating class at Catholic Memorial High School (Class of 1961). He worked as a bank examiner for 31 years before retiring.
In the 1990s, Peckham put his bank examiner’s skills in service to the town as an appointed member of the Finance Committee, where he served with current FinCom member Jim Healy.
“Ford was always a gentleman,” Healy said. “He had a keen interest in public safety. He believed in their mission but he wasn’t going to support them without reason.
“Back in the day, the department protocol was to send three vehicles on every call. Ford just couldn’t understand it. ‘You don’t need that many people,’ he said. As much as he loved the fire department, he couldn’t accept it.
“Then one year he said, ‘I now agree that it is appropriate for them to send the three vehicles.’”
“I asked, ‘What was the epiphany?’”
“Well, I followed them around a couple of days. When they went to a call, I would go.”
“I told him, ‘Hence forward you shall be known as Sparky Peckham.’”
Another FinCom member, John Connelly, said he joined the roster of Needham residents whom Peckham recruited to volunteer on town boards when he suggested Connelly’s knowledge of construction legal issues made him a great fit for the Permanent Public Building Committee.
“Ford was accessible and he was a connector,” said Connelly. “You don’t replace a Ford Peckham.”
In 2014, the town dedicated its annual report to Peckham, recognizing his years of service. That included a quarter-century as a Town Meeting member, where he was known as the master of “moving the question” when he felt debates had gone on long enough. He also had stints on the Traffic Management Advisory Committee, the Cable Advisory Television Committee, the Commissioners of Trust Funds and others.
Friends commented on his devout faith. Marty Cunniffe remembers him as a daily communicant at St. Bartholomew Church and a fellow member of the church choir. Cunniffe said Peckham was instrumental in keeping the choir together when the church’s impending closure was announced.
“We were able to sing at his funeral,” Cunniffe said.
“He had taken care of his mom until she passed,” said Schaller of the lifelong bachelor. “He would do anything for me, or anybody else.
“He was just a good person.”