‘The model of an engaged citizen’: Family, friends recall Mike Ahearn 

  • Mike Ahearn with one of his three sons, also named Mike Ahearn. CONTIBUTED PHOTO

  • Mike Ahearn in a photo from high school. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Mike Ahearn is shown receiving an award from the Massachusetts State Police; he worked as a dispatcher for 43 years. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Mike Ahearn with his wife, Patti Ahearn, who predeceased him in 2016. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Mike Ahearn is shown wearing his James Brennan Award sash in 2018. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/11/2020 1:50:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Michael “Mike” J. Ahearn Jr., a former city councilor and community pillar for decades, died at Linda Manor last week. He was 87 years old.

“He was born in Leeds, and he finished his life in Leeds,” said Dan Ahearn, the youngest of Ahearn’s three sons.

Ahearn lived a life full of civic involvement while also being extremely devoted to family.

“I’m thankful for the wonderful life of 87 years that he had,” Ahearn said. “We’ll have so many great memories that will be with us forever.”

A two-term city councilor representing Ward 4 from 1986 through 1989, the elder Ahearn unsuccessfully ran for mayor twice, against David Musante in 1989 and Mary Ford in 1991. Ford would later appoint him to the Council on Aging where, as its chairman, Ahearn helped shepherd through the construction of the current Senior Center on Conz Street.

Ahearn was a member of the Northampton St. Patrick’s Association and the Elks and the Knights of Columbus, as well as a youth sports coach. He was also a dispatcher for the Massachusetts State Police for 43 years.

However, his devotion to the community extended beyond his official roles. Dan Ahearn remembered how his father would use his snowblower to clean neighbors’ sidewalks, and how he’d take those older than him out grocery shopping.

“He was a community person,” said longtime friend Bill Waslick. “Wherever he saw a need that he thought he could fill, he would do it. Without question.”

Waslick first met Ahearn when they played on the basketball team at Northampton High School, where Ahearn was a point guard. Waslick and Ahearn would end up marrying sisters.

All three of Ahearn’s children spoke about the close relationship their parents had. Mike and Patti Ahearn were married for 53 years when Patti died in 2016.

“They were together constantly,” said Mike Ahearn, the couple’s middle son. “You saw one, you saw them both.”

He also noted the sign on their front porch, which reads, “Happiness is being married to your best friend.”

“He and my mom had such a special marriage,” Dan said.

A listening ear

Eldest son Pat Ahearn managed both of his father’s campaigns for mayor. “There’s nothing more enjoyable than doing a local campaign,” he said.

The race against Mary Ford, Pat said, highlighted two different camps in Northampton. His father’s supporters were mostly longer-term residents of the city, while many of those backing Ford were newer, more progressive residents.

Still, Pat said the campaign was “pretty civil” and that Ford and his father went to breakfast the week after she won the race.

Mike Ahearn remembered how when his father was Ward 4 City Councilor, he would keep a notepad to record whether his constituents were for or against a particular issue.

“He listened to what everybody had to say,” he said.

Mike Ahearn also noted how his father helped him to start his own funeral home, Ahearn Funeral Home, and described the experience of getting to work alongside his father fondly.

“He was a tremendous mentor to all of us,” he said.

W. Michael Ryan, who served as the presiding justice of the Northampton District Court and as Northwestern district attorney, remembered Ahearn as “a terrific guy” and “absolute gentleman.”

Former Mayor Clare Higgins said that even though she and Ahearn had some political disagreements, they were able to find common ground on a number of things. She noted Mike and Patti Ahearn’s work in getting the Senior Center built, as well as the work they put into the city’s 350th anniversary celebration.

“He was the model of an engaged citizen in the community,” she said.

Higgins also recalled Ahearn’s kindness. “Anytime you went to a funeral, you saw Mike,” she said.

Mayor David Narkewicz, who earlier in his political career served as Ward 4 city councilor, described Ahearn’s death as a “great loss,” and he thanked his family for his long service on behalf of the community.

Mike and Patti Ahearn moved into their home in Ward 4 in the 1960s, with Mike living there until he moved to Linda Manor last year. Sons Mike and Dan praised the care that the facility provided to their father.

“We couldn’t have had a better place,” Dan said.

Pat and Dan live out of state, in Virginia and Texas respectively, although they still called their father daily. Mike would visit his father at least once a day, and when COVID-19 restrictions prevented in-person visits, he would go to his father’s window and speak to him over the phone.

The elder Ahearn was very proud of his Irish heritage as a member of the Northampton St. Patrick’s Association. He was a recipient of the association’s James Brennan Award in 2018 and was the marshal for the Northampton contingent in the 1992 Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade.

This St. Patrick’s Day, which occurred after the visitor restrictions at Linda Manor were put into place, Mike arranged for a bagpiper, Matt O’Connor of the Springfield Kiltie Band, to play music for his father outside his window, and he and other members of the association toasted his dad.

“I did it just on the spur of the moment,” he said. “It turned into something more than I expected.”

O’Connor will play at Ahearn’s graveside funeral service at 11:15 a.m. in St. Mary’s Cemetery on Saturday. There will also be public calling hours for Ahearn at the Ahearn Funeral Home on Friday from 2 to 6 p.m., with optional calling hours for those over 65 or with underlying health conditions from 1 to 2 p.m.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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