Monday, February 14, 2011

Silent Anvil: Bob McCarthy

 Bob McCarthy, the senior statesman of Boston-area farriers, has died.

Farrier friends: The late Allen Smith, left, with Bob McCarthy, right, circa 1988.

Wake  4:00 - 8:00 p.m.  on Thursday, February 17
Funeral Friday, February 18 at 10:00 a.m.
Roberts Mitchell Funeral Service
15 Miller Street, Medfield, Massachusetts 02052
508 359 2000

"The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
--T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

There was a time when I might have been guilty of assigning a high degree of respect for people that was in some sort of direct proportion to the number of hours it would take me to fly to where they lived. As exciting as it is to travel the world, most people stop somewhere, and find a place that they'll call home. I always kept coming right back here, right where I started and like TS Eliot, who grew up  spending summers on the road where I live, it has taken me years to understand what my homing instinct was all about: there was simply no better place on earth for me to be me or to do what I wanted and needed to do.

It had something to do with the people. A lot to do with the people. And I am finally beginning to see it, and know it, for the first time. Just as some of them are slipping away.

I've written a thousand stories about farriers in the Boston area and the Southern New England Farriers Association, which began here in the early 1980s and still carries on. But until the late days of Allen Smith's life, I didn't really understand how it all worked. Or why it worked. I didn't want to analyze something, for fear of jinxing it, and losing Allen was like a spring breaking through a sofa cushion.

Bob McCarthy was a big reason why things worked in the farrier world around here, Allen explained to me one day. I'm hoping that one of the farriers who was close to him will write something about him for the blog but I can tell you what I saw of his character over the years, which was that Bob absolutely had the respect of all the farriers in the Boston area. He didn't demand it, they gave it.

When I came along, there were two senior farriers working who knew the farrier business and had the best accounts: Dick Ham and Bob McCarthy. They were both friendly and generous to the younger farriers, and encouraged them. Dick died quite a while ago, but Bob was helpful in forming the Southern New England Farriers Association, served as its president for many years, and advised behind the scenes for many more. I wonder now how different things might have been if Bob hadn't agreed to be part of SNEFA.

Hardly a politician, Bob served as a stabilizer and a peacekeeper, because no one would ever want to be seen in a bad light in his eyes. Bob was very soft-spoken and made most of his points with a curl of his lip, a raised eyebrow, or a soft grunt. He was gentlemanly, but with a twinkle in his eye; he always seem bemused by what went on around him.

If you saw Bob at a horse show, you'd think he was an owner, not the farrier, until he put his apron on; and when the farrier organizations began talking about establishing vet-farrier relations years ago, Bob was already on a first-name basis with everyone they needed to know.

Bob McCarthy didn't have to say much, and when he did, it would usually have a punchline. He personified the difference between being influential and wielding klout; he didn't seem to have anything to gain, so malice wasn't part of his brand--although mischief certainly was.

Democracy is a wonderful thing. Equality among peers is admirable. But every truly successful civilization recognizes and values its elders. And certain elders accept that they have a responsibility to step forward, or stay accessible, to serve as mentors and role models. With grace and a sense of duty, they impart their wisdom, along with their technical knowledge, to benefit the next generation.

And some, like Bob, never lose their sense of humor, or take themselves too seriously, which makes them very easy to be around.

As sad as I am tonight, I'm sadder still for Myron and Owie and Garth and Freddy and John and Dave and Tom and Alvin and all the others who had a special friend for the past 30 or more years. Someone who was not just a very fine horseshoer--which he certainly was--but who understood all about the challenges they faced trying to make a living.

The Boston area may be a tough place to raise or train or keep horses, but Bob McCarthy helped make it a great place to be a horseshoer. And to be me.