Thursday, December 27, 2001

Packy McFarland leaves behind a legend of caring

Published in the Current

Edward “Packy” McFarland died Dec. 19 after a long battle with heart trouble. It was a strong, all-embracing heart, for which he was admired by most people in Scarborough, and for which they honored him during his life and after his death. His heart was his greatest asset and, in the end, his final weakness.

“He was extremely good at motivating kids that were atypical athletes,” said current Scarborough High School athletic director Frank Spencer. “He made them feel good about themselves.”

And that is perhaps his lasting legacy in Scarborough. Former players and students remember him as a great man, with some corny catch-phrases like “A boy in sports is a boy not in trouble.”

But Dan Warren, one of Packy’s players who grew up to live and work and coach baseball in Scarborough, said he often finds himself repeating Packy’s pithy platitudes to his own players, 30 years later.

Warren, who played on Packy’s last conference championship baseball team in 1971, became even better friends with him as an adult than they had ever been at the high school.

“He was a tremendous people person,” Warren said. “He makes great eye contact with everybody, and this was a guy who was legally blind for the last 10 years of his life. He would put himself six or eight inches from your face and have a conversation.”

Warren remembers that Packy said coaching high school basketball was one of the hardest things he ever did, in a life that included service in World War II and work as a shipbuilder. In Maine, Packy would say, there’s not much to do in the winter, and people really care about their basketball teams.

So any minor outing to a store or a gas station could become a fully involved discussion between coach and angry fan questioning the decision to play a full-court press in last night’s game.

But Packy would take these discussions in stride, saying that everyone had a right to have access to their team’s coach.

Warren said that’s a principle that is missing from today’s sports world.

Looking out for others
Also missing today, according to some, is a sense of community spirit Packy embodied.

Mark Buttarazzi, now a dentist in Scarborough, played baseball for Packy in the early 1970s. “His players and students always came first,” Buttarazzi said. “Their accomplishments meant a lot to him.”

He had no trouble getting his players to give their all. “He was the type of guy you just wanted to play your heart out for,” Buttarazzi said. “He could get 110 percent out of everybody.”

Buttarazzi said Packy’s motto, “Quitters never win and winners never quit,” helped him get through college and graduate school. Packy’s devotion to the community was a model for Buttarazzi, who came back to Scarborough to give back to the community that had given him so much.

He started his own dental practice, and learned again that quitting was not a formula for success. Packy helped him get involved in coaching youth baseball, too.

“Packy was the type of guy who gave a lot to the community,” Buttarazzi said. “I always admired that.”

Warren said Packy helped him see the value in getting involved in the community and in giving to charitable causes. “He just pushed me, but he always did it gently,” Warren said.

A long and storied career
Packy taught and coached at Scarborough High School for 26 years, retiring in 1983, the same year the school’s baseball field was given his name.

But long before that, the caring man and athlete made his mark on Maine. As a student at Bowdoin College, he was captain of the basketball team for three straight years and made All-American as a senior.

He helped start Bowdoin’s intercollegiate baseball team, and was its first captain.

Despite hearing loss due to a head injury during a basketball game early in his career, he was a successful coach and history teacher. And, for every student who remembers working hard in Packy’s demanding classes, there are players who remember a man driven to help them succeed.

In their success he found his own, getting elected to the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame as a coach in 1993. He also has been honored as a Maine Sports Legend. But Warren said it’s not the awards and honors, it’s not the championship titles and the prestige of being a big name in Maine sports. “It’s how he used it,” Warren said.

He would teach in stories, but not tooting his own horn. Instead, Warren remembers, he would tell a story about how he failed because he didn’t do something the right way. And he would say what happened, and what he thought about that now. It was a way of teaching, Warren said, that really reached his audience.

It wasn’t just that way on the field, but in the classroom as well. He would start with a paragraph from a textbook and launch into stories about his service in the war, or other lessons he had learned. “He brought the outside world into the classroom,” Warren said.

A good family man
“A lot of my favorite memories are about going to the games,” said Martha Williams, Packy’s daughter and an English teacher at Scarborough High. The teams, she said, were a part of the family. Martha’s mother, Alice, would cook dinners for the teams before big games.

Her brother played on basketball and baseball teams for Packy, but even before that, the coach’s games were family affairs.

And beyond the coaching, Packy was a good father. “He would come home and read to us,” Williams said. “He was a very caring, compassionate father.”

Packy took his family from Freedom Academy, where he started out as a coach of boys and girls basketball, to Gorham High School for 10 years. And then he came to Scarborough, and the school was never the same.

“He just loved people and they gave it back,” Williams said.

Williams, who started teaching at the school before her father retired, said he was always a great person to have around as a parent, colleague and friend.

“He had a great sense of humor,” Williams said.

He kept that upbeat spirit even in the darkest days of the Red Sox, his beloved team. He never gave up on them, or any of his students or players. He always gave more than he got, but he got more than he could have imagined.

And now the question is, Warren said, “How do we take up the torch?”