PITTSFIELD >> Friends remembered James John Mooney as a city original — a Boys & Girls Club lifer who exemplified selfless living.
"We're talking about a rare guy," former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano Jr. said. Massimiano worked with Mooney at the sheriff's office for decades.
"Pittsfield was extremely lucky to have him for as long as they had him," he said. "I never met anybody who didn't like and respect Jim Mooney. He had the trust of everybody who dealt with him."
Mooney died in his sleep on Tuesday night after several years of physical decline. He was 84 years old.
Speaking for the Boys & Girls Club of The Berkshires, John C. Donna, former president of the club's board of directors, said, "Anybody that knew him as part of the club is going to be deeply saddened by his passing."
"I never met anyone like Jimmy," Donna said. "He was an individual who came once in a lifetime, if at all."
Mooney took his first position at the club in 1949 as its swim director. He went on to direct club programs and Camp Russell before taking the top spot as assistant superintendent (the position is now called executive director) in 1971.
There Mooney would remain until 1989, exercising his renowned talents for handling people of all sorts and dedicating his time to area youth.
Donna said Fred S. Fahey, Mooney's predecessor as assistant superintendent, once chided Mooney for spending too much time at the club, and told him to go home.
"Word is, Jimmy went to the Capitol Theatre for about an hour before sneaking back into the club at a place where Fred wouldn't find him," Donna said.
Many Boys & Girls Club alumni remembered the scary stories Mooney would tell by the fire during nights at Camp Russell. Donna said he couldn't put a number to how many people approached him over the years to recall Mooney's creepy telling of a story called "The Green Hand."
In his work, Mooney's message, and what he sought to teach children, was to "act for the benefit of others," Donna said.
"He was endearing, personable, amiable — he did so much for the club and for numbers of community organizations," Donna said. "I consider him my mentor, and so do many others."
Mooney also ran a tight ship, Donna added. "He could spot trouble across the room, always once step ahead. He had a terrific savvy for human nature. He could figure out what people were thinking and knew how to react."
Massimiano added, "He knew how to handle people, and the staff loved him. He held people accountable and knew how to delegate."
In his other role with the Sheriff's Department, Mooney served in the post of special sheriff, at one point serving as interim county sheriff before Massimiano took office and also managing the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction for four months.
"He was an exceptional man in every area," Massimiano said.
Up until very recently, Mooney was a continual presence at the club, leaving his Richmond home early on Fridays and sometimes multiple days per week to again walk the halls, visit the people there.
In a Congressional 1989 address upon Mooney's retirement at age 58, Pittsfield native and U.S. Rep. Silvio O. Conte lauded Mooney as a champion of the city and of the club and said, "Always sensitive but demanding and tough when necessary, Jim has built an environment and institution which will survive after him."