Photo Gallery | Funeral for Brigadier General John Dempsey
NORTH ADAMS — Derek Clark recalled the day he attended elementary school wearing a set of jungle fatigues given to him by his grandfather.
"My teacher pulled me aside and said 'Did you know you are wearing a general's fatigue uniform?'," Clark said Friday. "That's when I knew that my grandfather was kind of a big deal. He was an impressive man. He embodied the American spirit and had the go and get it attitude. That is what I want to take from him; that go get it attitude."
Full military honors and the love of a community marked the funeral of retired Vermont National Guard Brig. Gen. John M. Dempsey, who died May 7 at age 81.
National Guard contingents from Vermont and Massachusetts honored Dempsey at the Southview Cemetery on Church Street. Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Paul Smith of Ashburnham said Dempsey's funeral was a special service.
"We have people here from Massachusetts because he was a Massachusetts native son and from Vermont because he served in the Vermont National Guard," Smith said. "This is special, this doesn't happen all the time. We never forget leaders."
A Vermont National Guard Color Guard and a color guard from the Richard A. Ruether American Legion Post 152 of Williamstown stood at attention under a soft rain as the service began. A Vermont National Guard fire party and casket guards from both Massachusetts and Vermont stood at attention.
Howitzer cannons delivered a powerful farewell salute. A three-shot volley followed the cannon tribute. Several people wept as a lone military bugler began playing taps.
The cannon traveled from Eastern Massachusetts, Smith said.
"This is a wonderful send off for a very well-respected man, a man who served honorably for many, many years," he said.
Known to the community as "Jack," his legacy includes ownership of the former Martin's Shoe Store as well as leadership roles such as trustee of the former North Adams Regional Hospital, chairman of the former Downtown Development Inc., and a member of the Northern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.
City Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, who attended the graveside service, recalled Dempsey as a strong businessman and civic leader. The shoe store was a downtown destination for over 100 years when it closed in 2002.
"I've known Jack for years," Alcombright said "I was at the (former Hoosac Bank) for years and I was very familiar with Martin's Shoe Store. Jack was a consummate gentleman, he was there for everyone. He held on [as a business owner] for a long time. His military service speaks for itself."
Dempsey's military leadership included battalion commander of the 172nd Armor Division, brigadier commander of the 86th Brigade and brigadier general of the 50th Armored Division.
DiLego Jewelry Store owner Cynthia Lamore remembered Dempsey as a business colleague and a friend.
"He always had a smile; he was always so pleasant," she said. "He was a great business owner. He knew your parents, your aunts and uncles, your cousins. It was part of what made him so likable. He was one of those businessmen that made North Adams great, that great city that we were so proud to live in. He was part of that era, the epitome of what it meant to be part of North Adams."
City Councilor Lisa Blackmer referred to Dempsey as a mentor.
"He was one of the men who built their legacy over a lifetime," Blackmer said. "He was a mentor to me way back when he was with the DDI. I admired him."
American flags were presented to Dempsey's children, city resident John M. Dempsey Jr., and Carrie Alibozek and Eileen Clark, both of Adams. The reverence shown during the service touched the family deeply, Alibozek said.
"He retired from the military in 1988 and you forget what it is," she said. "But this, today, it was so much it was deeper than we knew, all the respect and the honor."
Clark said that the military honors were very special to the family.
"It touched my heart," she said. "I just know he is looking down and smiling."
Prior to the service, Alibozek said that Dempsey loved being in the National Guard and enjoyed participating in the drills and trainings.
"He absolutely loved it," she said. "It was a big part of his life. We are all so proud of his military accomplishments. He was proud and active in this community. He believed in this city."
Dempsey may have embodied the best of military service and business ideals, but at her 2014 wedding, Alibozek said he was Dad. The memories of that day are equally precious to her heart, she said.
"He walked me down the aisle and we had that dance," she said. "I thank God that he was there for that."