Dozens of classmates, railroad enthusiasts, and other relatives, friends, and admirers gathered Sunday afternoon to pay tribute to James A. Shea, the architect of Bedford’s Depot Park, who died unexpectedly three weeks earlier at age 63.
But the day’s final, unique salute took place a little later in the day in the park’s Budd passenger car that symbolizes Shea’s commitment to the town’s railroad heritage.
Cynthia Mork, a weekend volunteer in the Friends of Bedford Depot freight house shop adjacent to the Buddliner, hosted visitors following the memorial program that took place at Bedford High School.
Joining the guests, she said, was a resident who “just sort of happened by. He was familiar with the train; he had just never been inside. And he had talked with Jim on several occasions.”
When he learned why the car was open late on a Sunday, Mork continued, the visitor said he wanted to offer his own tribute. He produced a conch shell “and played this incredible sound in the car, and he chanted a prayer, I would describe it as throat-singing. It was really kind of amazing, a lovely gift.”
The sound of the conch shell is part of funeral traditions in various Eastern religious practices.
Earlier, other remarks were more conventional. Former Selectman Joe Piantedosi, Shea’s longtime partner on the Depot Park Advisory Committee, said the park project was born on April 1, 1992. That was the day Shea noticed a crew dismantling what was left of the former Bedford railyard off Loomis Street.
“For over 27 years we admired his hard work, honesty, and deep devotion to Bedford projects,” Piantedosi said. “Jim will be missed but he never will be forgotten.”
Also speaking was Dan O’Brien, a retired maintenance manager for Amtrak commuter rail. He described Shea’s central role in the rescue of the Budd car, which was moved from a remote area of Billerica and installed on the railroad bed alongside the freight house.
The one-time self-propelled car, which is available for rentals, rests at the terminus of the Minuteman Bikeway. There isn’t a track in sight. But O’Brien said that didn’t stop one passerby from stopping by the freight house to ask, “What time does that train leave?”
Bill Deen, the acting chair of Friends of Depot Park, noted that the Wikipedia page for the Town of Bedford features a lead photo showcasing the Budd car (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedford,_Massachusetts).
Also sharing remembrances was Alan E. MacMillan, who was the last engineer to drive a vehicle on rails to Bedford. Buddliner service between Bedford and North Station ended in January 1977, and MacMillan drove the wrecker that came to rescue the Budd car that had been stuck in a snowstorm.
Brian O’Donnell, an organizer of Sunday’s celebration of life, was one of several of Shea’s BHS classmates to speak. Shea was part of the 45-year class reunion several weeks ago.