McQuillen knew how to live, love
Bob McQuillen could talk with anyone — anytime, anywhere. He’s was known to have deep, heartfelt conversations with complete strangers, often with his last sentence asking, “What’s your name, by the way?”
It was his gift to uplift others, all the time without exception. And for many, many years, we in the Monadnock region basked in his light, as did so many others in New England and beyond.
McQuillen, most recently a Peterborough resident, died Tuesday at age 90 at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, where even in his final hours people flocked to be with him. Everywhere you go around here, people have been sharing their stories of ‘Mac’ with each other, and celebrating the man who touched so many people’s lives. There is sadness and grief, but mostly there is joy — the feeling McQuillen spread wherever the trail took him.
Dozens of people wrote to tell us just how McQuillen showed his concern and love for them through his generosity. One woman told us how McQuillen would give her a $5 bill when he saw her, starting when she was 6 years old. Another shared that McQuillen had given him a pre-World War I Hohner accordion. To others, he gave his bottomless support, a grin, his time, not to mention his tireless passion for music and contra dances. Perhaps McQuillen was trying to tell us something, that it’s all about giving of yourself.
It’s McQuillen’s longstanding penchant for giving it away — mainly his love of life — that is so remarkable. What was it that made him tick, that drove him to see the best in others, always?
McQuillen pursued what he loved, and what he loved was music and people. He once told someone that playing for contra dances is like being “paid to eat ice cream.” It doesn’t get much better than that. When you do what you love, it seems, giving of yourself comes easy.
McQuillen was a lifelong teacher, beginning his career at Peterborough High School as an industrial arts teacher. He also gave piano lessons, but perhaps the biggest lesson he taught was about how to live. McQuillen had a sense of humor, one that reminded you of your innocence. One person recalled a joke he used to tell that is a good example: “Which side of the chicken has the most feathers?” This was followed by a long pause, then, “The outside!”
When Mac was talking with you, it seemed that time stood still. There was nothing more important than what he was going to say next. Would he reveal the secrets of the universe, or was he on the verge of telling you another joke? And that’s the way life is, too.