Dick Fernald remembered for town service, love of tennis

  • Dick Fernald, right, with his son Mark. The two spent more than 20 years practicing law together. Courtesy photo—

  • A young Dick Fernald playing tennis on a grass court in Cuba. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/16/2020 2:17:46 PM
Modified: 4/16/2020 2:17:36 PM

Richard “Dick” Fernald moved to Peterborough in 1961 and made it his home for almost 60 years raising four boys, Stephen, Mark, Russ and Jeffrey, with his wife Judy, all of whom shared Fernald’s affinity for tennis.

He worked as an attorney with an office in downtown from the time he first moved to Peterborough until 2015, retiring at the age of 86. He served on the Peterborough Planning Board from 1962 to 1989, the last 22 years filling the role as chairman of the board, and served the role of counsel for the town of Peterborough for more than 25 years.

On Tuesday, Fernald died at the age of 91 after a period of failing health.

Fernald’s son Mark, who practiced law beside his dad for 25 years at Fernald, Taft, Falby & Little, said Wednesday that his dad was always a people person.

“He just had that gift of interacting with people and being able to get along with all kinds of people,” Mark said. “He loved working with people and for people, doing what he could to help.”

Mark said his father was instrumental in laying the groundwork for how the planning board conducts business today, writing the first zoning ordinance in town.

When Jeff Crocker first moved to town to practice law, he quickly noticed something about Fernald.

“He was one of that group of veteran attorneys that you knew you wanted to model yourself after,” Crocker said. 

Crocker joined the Peterborough Planning Board in 1983 and after a few years became vice chair under Fernald.

“He sort of took me under his wing in a very gracious way,” Crocker said. Crocker said Fernald taught him enormous amounts about municipal and administration law.

One thing Crocker will remember about his time on the planning board with Fernald is his ability to not only run a meeting, but take the notes at the same time. Crocker said Fernald would then go to his office across the street to type up the meeting minutes, sometimes after finishing with the planning board at 10 p.m.

“He was as detailed as a tape recording would be,” Crocker said.

And he is still in awe of what Fernald was able to accomplish as a member of the board.

“He really guided the development in Peterborough, for the better,” Crocker said. “Dick Fernald is to be credited for a lot.”

Fernald was one of the founding members and first president of the Monadnock Indoor Tennis Club, the first indoor tennis facility in the state which opened in 1966.

“That was something he was really proud of,” Mark said.

During his more than 20 years as president, Fernald oversaw the construction of all three tennis courts at the facility on Route 202, where they initially secured the mortgage on the idea of selling shares.

“They broke ground with only 26 shares (out of 40) spoken for,” Mark said.

Mark isn’t quite sure where his father picked up his love for tennis, but he passed it along to all of his children. He began playing in the Jaffrey Tennis Tournament in 1957 and played every year until he was 86.

“Some years he played in six or seven events,” Mark said. That led to the installation of what is known as the Fernald Rule, where competitors can only play in a maximum amount of brackets.

Fernald began his career at Bradley & Faulkner in Keene in 1957 and spent two years as the city attorney. But wanting to move to Peterborough, it was by luck that Homer Bradley’s son, Sam, worked at the office of Ken Brighton in Peterborough and was looking to join his father’s firm. So the two switched.

“He wanted to practice law in the country,” Mark said.

And deciding to retire midway through his 80s was not an easy decision.

“He loved being a lawyer,” Mark said. “He didn’t really want to retire.”

Fernald served four years as a lieutenant in the Navy, and spent 27 months aboard the U.S.S. Salem CA 139 with a home port in the Mediterranean Sea. He was a lawyer on board the ship, Mark said, and during his last 21 months he served as an instructor at the Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island and at the U. S. Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton, California.

Fernald grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, the son of a lawyer, and went to Amherst College and Harvard Law School.

He was an outdoorsman, spending a lot of time hunting, fishing and hiking. The family had a camp three miles from the Appalachian Trail between Mount Katahdin and Moosehead Lake in Maine. He was also part of a group that did winter hiking in the White Mountains.

Anne Twitchell, who first met Fernald and Judy when they moved to Peterborough, has fond memories of trips to the Fernald camp and hiking adventures in the White Mountains.

“They were just wonderful friends,” Twitchell said.

They had children the same age and liked to do similar things, so the friendship grew and lasted over many years with Twitchell and her late husband Peter. Anne and Peter were also founding members of MITC with Fernald.

“He was a very good player,” she said. “He would always win the Jaffrey Tennis Tournament.”

Crocker bought a home in the same neighborhood as Fernald and remembers seeing him every morning at 7 a.m. running with his dog.

“You could time your watch by him,” Crocker said. “And he was doing that well into his eighties.”

But what Crocker will miss most is Fernald’s unwavering commitment to both people and the town he called home.

“He was just an amazing person,” Crocker said. “And so devoted to the town.”

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