Council honors nonagenarian for dedication to community
Two weeks ago, when Jamestowners tried twice to surprise him with birthday wishes, some things went awry both times. But McLoughlin, who holds down a job with the town water department as a meter reader and turned 90 on July 20, appreciated the thought and everyone’s effort.
He had a good time at his surprise party, even though his wife Thelma, who didn’t realize it was going to be a big party with almost every town employee present, missed the fun.
She dropped him off at Town Hall and went bowling.
“I didn’t know,” she said. “They must think I’m terrible.”
Tina Collins, the finance director, had called the house and asked if she could bring Jim to Town Hall because “a few of the girls” wanted to wish him happy birthday.
A few of the girls turned out to be the whole town. McLoughlin said he never expected people to throw him a party, especially not a big one like that.
He said he definitely enjoyed himself.
At the Town Council meeting on July 15, the councilors read a proclamation in his honor, but no one had told McLoughlin they planned to do that. Someone did say he should go to the meeting and offered to drive him to Town Hall, but he thought the meeting had something to do with town politics that he didn’t want to be concerned with.
“I’ve never been to a town meeting,” he said. “I don’t go to meetings.”
Sans McLoughlin, the councilors recognized him for his work as a volunteer for the Jamestown Emergency Medical Services, and as a blood donor. They said he has gone above and beyond to help people in need, dedicating his time and energy to saving lives.
The council proclaimed July 20, 2013, as James A. McLoughlin Day.
“To honor him for his dedication to the community,” said Council President Kristine Trocki. “We urge all residents to wish him well.”
McLoughlin, who is now a lifetime member of the EMS team and no longer drives an ambulance, said he knows almost everybody in town. He and Thelma moved here 50 years ago. They had been down several times to visit her relatives, and one day they took a walk and saw a vacant lot. They bought it and eventually moved here.
He liked Jamestown so much he didn’t want to go anywhere, she said.
“I still don’t like to go off the island,” said McLoughlin, who’s originally from Providence.
McLoughlin is an Army veteran who served in World War II and in Korea. He went to war at age 20 as a fireman on a tugboat, patrolling the Aleutian Islands for Japanese. Ultimately, he was awarded nine medals and said he most treasures the Combat Medical Badge, which he received in recognition for giving first aid to the wounded on the battlefield in Korea. He does not talk about those memories, he said, but they have been with him all his life.
He also received a Commendation Medal when he came home from the war, his wife said.
McLoughlin has also been a life-long blood donor. He says he can’t remember when he started giving blood. The council proclamation says he started when he was in Korea because he realized the importance of giving blood is to saving lives.
But McLoughlin thinks he actually started giving blood before that. As of today, he has donated almost 400 pints – or 40 gallons – of his own blood. He continues to give platelets every two weeks.
He also has done so much work to organize blood drives, the Rhode Island Blood Center created an award in his name. The James McLoughlin Award – also known as the 20/20/20 award – recognizes volunteers who have donated more than 20 gallons of blood, coordinated more than 20 blood drives, and sponsored more than 20 mobile blood drives.
McLoughlin has set up more than 80 blood drives on behalf of the EMS, the Arnold Zweir Post 22 American Legion, and Memorial Post 9447 Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“Jim’s usual chair at the Aquidneck Center is now known as the James McLoughlin donor chair in honor of his commitment to blood donation and saving lives,” the councilors wrote.
McLoughlin also used to work as a gate attendant at Fort Getty, but he stopped after he was hurt on the job.
A couple of weeks ago, he got his first ride in the Jamestown ambulance as a patient.
Given the choice, he would prefer to do the driving.
“It’s a lot nicer,” he said.
The couple married 63 years ago. They have a son, Jim, and two grandchildren. They met when her sister married. Her future husband was a friend of her new brotherin law, and they were introduced. Right after they were married, the Army called and sent him to Korea.
After he came home, he worked in auto parts and eventually retired from Paul Bailey’s dealership. Thelma worked at a garden store part time so she could be there when their son came home from school.
They both volunteered with Jamestown’s Meals on Wheels and at the old senior center where they used to help with parties. He still delivers the meals occasionally when they run out of help.
Asked why he started volunteering and giving blood, he said it seemed like a good thing to do to help people.
Now 90 years old, he’s still doing good.