2015-01-16 / Front Page

Meet your Great Person of 2014

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

Robert Convery, 77, of Skyline Drive in Kennebunkport, poses atop an antique fire engine at the Goose Rocks Fire Department. Convery beat out 21 other nominees to win the voting among Post readers for this year’s Great Person Award. (Duke Harrington photo) Robert Convery, 77, of Skyline Drive in Kennebunkport, poses atop an antique fire engine at the Goose Rocks Fire Department. Convery beat out 21 other nominees to win the voting among Post readers for this year’s Great Person Award. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNKPORT — There’s one thing Robert Convery wants you to know about himself — “I’m not a firefighter,” he says. “Those are the real ‘Great People.’ I just help out where I can.”

The distinction is important because Convery, recently voted the Great Person of 2014 by Post readers, agreed to have his picture taken at the Goose Rocks Fire Station for a profile in the newspaper. Convery is a member of the Goose Rocks Fire Association, which owns the building, and, as a volunteer, he pitches in to help clean the station and wash the trucks. He also runs drinking water to emergency personnel on the scene of working fires and assists the town on its emergency response team.

“But I’m not a firefighter,” he says, repeating the point for the fifth or sixth time, to really drive it home. “There’s so much that goes into being a firefighter these days, especially on a volunteer department like ours, because they hold down full-time jobs while still going though all the same training as regular full-timers. I wouldn’t want to take anything away from those folks.

“And,” said Convery, as he stepped off the department’s antique engine, onto which he’d gamely climbed for a photo op, “I’m far from the only one who helps out around the station. There are lots of folks who chip in.”

But Convery, 77, does more than merely sweep floors and “help out” as a member of the Goose Rocks Fire Association. He cooks meals for indigents, takes food and other treats to folks at area nursing homes, hauls trash containers for his neighbors, some of whom are younger than himself, and keeps an eye on their homes during the winter. Convery also contributes to the historical society, decorates his neighborhood at his own expense every July 4th and Flag Day, and volunteers at his church, St. Martha, of the Holy Spirit Parish Catholic community.

“It’s all behind the scenes, that’s what he does. It’s not out in the public view,” said Convery’s friend and neighbor, Richard Day, who nominated him for the annual award. “He spends his time helping others in so many ways it’s impossible to detail it all. He’s a humble, selfless citizen who’s always thinking of others.”

Post readers agreed — in fact, Day says many personally thanked him for making the nomination — and Convery beat out 21 other nominees for this year’s honor, which seeks to recognize people just like him, who quietly make a difference in their community.

But for Convery, service is its own reward and, obliged to give an interview, he sat down at the fire station, resume in hand, to detail some of the work he’s done, and the committees on which he’s served. It’s an impressive list, including a 43-year career in the telecommunications industry and an appointment by the governor to Maine’s Emergency Services Communications Bureau, not to mention his military service, membership in the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials and on the Kennebunkport Wastewater Department Advisory Committee.

But that’s all very official and dry, drawing an eye-roll from Day, who had come along for the interview.

“You see, that’s exactly what I’m saying,” he said. “This is all well and good and very important and maybe good as background, but what Bob leaves out is what nobody knows. This guy seems to get up every day and all he thinks about is, what can I do today to help a neighbor, or help a friend, or somebody that’s sick.

“My wife and I are just amazed that this almost-78-year-old guy gets out there every single day of his life, and he does it not out in front, but invisibly, in the background,” said Day. “What he doesn’t talk about is what I think he’s a great person for — the behind the scenes stuff the public never knows about, and that includes coming in here and washing fire trucks.”

Perhaps even more important, says Day, are the random acts of kindness that seem to come as second-nature to Convery.

There’s the woman at an assisted living center in town who gets a weekly delivery of a lobster roll from Convery, just because he knows she enjoys them and can’t get out to procure her own. Or, there’s the fact that Convery, who knows Day canceled his subscription to his beloved Wall Street Journal in order to preserve funds to help his grandkids through college, makes a daily trek to deliver his own edition, once he’s finished it.

“Every time someone is in the hospital, I hear about it from a friend the next day, that this guy was over there visiting them and trying to buck their spirits up,” Day said. “And what about the street light, the only one in his whole section of Goose Rocks, that he pays for at his own expense every month, because it enhances the safety of the neighborhood. He’s done that for years, and nobody knows about it.”

Convery’s response is a simple shrug.

“I’m lucky the good Lord has deemed that I can still get up every morning on my own two feet and do things,” he said.

Then, prodded for more, he explains, “I retired at the end of 2009 and, with my wife passed away some year’s back, I’m just not going to sit back on the couch all day long. I get out and go. I just help people out. You can do nothing or you can help people.”

Then, perhaps sensing the conversation focusing too much on his personal attributes, Convery turns back to the resume.

Robert “Bob” Convery was born in Everett, Massachusetts, but his parents spent their honeymoon at Moody Beach in Wells. So, he likes to think he was conceived in Maine, at least.

Convery’s mother was a schoolteacher, while his father was a professor at Boston College and, for a time, acting mayor of Everett.

“I think that may be why I was such a lousy student,” he recalls, with a sheepish grin. “It had so much teachers, teachers, teachers that I was a pain in the arches to my family.

Still, Convery credits his parents with instilling in him by example certain values from their service to the community.

“I think it finally caught up with me once I grew up a little bit and stopped being a clown,” he said, with a laugh.

Convery joined the Army in advance of the draft in place at the time (he later also served in the Air National Guard) and admits to having been a “bit of a wild child” until he met his wife, Mary, at a nightclub, one he refers to euphemistically as “an Irish joint.”

“I never got arrested, but I was always doing something I shouldn’t have been. She settled me down a lot,” he says, sounding sincerely thankful for the good influence.

When Convery returned home from service overseas, he got worried and studied nights to the Massachusetts Radio and Telegraph school. That led to a job at AT&T as a telephone installer. It was a good gig, excepting perhaps the night a woman held a gun on him while he went about his work, fearing he might be the Boston Strangler in disguise.

“I was never so scared, my hands were shaking, trying to hold the screws,” he recalled. “I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”

Eventually, Convery went from climbing telephone poles to climbing the corporate ladder. He advanced to supervisory positions, working at Ma Bell long enough to see it become Verizon and then Fairpoint. During his later years Convery traveled to every state in New England working on emergency communications systems.

“He basically pioneered 9-1-1,” said Day.

“Well, it was here, we just made changes to it and upgraded it and everything else,” said Convery, with his characteristic humility.

As a child, Convery would vacation for a month every summer in Wells with his parents and sister. In 1969, he, his wife, and parents, pooled their resources and bought land in Goose Rocks Beach. They built a small home, which served as a summer vacation spot until 2000, when Convery and his wife became year-round residents.

By that time the couple had had three children and eight grandkids, in Mass. and New Jersey, but they opted for the less hectic work commute for Convery from Kennebunkport

“My wife passed away eight years ago and here I am,” he said. “The older you get, there are some mornings you just want to stay in bed. But you’ve to get up. I’ll keep on getting up and doing what I can for those around me until the day I don’t get up anymore, I guess.”

“I’m a little bit in awe of this guy,” said Day. “He gets up every day and his very first thought is, ‘What can I do for somebody?’ That, to me, is what makes him a great person.”

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