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Fred Findlen

Frederick Joseph Findlen used to brag about his third son of eight children, Frederick Paul. Doing construction work around Harvard University, Fredrick Joseph told anyone who’d listen about how smart his namesake was, how he was the one kid who’d one day not only be the first in the family to go to college, but would be going to none other than Harvard. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

“I broke his heart when I stopped studying,” says Fred, who abandoned his studies when he discovered girls and cars. “The first summer I was supposed to go to summer school, I skipped every day. Dad took me out, put a pick in my hand and put me down in a big hole.” The lesson was meant to show young Fred that studying was the better alternative. Problem was: Fred loved it; he loved it so much he followed in his father’s footsteps and spent the next 60 years in construction.

Fred’s carousing lasted only a few years, until he met Rosella Cody at a carnival in East Dedham. Both were on dates with other people who knew one another. They met again as couples once after that before Fred and Rosi, as he called her, decided to trade in their dates for each other. Rosi was 18 and Fred 19 when they married. Later in life, the two used to half-joke, half-marvel about how two kids from the two worst areas of Dedham—Fred was from The Manor, and Rosi, East Dedham—had managed to put together such a nice life. Rosi stayed home and raised their four children while Fred joined his father and brothers in construction. They were a union shop, building schools, libraries and retirement homes across Massachusetts. One summer in 1960, Fred was assigned a job building a retirement community out in western Massachusetts. Rosi and his two eldest daughters came and lived in the trailer with him and it ended up being a fun family summer, if one somewhat marred by the death of Rosi’s younger sister, Barbara Mary Cody, of cancer at the age of 19.

To thank his son for roughing it in western Massachusetts, Fred J. promised to build the family a home in Dedham. They moved in that fall to the house where Fred still lives. Back then, the street was packed with Findlens—Fred’s older brother Joseph and his wife and six kids lived next door.

Fred spent 31 years working for his father, who, as patriarch of the family, employed a good number of his sons, nephews and sons-in-law. Though Fred J. wouldn’t pass until 1994 on his 88th birthday, Fred P. left in 1977 to start a company that laid foundations with his brother-in-law Phil Gallagher. The two worked together until 2011, when they looked around at the increasingly tough landscape for union shops and decided to retire.

Rosi, meanwhile, decided to go to work when she was 40 and her kids were grown enough. She worked at an insurance agency until she, too, retired.

Fred was the only one of his five brothers not to serve in the military. He got a draft notice for the Korean War, but because he had a young daughter, he was exempted.

Fred took pride in his kids and lived for his family. In 1976, he quit drinking so that he could be more responsible for them. Likewise, he quit smoking in 1985 when his first grandchild was born. And these days he takes everything in moderation so he can live a long life, like his dad. “People ask me, what do you attribute your good health to? I tell them, if there’s something you like to drink that you know is not good for you, don’t drink it. If there’s something you like to smoke that you know is not good for you, don’t smoke it. And if there’s something you like to eat that you know it isn’t good for you, don’t eat it.”

Fred was also determined to be the father he thought his own father hadn’t had the time to be. He’d seen his two younger brothers suffer playing Little League baseball because his own father had been too busy keeping the family afloat. So, he decided to coach his son’s team. He did so for 10 years and then coached his youngest daughter, Barbara’s team, who ended up playing all through high school—and is the only one of his kids who still plays today in pickup games every Sunday in Amherst, where she lives with her wife. Fred’s team won the local pennant two years in a row. After having his two oldest daughters, Patricia and Kathleen, work with him in summer construction jobs, Fred also took the same pains with his son that his father took with him. He had his son intern for his construction business in the hopes that he’d see that an education and a different career would be far better for his son. This time, the ploy worked and Fred George—his middle name was Rosi’s father’s name—got a degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in hotel management and has worked for Hyatt for more than 30 years. Fred G. now manages one of Hyatt’s premiere properties in Maui.

Indeed, all of Fred’s kids—and eight grandkids—went, or are going, to college. His oldest, Patricia, became a lawyer and now teaches law at Southern New Hampshire University, and she’s married to the school’s president, Paul LeBlanc. Their elder daughter, Emma, was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and their younger daughter, Hannah, is getting her doctorate at Stanford. Fred’s second daughter, Kathleen, is in medical research, as is her elder daughter, Bridget. Her younger daughter, Katherine, just started college at Northeastern. Fred G.’s daughters, Madeline and Victoria, are at Southern Methodist University and Vanderbilt, respectively. Barbara’s daughter, Grace, is at Vassar, and her son, Sam, is at Bates.

“Oh my God, you want to hear me bragging,” Fred chuckles. “I can go on all day about my kids and grandkids. I’m just so proud.” Fred spent the first part of his retirement caring for Rosi, who developed cancer. The two had a huge party for their 60th wedding anniversary, and Rosi passed on their 60.5th anniversary in 2015. Since then, retirement has been a “little lonely,” Fred says, but “also really nice. I can do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it.” Often, that entrails reading. Fred is a regular at the local library—he’s already read 65 books in 2017. He’s never regretted not getting a college degree, but he also never lost his love of learning. And after 5pm, he allows himself to watch a little television, usually sports—his Red Sox or Patriots, or a good cowboy movie. But doing what he wants also entails some adventures. In 2016, his youngest granddaughter took him to get his first tattoo. The numbers 4, 9 and 33 on his right arm for his favorite athletes: 4 was hockey player Bobby Orr’s number, 9 was Boston Celtic Larry Bird’s number and 33 was his idol, baseball great Ted William’s number.

Fred loved it so much he went back in 2017 to get a tattoo of a rose for his wife, with her name signed in her own hand. “This way, I never miss her because I have her right on my arm all the time.” And Fred is far from done. He isn’t ruling out future tattoos—or adventures.