Anyone who knew Ken Waugh well knew that he was one of the most generous people they had ever met.
His values came from the way he had been raised in New Braintree by his mother Jean and father Kip and by all the earlier generations who passed on this way of life. Ken often said that children who worked on a farm from the time they were small learned directly from their mother and father what was really important in life. They were likely to be less attracted to the temptations that hurt many teenagers.
Ken’s old roots came from the rural farms and neighborly ways of the Quabbin area. When the Quabbin Reservoir flooded some of the old towns in the 193O’s, a modern metropolis like Boston seeming to wash away older American rural values, New Braintree and a few other old towns still preserved them. The more their old values are forgotten, the worse off America will be. Kip’s little book about the area is appropriately titled, “A Quabbin Town Lives On.”
Ken and his brother Doug were completely formed by these rural values. The family surprises visitors from the outside because they are naturally good without knowing it. And once you have experienced, even for a short time, their quiet old way of life, you fear that contemporary America will let that goodness fade away. The rural ways of these old places are actually fragile even though they are nourished by the warm summer’s sun, the soil, the cattle, the orchards, the farms, the hay and the stands of timber that warm the houses in winter and supply the split logs that boil the sugar water into maple syrup just before spring. Ken’s Sugar House in sugaring season, that he invited all his friends to see, symbolizes New England’s turns of seasons. Richard Hoyer’s beautiful black and white photos preserve them. For that reason Ken left his farm to a Massachusetts preservation society that prohibits commercial development of the land. Kip loved an old maxim that summed up Ken’s bitter sweet view of nature; we plant a tree for someone else to sit under.
But to understand Ken we have to recognize a deeper virtue than his generosity and his love of nature and compassion. Although Ken was an active member of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester, giving a summer sermon and running the Monday night suppers, he was not a traditionally religious person. All religions lead us toward compassion, but Ken probably learned compassion, the highest of all human virtues, mostly from life itself, and from death, its other side. The greatest irony of Ken’s life was that his mortal cancer probably came from weeding his vegetable gardens under the burning summer’s sun with no shirt on. Ken’s compassion was present in his pacifism. He was against all wars. But he accepted the Vietnam draft on the condition that he be a front line medic. He did not carry a pistol, as medics are allowed to do. Once on the front line a young soldier died in his arms. He wrote to the soldier’s fiancé telling her how brave he had been in battle and in death. That experience probably sealed his pacifism.
When Ken was discharged from the army he became a night nurse at St. Vincent’s. He was awarded that hospital’s highest honors for his compassionate care of patients. Ken was eccentric in many ways. He was the old type of nurse who rubbed backs and emptied bed pans himself. He even carried a flashlight in his mouth so he could see the patients and still use both hands while caring for them. So if you are ever sick and feeble and unable to take care of yourself, if you ever feel abandoned in a dark hospital bed, thank the anonymous night nurse and think of Ken’s compassion. That will help you to understand Ken and what we all should be.