A good doctor, a great life.....The Doc McKenna story by Rick Wilson.
TORRINGTON – Amid all the energy, hooting, hollering, grunting, cheering and jeering, he was always the calm, cool, collected distinguished looking guy watching and waiting to help out if the need arose.
He was Doc McKenna and he was a pretty special guy in Torrington for a lot years. James was the official title, Dr. James for that matter. But legions knew him as “Doc”, a tribute in part to longevity but maybe ever more so to a simpler time of solid citizens and neighborly dedication to quality work.
Doc, who died Saturday at the age of 88, compiled a laundry list of contributions that fill up a Torrington map. Charlotte Hungerford Medical Director, family medical practice, Knights of Columbus, founding member of Torrington Jaycees, UNICO Club Person of the Year in 2002 and the list goes on.
Maybe nowhere, however, did Doc touch more people than in the sports world. He helped found the Torrington Midget Football League, coached in the Varsity Alumni League and served on the Board of Directors of the Torrington Twisters.
I first met Doc through Torrington High School where he spent more than 50 years as the teams’ physician. You never went to any event without seeing Doc there whether it was patrolling the football sideline, standing watching a baseball game or occupying a seat at a basketball game in the Connie Donahue Gymnasium.
His presence was always a comfort, a piece of security should anything go wrong. Particularly on one basketball night that former Torrington High coach Tony Turina will carry around with him forever.
“We were playing Wolcott and a kid (Nick Robinson) went in for a layup and got undercut,” recalled Turina. “He flipped and hit the floor hard with a whack. I ran out and all of the sudden the kid was having convulsions and I turned around and was hoping is anybody here.
“One guy stood up and walked over and it was Doc. He was so calm. He treated the kid and got him stabilized. That night there was a guardian angel in the gym. You had to see it. There was not one sound in the gym. You couldn’t hear a breath.”
Turina was later given a plaque by officials from Wolcott but is quick to point out, “Doc McKenna was a hero. I will go to the grave remembering that.”
When Doc was in the gym you knew whatever happened, he could take care of things.
Former Torrington High football coach Chris Medve also felt a strong degree of comfort when Doc was in the house.
“Doc was always in the thick of things. He was `old reliable’. , “ said Medve who now teaches at Simsbury High. “He always knew what to do with the athletes and he was always right on with his assessments. He had the kids’ best interests at heart. He was calm, cool and collected.”
Torrington knew Doc’s value. He won a Gold T Award in 1979 and was a member of the first class of the Torrington High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997.
I first met Doc when I began working in Torrington in 1987. His son Mike, now THS Athletic Director, was the school trainer and quickly became a friend. He introduced me to Doc and you know when you are dealing with someone special. Someone who just exudes something extra.
When I covered a game and Doc was there I tried to make it a point to go over and say hi and we would small talk for a bit. It was a minute or two or three I looked forward to. I don’t remember the last time I ran into Doc but I do know at football games I still scan the sideline looking for him.
Mike e-mailed me late last week to tell me that the end was near. The family had decided to disconnect life support yet Doc refused to go. Not surprised, there was probably one more athlete he wanted to fix up.
Turina said he knew Doc since the mid-1960s and that he never changed and that he didn’t know anybody that didn’t like him.
One thing is for sure, everybody will miss him. I know I will keep looking for Doc on the sidelines and somehow he will be there. I know it.
Eighty-eight years is a good, long run. Is it selfish to say it wasn’t long enough? Rest easy Doc, condolences to the family, and thanks.Torrington has been hit hard lately – the unfortunate death of Tim Considine to Lou Gehrig’s Disease, the passing of long-time booster Charlie Gunn and the unique Jon Hutchinson. And now Doc. Part of life but very long days