Legendary PFFM President Emeritus Robert McCarthy Dies

December 8 • 2022

Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts (PFFM) President Emeritus Robert McCarthy, a strong IAFF leader and labor champion, has died.

The wake will be held Monday, Dec. 12 4-8 p.m., at the MacDonald, Rockwell and MacDonald Funeral Home located at 270 Main Street in Watertown. The funeral will be Tuesday, Dec. 13 at St. Patrick’s Church located at 212 Main Street in Watertown and the burial will be Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 1:15 p.m. at the Massachusetts National Cemetary in Bourne. 

Bobby McCarthy’s contributions to the IAFF cannot be measured,” said General President Edward Kelly. “His voice, whether on the convention floor or at the bargaining table, was loud and fiercely unapologetic. He fought for fire fighters every day. Far less loud was how he quietly helped anyone he came across. The love in his heart defined him.” 

“The IAFF and the labor movement have lost a giant,” said 3rd District Vice President Jay Colbert. “From staffing, pensions and cancer presumption laws, Bobby never backed down from a challenge. With his many successes, he raised the bar very high for IAFF association and affiliate leaders. He was one-of-a-kind and will be truly missed.” 

McCarthy, a third generation Watertown fire fighter and member of Watertown Local 1347, was born to serve. He was in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War before joining the fire department in October 1967. He continued the job he loved for 34 years until retiring as a captain in October 2001.  

McCarthy was always active within his union, but by 1985, he was ready to do more. As the PFFM’s legislative agent, he served as the voice of Massachusetts’

District Vice President Colbert, General President Kelly and McCarthy

career fire fighters at the state capitol, lobbying state senators and representatives to pass legislation helpful to PFFM members and the fire service.  

McCarthy was elected PFFM president – at the time representing over 12,000 members in nearly 200 locals – in 1987, a position he held for 24 years. Among his proudest accomplishments was lobbying for the passage of one the nation’s first cancer presumption bills, which became state law in August 1990.“ All members of the PFFM have Bobby to thank for many of the resources and benefits we have today,” said PFFM President Rich MacKinnon. “He truly cherished seeing the younger generation of union members excel. That’s why he devoted his life to serving others, especially the fire fighters and their families.”  

McCarthy was succeeded at the PFFM by Kelly. “On a personal level,” he said, “Bobby was more than a mentor; he was like a brother at times, an uncle at others, a stern father when needed, and always my friend. He will be missed.”

McCarthy was a founding board director of the Massachusetts Fallen Firefighters Memorial, located on state house grounds. He worked to secure the initial state funding and a special license plate that donates back a portion of renewal fees each month to the memorial for upkeep and maintenance. 

Other accomplishments include serving as the Federation of State and Provincial Professional Fire Fighters Chairman (1994-2010), receiving the IAFF Leadership Award in 2012; completing the Harvard College Trade Union Program on a scholarship (via the IAFF); serving as one of seven Commissioners of the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and being appointed by Governor Michael Dukakis and Governor Paul Cellucci to serve as a member of the Board of Trustees at Fitchburg State University (1990-1999) and the University of Massachusetts (1999-2007). 

He is survived by his wife, Dotty (Maurer) McCarthy. They have three children and five grandchildren.