Richard “Doc” Tacelli died August 23, 2014, in Winthrop, Massachusetts. He was 83 years old. Doc had perfect timing for a comic punchline. Once, he spoke in a town meeting, about the mounting garbage problem. He argued rousingly that hungry local pigs were the environmental alternative to incineration. The "pig speech" went down in Winthrop history. At the same time, Doc had a perfect patience for listening to those around him talk and talk until they figured out what they needed to say. “He was the same with king or commoner,” his wife said.
Doc was born near the ocean, an only child. When he wasn’t teaching high-school science (he'd studied marine biology), he was water commissioner and a member of the local yacht club. He and his wife raised five children — each one believed they were his favorite — in a large house leaning over a piece of Boston Harbor. Water was a constant presence in his life, and also, in the house — it was cursed with leaky roofs and bursting pipes. Long before it was trendy, he was a conservationist: leaks and drips drove him crazy.
Doc had been trained as an optometrist. Some of his high-school students were also his patients — and at least one, in his AP Bio class, was his daughter — and they sent their squinting parents to his evening practice. He treated almost everyone in town, and took pride in his diagnostic skills. The eye is the door to the brain, and more than once, Doc was first to notice a medical problem.
Social problems, too. He made wearing glasses attractive to kids who felt stigmatized, and gave the glasses away if they weren’t affordable. When his wife came on board to manage the business, she was dumbfounded at the uncollected payments owed. After some agonizing, Doc left teaching for full-time optometry, until a detached retina in one eye, and macular degeneration in the other, brought his acuity and practice to a halt. It was an irony he never complained about.
After his death, Doc’s family created a charitable fund, to carry on what they knew had been his reverence for the natural world and for science education. They also knew his reverence for the water, and that he needed to return to it. His ashes will be scattered in a river in Idaho, and a lake in New Hampshire, and the ever-changing tide behind his ocean house.
Did you know Richard Tacelli? Share your memories in the comments section.