NOVEMBER 19, 2021: PEABODY — There were plenty of smiles to go around Wednesday morning at the Fire Department headquarters on Lowell Street as Joseph P. DiFranco, one of Peabody’s most beloved and respected firefighters, was honored posthumously with the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts (PFFM) Joseph J. Cantalupa Lifetime Service Award.

DiFranco’s wife, Marie, accepted the award on behalf of “Big Joe” from PFFM President Richard MacKinnon Jr.

“This is such a wonderful day and such a tribute to Joe,” Marie said. “This award is well-deserved as Joe loved what he did and was so dedicated. He loved the Fire Department and was always stepping in to help his fellow firefighters. He never sought out awards, but he would be very, very proud that his peers thought so highly of him.”

DiFranco’s son Joe Jr., also a former firefighter, spoke of the close relationship that DiFranco and Cantalupa shared.

“My dad would have considered this award to be very special because of his extremely close relationship with Joe (Cantalupa),” said Joe Jr. who spent 30 years as a Peabody firefighter (the last 12 as fire prevention officer) before retiring in 2014. “After my father died, Joe passed away only a couple of weeks later, so I know that St. Peter is watching over them.

They probably have some kind of a 50-50 going on now.”

Grandson Joe DiFranco, a third-generation firefighter, who was sworn in as a member of the Danvers Fire Department in August, said he is proud of the legacy his grandfather passed on to his father and him.

“I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter so I consider it an incredible honor to follow both of them,” said Joe.

Son John said his father’s “whole life outside of his family was the Fire Department and the union (PFFM), so there is nothing more meaningful to us that he be recognized by his fellow brothers and sisters. He would be thrilled with the award. When you consider that not only did he spend 33 years in the department, he also spent another almost 25 more with the union after he retired, that’s 57 years in all.”

“He was a good friend of mine and he left his mark not only on the department, but on the city as a whole,” Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. said. “With his work on the Retirement Board, we met weekly, usually to tell me how to be mayor. He was always there to give a helping hand and I think the world of Marie and his family. To get this award is extremely special.”

Fire Chief Joseph Daly said that “Big Joe worked tirelessly for the Fire Department and city on many levels and is truly deserving of this award.”

“There isn’t anyone more deserving of this award than Joe,” MacKinnon said. “He was at every PFFM event and his work on the Retirement Board was also amazing.” MacKinnon added that the award was originally presented during the PFFM Biennial Convention on Oct. 25. At that time, Peabody Firefighters Local 925 members accepted until the PFFM could make a full presentation to the DiFranco family.

A 1954 graduate of Salem High School, DiFranco served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He was honorably discharged as a first-class electrician in 1958. He married Marie in 1960 and raised a family of four children — Joe Jr., John, Peter, and Christine.

Hired by the Peabody Fire Department in 1964, he was promoted to lieutenant in June of 1970.

During his career, he served the department in many capacities including on the Peabody Retirement Board, the Firefighters Union, Massachusetts Retirees and PFFM until his death in a car accident on Sept. 21 at the age of 86.

Son Joe said his family is comforted by the fact that Joe Sr. was surrounded by firefighters Jim Wronkowski, Mike Hazipetros, and Kevin Doherty when he died.

“It’s very comforting to our family to know the last connection to my dad’s life was with those firefighters, with whom we have such a special bond,” he said. “As a firefighter, I have to think that if you are going to die, to be able to be in the arms of firefighters and pass from their hands to the hands of God is special. He lived a quietly big life and provided good will to people and had a constant passion for not only serving the public, but public servants as well.”

Read the original article in the Lynn Item, here.


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