SOUTH HADLEY — Born just before the deadly Spanish flu began spreading across the globe, Tom McAuley, 103, finds satisfaction in receiving his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine that could help put an end to the current pandemic.
“It’s going to give a little safety,” says McAuley, a 13-year resident at Loomis Village and a World War II veteran. “Presumably the vaccine works.”
A New Year’s Day baby in 1918, McAuley is among 170 residents and staff who took part in a vaccination clinic run by CVS Pharmacy earlier this month.
McAuley’s attitude toward getting the vaccine is shared by almost all who make their home at the South Hadley community, said Margaret Mantoni, the CEO for The Loomis Communities.
“Nothing scares our residents. There was no hesitancy from our residents,” Mantoni said “People know decisions impact everyone else, and everyone is looking forward to a new day.”
While the Spanish flu was still a few months away from its devastation when McAuley was born, the United States was already involved in World War I, which dominated the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s news coverage the day after his birth.
The lead local article in the Jan. 2, 1918 Gazette focused on deposits totaling almost $7 million at Northampton Institution for Savings, but the main state story discussed the convening of the 139th General Court in Boston, with a headline reading, “war taxes to be paramount theme.”
“The session of 1918 will be a war session almost entirely,” the article reads. “Problems and citizens not connected with the war are likely to receive scant consideration as a rule … As usual, there are heavy Republican majorities in both branches.”
Though McAuley, who grew up in Concord , has no memories of the last pandemic, he recalls the attention paid to the vaccine that helped wipe out polio and the welcome reception it received.
“Most people were scared at the time,” he said.
McAuley majored in business at Northeastern University and then served in the U.S. Air Force for four years during World War II, though he describes himself as “a washed-out pilot.”
After getting married and raising a family, McAuley found his favorite job serving as a vice president at Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey. His tenure at the company gives him confidence that the vaccine it is producing, with projections that it will have 100 million doses available in late spring, will also be effective at combating the novel coronavirus.
McAuley moved to Loomis Village to be closer to his son, who lives in South Hadley. He has eight grandchildren that he mostly stays in touch with by phone or on the computer, noting that many are in California and Arizona. But they are always welcome to drop by.
“My family can visit me anytime they want,” he said.
McAuley said he has enjoyed his time at Loomis.
“They know where you hide things,” McAuley said of his neighbors. “I like the congeniality, and that everybody knows everybody else.”
Most of his days are spent resting, occasionally attending lectures and events on site, and doing what he feels is the lazy activity of watching television, especially professional sports including hockey, baseball and football.
McAuley has been a big fan of the Boston Bruins hockey teams his whole life, remembering greats from the 1920s and 30s like Tiny Thompson and Dit Clapper, Bobby Orr in the 1960s and 1970s and Cam Neely in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Since I lived in Concord, my father would take me to the Boston arena,” McAuley said.
Mantoni said the next vaccination clinic will get the residents and staff their second doses, and even though masks will continue to be worn and the pandemic won’t change overnight, residents are looking forward to eventually hugging members of their families.
McAuley added that he has just one word for those who are frightened about getting the vaccine: “Relax.”