Former District Court Judge Kevin M. Herlihy Dies at 80

File photograph. (Image licensed by Ingram Image.)

Kevin Michael Herlihy, son of Haverhill, was born Oct. 8, 1941, in the 3rd Congressional District, Ward 1, Precinct 1, City of Haverhill, and died June 3, in Ward 5, Precinct 3A, still in the District…and still in his city.

Lover of politics and Benson’s red raspberry ice cream, the holder of an Irish passport, a fan of rock ‘n’ roll, a son, a brother, a dad….oh, and a judge. Kevin aspired to dance like Mick Jagger, to play golf like his cousin Paul, and to BE his cousin Joe. He was a mensch.

Though the honor of Kevin’s life was when Gov. Dukakis appointed him to the Bench, were you to ask Kevin what he did for a living his reply would be “I work for the Commonwealth.”  Kevin was unpretentious, unassuming, and unimpressed with himself or his title.

But on the Bench, there were many who described Kevin as their favorite judge, from Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice David Lowy to the many defendants who would stop him on the street to thank him for his help in beating their addictions. Kevin never carried a grudge against recalcitrant lawyers or defendants, though he did delight in the occasional rock ‘n’ roll reference from the bench. If a defendant were unhappy with a disposition, Kevin’s reply might be: “you can’t always get what you want…”

Seeing Kevin on the dance floor trying to channel Mick Jagger one might not have imagined he was gifted with rhythm or musicality. But in fact, he was! One of the many things about his father, Walter Herlihy, that Kevin most reveled in, was that he played strings: violin and banjo, in the Joe Herlihy swing band. The band achieved considerable success in New York City in the 1920s featuring Rudy Vallee and John Williams Senior. As proud as Kevin was of his father’s musical skills, he was prouder that Walter came home to Haverhill to become a family man and raise Kevin, Mary and Gerard. For all of Walter’s having been in that notable swing band, Kevin always said that his mother Helen was the better musician! Kevin may not have had the musical skill, but he certainly had a love of music. For a guy born in 1941, when most made a choice among Frank Sinatra, Elvis or the Beatles, Kevin loved them all equally, until they were all eclipsed when Kevin’s daughter Anna started to perform her own music and she became his all-time favorite.

Kevin knew every voting ward and precinct not just in Haverhill but statewide and was eternally grateful to his sister Mary for marrying that nice Mark Gearan who worked in the White House and got Kevin on the Capitol steps to watch President Clinton’s inaugurations. And though his fading memory could not always answer the doctor’s question about who the current president was, he sure could tell you loud and clear who the worst one was!

Kevin attended Sacred Hearts school and graduated from Saint James High School, Boston College and Suffolk University Law School, taught history at Haverhill High, practiced law on Summer Street and was presiding judge of Lawrence DistricFamilyt Court, in a city he adopted for 20 years, until he returned to be the presiding judge of Haverhill District Court until his retirement.

As Kevin’s memory faded, he still said “your hair looks nice” and “is that a new dress?” To all within earshot, he would complement various caregivers “he’s a terrific nurse; the best they’ve got!” And he ALWAYS checked to make sure that everyone in the family was getting along.

Kevin, along with Kay, parented Andrew and Caitlin (“spelled the right way.”) He delighted in Andrew’s career in politics and city government and was the beneficiary of Caitlin’s devotion to him as he aged. His joy at being a dad to both of them was best shown by his enthusiastic return to fatherhood at the age of 53 when he and Mary welcomed Anna into their lives. Kevin drove her to school every morning, was at all her games and concerts, practiced pitches every night on the lawn, learned to love her music groups and cooked supper every night.

Kevin leaves Mary McCabe and Anna; Caitlin Herlihy (Mark Klupt), Jack, Lily, and Ben; Andrew Herlihy (Gina), Dylan and Aidan; his brother Gerard, sister Mary (Mark), Madeleine and Kathleen, and his friends from over the years on every golf course he was invited to, at Marks deli, Mike’s Sunoco, Butcher Boy, Orzo’s and the courthouse, Steve C., Eileen and Ray, Bill and Nancy, Pat and all those Herlihys.

Anyone wishing to make a memorial remembrance in Kevin’s honor is asked to consider the Haverhill Historical Society, 240 Water St., Haverhill, MA 01830, Greater Lawrence Bar Association Scholarship Fund, PO Box 5121, Andover, MA 01810 or Camp Fatima Exceptional Citizens’ Week, 32 Fatima Road, Gilmanton Iron Works, NH, 03873.  And then, in Kevin’s honor, please remember to vote.

We plan to gather at a future date to be announced to celebrate Kevin’s life. Arrangements are by the H.L. Farmer & Sons Funeral Homes, Haverhill and Bradford.

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