By Yadira Betances
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — A chair with a single rose in the back of the church next to the statue of St. Michael was left empty. It was where Thomas Joseph “T.J.” McEvoy sat every Sunday at the 10:30 a.m. Mass.
During his funeral Mass at St. Michael Church yesterday, family members, friends, priests and coworkers remembered the retired police officer for his deep faith, love of family, commitment and dedication to North Andover residents.
A North Andover native, McEvoy served the town as a police officer for 33 years, attaining the rank of sergeant, before retiring in May. He also served as local basketball referee.
He passed away on Thursday.
Mourners came out in droves Monday to pay their respect. About 2,000 people attended his wake, some waiting more than two hours in line to offer the family their condolences.
More than 700 people attended his funeral Mass yesterday. In addition to his fellow officers and members of the North Andover Fire Department, the funeral was attended by officers from Andover, Methuen, Lawrence and the Sheriff’s office.
“He was an easy going person, very pleasant and friendly,” said Methuen Police Detective Richard Pliz. “I’ll miss his friendship and how he always gave you advise and never steering you in the wrong direction,” Pliz said.
Family members, fellow referees and officers participated in the ceremony. Referee Bill Adams choked up as he read from Ecclesiastes. Close friend Rich Karelas sighed audibly before doing a reading from Revelations.
The Rev. John Delaney, former pastor at St. Michael, was the main celebrant at the service, along with the reverends Kevin Deeley, pastor at St. Michael, Steven Rock of Reading and Gerry Hogan of Foxboro.
In his homily, Delaney said the large number of people who attended the wake and funeral was a testament of who McEvoy was.
“We came to pray for T.J., and to pray for his family and to be with each other — to reminisce, tell stories and to honor the man who lived among us and in many ways had brightened our lives,” Delaney said.
“T.J. lived a faithful, courageous life always striving to be his best. All of us were his family. You never felt different or separated, with his jovial nature, his quick wit, he would do anything for you and brought joy to your spirit,” Delaney said.
He mentioned some of the way McEvoy contributed to the community, including serving as a Eucharistic minister at St. Michael and bringing the Eucharist to patients at Lawrence General Hospital.
“I think that T.J.’s bag of deeds is so, so heavy because of his wonderful good deeds known to you and me, Jesus will say, ‘T.J. come home, I love you, I’ll take care of your mother and children.’ “
His sister Susan Hesketh and brother Jack McEvoy took turns delivering the eulogy.
She was overwhelmed at the support her family received after her brother’s passing.
“Words cannot express how I feel. It gives me great pleasure knowing that a whole town is taking care of my family,” she said.
“God needed a referee between my father and my husband,” Hesketh said. “T.J. I love you and I miss you.”
Jack McEvoy had a tough time speaking to the congregation about his brother.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, but I have to do it for my brother,” McEvoy said, with tears rolling down his face.
“T.J. was my big brother and my best friend. I love him and I miss him. I feel very lucky to have him not only as a brother, but as a friend.”
McEvoy, who himself retired from the North Andover Police Department, said he was proud of his brother’s years of service with the force.
“North Andover Police was his extended family. He was a cop’s cop; an officer who wanted to serve his community,” McEvoy said.
“He helped many people in the line of duty and behind the scene,” he said adding his brother was a “Secret Santa” to many children in town. He said T.J. was always there for his son and daughter and Jack McEvoy promised “I’ll be there for his children.”
One person McEvoy truly adored was his mother, Irene.
“There is no one more special to him than my mother. You are his world. They had dinner nightly and he was constantly checking on her,” he said.
The younger McEvoy mentioned some of his brother’s favorite sayings: “Just wanted to be asked,” “Not trying to be fresh,” and “How many hours do you work.”
“I love you T.J., rest in peace,” McEvoy ended.