Bradford — J. Joseph Comeau of Bradford, aged 92, died peacefully surrounded by his family on Sunday, October 7, 2012 at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington.
By any measure, the life of Joe Comeau was a life well-lived. Born in Haverhill on October 16, 1919, James Joseph “Joe” Comeau was the youngest of the four children of John and Catherine (Kelleher) Comeau. Throughout a long and full life that defied simple titles, Joe had many – devoted son, acrobat, artist, soldier, musician, photographer, craftsman, handyman, shoemaker, businessman, entrepreneur, proud veteran, world-traveler, story-teller, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, friend. He was the sum of all these parts and much more.
Joe graduated from Haverhill High School in the Class of 1937, where he helped found the school’s first gymnastic cheer squad. After high school he also performed as a trapeze artist and raced stock cars. In 1941 he entered the United States Army. Along with his older brother Al, he trained at Camp Edward in Falmouth as part the 182th Infantry Division, before shipping out to the Pacific in January 1942. As part of the newly formed Americal Division, Joe served 33 months overseas at places such as Guadalcanal and Bougainville. An accomplished drummer, he also played in the Regimental band, and often told stories of the famous entertainers he accompanied when they came to perform for the troops. Upon leaving the service, he worked as a musician, which was to be a lifelong pursuit, and also began a photography studio.
In 1946 he married his beloved wife Connie, and for the next 66 years made her the very center of his universe. Together they had four children – T.J., Lynne, Michael and Vincent. Later they brought into the family a fifth, their daughter Mei Yuk from China. Shortly after his marriage, Joe began a lengthy career in the shoe industry. In addition to his employment with a few Haverhill firms, he also attended Lynn Shoe School, an institution at which he would later teach. As a shoe designer and patent maker he would go on to be employed for 32 years with the Fenton Shoe Corp. in Cambridge. It was through Fenton Shoe that Joe had the opportunity to be one of the first western businessmen to visit China following normalization of relations between the U.S. and the People’s Republic in the early 70’s. Working as a technical advisor, he travelled extensively throughout China, as well other parts of Asia and Argentina.
Rarely, however, was Joe able to be defined by a single activity. In addition to his employment at Fenton Shoe, Joe found time to open a shoe store in Bradford and built Haverhill’s first skate board park, The Wooden Wave. After retiring from Fenton Shoe, Joe continued his craft in a shoe business he co-owned, Jo-Lee Last Co. in Manchester, NH. Later in life he established Occasion Shoes, a business he operated from his home in Bradford. Specializing in the design and fabrication of Pageant footwear, Joe’s creations were featured in the movie Miss Congeniality starring Sandra Bullock. Always the skilled shoe designer, he designed and custom-made shoes for his granddaughters, as he had for his wife and many friends over the years.
And always there was his music. Joe began his musical career performing as a teenager with his two brothers and mother, all talented musicians in their own right. Over the years he would play countless nightclubs, shows, concerts, events, and functions. His passion was jazz, but as a well-schooled drummer, his versatility was his calling card. Of his many musical experiences, perhaps one of the most special was his time spent travelling throughout New England with The Four Sharps, a jazz quartet that included his close friends and fellow Haverhill natives Paul Abbondanza, Dante Ippolito, and Joe Azzarito.
Above all else, however, there was his family. Joe loved his wife and was devoted to his children, living to see each reflect different parts of his diverse personality and many talents. To his grandchildren, he was “Pupa,” and over the years he proudly watched them play sports, perform on stage, receive degrees and establish families of their own. A favorite gathering place for the whole family was the beach cottage in Salisbury he and Connie purchased in the 1960’s. Named “Cheerio,” it was for Joe a constant work-in-progress, always providing him the opportunity to work on the many “projects” that gave him such pleasure.
It has been written that a man tells his stories and they become a part of him. They live on after him and in this way he becomes immortal. The life of Joe Comeau was a life full of stories. They are stories that are worth telling and remembering.
Joe is survived by his wife of 66 years Constance D. (Drumm) Comeau; children T.J. Comeau and his wife Susan (Buote), Lynne Comeau, Michael Comeau and his wife Sheila (Hegarty) all of Haverhill, Vincent Comeau and his wife Michelle (Dehner) of Maple Grove, MN and Ng Mei Yuk and her husband Joseph Foley of Salem, NH; grandchildren Joseph Foley and his wife Marketa (Valterova), Christopher Comeau and his wife Amanda (Fontaine), Catherine and her husband Joseph Cioni , Jonathan Foley, Marissa Comeau, Connor Comeau and Samantha Comeau, MN; great-grandchildren James Foley and Joseph Cioni, Jr.; and nephew A. Bill Comeau and his wife Joanne (Hadfield) of Assonet, MA.
ARRANGEMENTS: Relatives and friends are respectfully invited to attend his Funeral Mass on Monday, Oct. 15th at 11:00 a.m. at Sacred Hearts Church, South Main St. Bradford. Interment with military honors will follow in the Elmwood Cemetery, Bradford. Calling hours at the H.L. Farmer and Sons Funeral Home, 106 Summer St. Haverhill will be Sunday, Oct. 14th from 4-7 p.m. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project, P.O. Box 758517, Topeka, KS, 66675. Condolences to his family may be made at