Saluting the life of Fred Hahn, an American original
It is our version of a tradition like no other: Sunday morning coffee. Twenty-one years running now at the five corners Dunkin' Donuts in Groton. The characters: George Hall, Tony Cafaro, Tom Doyle, Fred Hahn, Roger Bidwell and yours truly.
"When we're together," Cafaro was saying Wednesday, "there are three topics: sports, politics and women. We all proselytize. As you get older it gets harder to see people on an individual basis. Time constraints. The way life is going. To be able to see five of the most important people in my life consistently for an hour and half every Sunday means everything to me."
And that's what makes this so damn hard.
Our coffee cacophony just lost its funniest member.
Fred Hahn, a man who did humor and decency from habit, died last weekend of brain cancer. Fred was 63.
"I've been going over in my mind all the people I've met in my life," Hall said. "Fred was the kindest, most non-judgmental, humble, funniest guy that I probably ever knew."
Here's a funny thing about Fred: everything. Humor touches every Fred story. He would wait patiently for his moment — and then out came Mr. Punchline.
"So I work in a grocery store," Hall said. "Fred would come in two or three times a week and wait till I got on my hands and knees inside the cooler. He'd sneak up behind me, change his voice and go, 'do you know where the broccoli is?' I'd have to get up to answer the question. I'd turn around and I'd see Fred laughing. He got me every time. I'd say, 'Don't you have some place to be?' We'd both crack up. He'd walk away and say the same thing every time. 'Always a pleasure, George. Always a pleasure.'"
Fred was a carpenter for many years at Electric Boat. He was a husband to Kate and a dad to Melissa, Stephanie ("Stew" as they call her) and Jesse, a former Fitch great who pitches for the Kansas City Royals now.
Oh, how Fred loved that. Fred Hahn didn't just watch his son pitch. He watched everybody else's kid play sports, too. Everywhere. Faithfully. But this idea that his son made the majors? Priceless, as they say in the credit card commercial.
"I never met a kinder man than Fred Hahn," Cafaro said. "He knew everybody and everybody knew him. Boy, could he make you laugh. He looked at life his own way. We called him the mayor of Groton. I wanted to be his chauffeur. I've had relatives that I didn't feel as strongly about as I feel about Fred. I can't believe he's gone. When his name would come up in conversation and Fred wasn't there, people would smile just at the mention of his name."
In recent months, Fred was unable to drive because of the brain tumor. He called George one day and said he went through the drive-through at Wendy's.
"I said, 'Fred, you're not supposed to be driving,'" Hall said. "He says, 'I didn't drive.' I said, 'Then how did you go through the drive through?' Fred goes, "I walked.' I said, 'Wait. You walked through a drive-through?' Fred goes, 'hey, I was hungry.' Only Fred would think of something like that."
Fred even came with his own language, a byproduct of his upbringing in rural Pennsylvania. His mom was "mum." He used to play "down by the holler" as a kid, which we learned was land by the river in Fred-speak.
"Kate was from Ohio," Hall said. "The first time he said it, he calls it 'O-Higher.' We're like 'O-Higher? Where the hell is that?' I used to call him a hillbilly. He asked me where I was from. I said 'the Albany area.' One time, he took Jesse up where I'm from for a baseball tournament. Fred comes back, points his finger in my face and goes, 'don't you EVER call me a hillbilly again. I just came from where you were born. I never saw so many cows in my life."
Since the pandemic, we've taken the Sunday morning show outside. We began on Doyle's patio in Mystic. And the past few months, we've sat on Fred's back deck with our friend as this disease took his body, but not his soul.
We'll gather again in better weather or perhaps when the pandemic is over. And there will always be an empty chair with a Kansas City Royals cap on it. It's Fred's chair. Now and forever. Because Mitch Albom was right when he wrote, "death ends a life, not a relationship."
Sail on, Brother Fred. The memories we have of you are among our greatest blessings.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro