FAIRHAVEN, Mass. — As friends and family patiently waited inside the Fairhaven Senior Center Sunday morning, Fairhaven Lions Club President Bill Moniz announced Randy Durrigan was coming and advised them not to applaud or congratulate him.
The room got quiet as Randy, a blind veteran, and his wife Donna, took their seats at the front of the room.
For weeks, friends, family and Donna kept the secret from Randy that he was being presented with the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award, named for the Lions Club’s founder.
It’s the highest form of recognition in the organization. Moniz said the Lions Club does a lot with the visually impaired and supports veterans in different ways.
“He has what it’s all about. He does what Lionism is all about,” he said of Randy. The club’s motto is “we serve.”
When Moniz announced the breakfast event was for Randy, Randy turned to Donna and was emotional. His daughter Kelly O’Donnell of New Hampshire and sister Barbara Faria of Westport were quick to congratulate him.
“I’m so proud of you,” Faria told him.
“Big surprise for you, huh?” she added.
It was a surprise, indeed.
“I thought we were just meeting my son here for breakfast,” Randy said. However, his son Kevin Vasconcellos, owner of the Bayside Lounge, cooked the breakfast.
“He definitely deserves it. He’s done a lot for the community,” Vasconcellos said.
O’Donnell said “Even before he lost his sight … he was always doing stuff for others.”
Randy, 73, was named the The Standard-Times 2016 Fairhaven Man of the Year. He volunteers once a week at the Providence VA Medical Center, he’s served as an officer for 10 years and served for eight years as president of the Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts regional group of the Blinded Veterans Association and has been on the Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School board for over 15 years.
David Darmofal said he served on the school board with Randy and has known him for some 50 years. “He was the cool guy with the corvette,” he said of Randy.
When Randy was coping with being blind, he said he “never, never complained to me.”
He noted how thorough Randy is when it comes to preparing for school board meetings even though he has to read one word at a time, line by line. Thanks to technology from the VA, he can read white words on a black background of a screen when they are magnified.
In 2016, Randy was issued a voluntary service certificate by the VA for over 1,300 hours and seven years of service to veterans in the Voluntary Service Program. Also, he received the national Irving Diener Award in 2014 for volunteering in the veteran community.
Adele Geringer, visual impairment service team coordinator at the VA hospital, said “Randy’s been an inspiration to a lot of blind veterans.”
“I’m taken aback, really,” Randy said. “I’m so glad that all my friends are here.”
Randy served as Fairhaven’s wire inspector for 21 years while running his own electric business. He was diagnosed as legally blind in 2004 due to shingles which can damage optical nerves.
The Fairhaven Selectmen Chairman Robert Espindola presented Randy with a citation and declared Sunday as Randy Durrigan Appreciation Day.
“Randy means a lot to everyone in this community,” Espindola said.
The last surprise of the event came from Lions Club member Bill Kligel, retired Sr. First Class who gave Randy a challenge coin from the 82nd airborne through a particular handshake.
“Veterans look at each other as brothers,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, Randy is like a brother to me.”
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