. . . And Cancer
He was WONDERDOG. He lived 11 years. He died happy not long after his greatest wish was granted - riding in an 18-wheeler in a convoy of about 400 vehicles rolling along the Mohawk Trail near his home in Buckland, Massachusetts.
He had the BEST ride of his brief life that Sunday afternoon.
Tommy Copley was a sickly boy nearly all of his 11 years. When he was about six or seven, doctors in Boston's Childrens ' Hospital found Tommy had cancer.
The doctors treated him regularly and hoped for the BEST but early in 1976 they had to remove all of his left leg in an effort to stop the spread of his cancer.
Once he was out of the hospital, a chum, James Weller, 14, told his parents, Ron and Judith, about Tommy and said his daily life and his schoolwork was being badly hampered.
Breaking in here on the story, I will tell you that in the 1970s, citizens' band radios were all the rage and for the men who daily drove the big rigs called semis, and 18-wheelers, a source of great pleasure on their long journeys . Ordinary drivers by the thousands embraced the new hobby of radio communications. I was one of them.
Everybody who had a CB radio or used one had a "handle" - a nickname used on the radio waves. The Weller parents were Batman and Bat Lady. They told their "good buddy" trucker friends about Tommy and once in a while allowed Tommy to talk with the truckers on their CB.
Tommy often told the truckers and anybody else who heard him that he'd like to ride in one of the big rigs. It was not long before ideas to grant Tommy his wish began to surface.
The Greenfield-Turners Falls Courtesy CBers club in a few days put out on the airwaves the BEST of several plans for a monster convoy of 18-wheelers on the Mohawk Trail, the culmination of which would be presentation of his own base CB radio to Tommy for his own home.
More than 1,500 people, all CB fans, rode in a 400-vehicle convoy led by "The Flying Irishman," Jim Byrnes, with Tommy as his co-pilot. The Massachusetts State Police and dozens of policemen from the various small towns along the trail, including some from Vermont, helped out the convey which ended up passing Tommy's home in Buckland.
After a brief traffic pause to allow the enraptured boy to freshen up, Tommy sat on his porch and watched all the trucks and cars pass by, with each making a quick stop so the passengers could shout out their handles and wave.
"It was the BEST time of my life, "Tommy said. Then there was a party at the VFW hall.
A thousand folks greeted Tommy and gave him a base CB radio and antenna for his home and presented his parents $1,500 to help with surmounting bills. A local CB dealer donated the radio and other equipment and installed it.
The local school district got into the act by hooking up Tommy's home and his school via two-way radio so he could learn at home and began sending tutors to his house. His grades jumped quickly, said his parents.
I can't list all the "handles" shouted at Tommy in front of his home but some are, besides those previously mentioned, Stepnfetchit, Blue Fox, Wrecker, The Preacher, Rockhound, Gramma Shasta, Bingo,
Tall Trees, The Reverand, Jazzman, Mama Burger, Country Doctor, and Newsman, who now is Old Newsie.
Tommy quickly established himself from his home radio as an expert direction resource, armed with maps, phone numbers, names and addresses of motels all over Massachusetts and Vermont and a bit of New Hampshire.
He was often on the air answering questions from truckers plying the Mohawk Trail, named after the Indian tribe which once was the most well known "owner" of Western Massachusetts
And then without much warning, he disappeared frequently from the airwaves and then permantly.
The truckers soon learned Wonderdog had passed away but not before requesting another convey come by the funeral home "so I can see them once more and say 'so long, good buddy'."
At the same time as he realized he was going to die and suggested that farewell convoy,Wonderdog asked his parents to call Newsman and ask him to write another news story about him so all his friends would know about him and what had happened.
The story was written and another convoy visited Wonderdog at the funeral home, led by the same 18-wheeler in which Tommy had ridden, this time draped in black. It is my memory that The Flying Irishman's semi also was used to transport Tommy to the graveyard.
Immediately afterward the CB club went to work and raised $2,000 and established the Tommy Copley Fund, within the well-known Jimmy Fund, to help build a new shelter at Childrens' Hospital in Boston for parents to stay with their kids instead of having to sleep in hallways and lobbies in chairs and on the floor.
The Jimmy Fund still exists in Boston, accepting donations for the care of young patients like Tommy Copley, my CB friend for a short year or so.
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