An online publication for the staff, faculty, students and friends of Community College of Philadelphia
Volume 17, Number 5
July 28, 2009

Will College’s Oldest Retiree’s Third Retirement Be His Last?

Francesco McCarthy will turn 97 just a few days after he officially retires from his job as a bookbinder in the Library at the College. It will be McCarthy’s third attempt at retirement.

McCarthy was hired as a part-time employee 25 years ago when he was 72 years of age. He had previously retired from a post in the library at Villanova University, and prior to that, he had worked more than 30 years as a chemist for Budd Co. labs in Newark, Delaware.

At the College, McCarthy has worked one day a week since early 2008. He is not happy about retiring, but has resigned himself to the idea. “They’ve been gradually easing me out, so I decided to do them a favor and retire,” said McCarthy, whose birthday is on Aug. 5, five days after his last scheduled day on the job.

Francesco McCarthy photo
Francesco McCarthy

Library director Cynthia Long described McCarthy as a “reliable and independent worker who is always on time and does his job.” In addition to repairing damaged books, McCarthy is responsible for preparing new books for shelving and making sure that the books used by students are returned to their rightful place in the stacks.

McCarthy was one of 17 retirees honored at the 2009 Retirees Reception on April 15.

Born in 1912, McCarthy is the son of immigrant parents—an Italian mother and an Irish father—from the factory town of Lowell, Massachusetts. He was one of three children, and the only son. McCarthy’s intelligence prompted his working-class parents to steer him toward the priesthood. So, when he graduated from high school, McCarthy traveled south to attend Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

As he neared ordination, the young McCarthy had a change of heart and decided he was not cut out to be a clergyman. He graduated from Catholic University in 1938 with an undergraduate degree in Philosophy.

After leaving the university, he got a job with Budd Co. labs in Newark, Delaware, and became interested in chemistry. He worked on the production of resins used in the manufacture of the fiberglass plates for bulletproof vests and tank armor. He was exempted from the military service draft because his work was deemed necessary to the World War II effort. His work at Budd prompted him to study chemistry, and in 1958, he obtained a Master of Science degree in Organic Chemistry from the University of Delaware.

McCarthy retired from Budd when he was 60 years old with a full pension, plus two additional year’s salary. With excess time on his hands, the lifelong bachelor went back to work and to school. This time his inquiring mind led him to Villanova University, where he obtained a MSLS degree in Library Science while working at the university’s library bindery. It was there that he learned how to restore damaged books. He put these skills to use when he joined the Library staff at Community College of Philadelphia. His employment broke the College’s previous mandatory retirement age of 72.

McCarthy lives in Center City and takes the Broad Street Subway to work. “I am not a burden to anybody,” he said. Both sisters and his parents are deceased, but a nephew—the son of his youngest sister—lives in suburban Philadelphia.

He has seen a wealth of change since his birth in 1912. “Sometimes I wonder how we got along,” he said, recalling growing up in Lowell. “We had no electricity, no indoor bathroom, no central heat or air conditioning, no dry cleaning. My dad worked as a laborer for Lowell Electric Company, but the family could not afford electric or gas powered lights. My mom used kerosene lanterns.”

McCarthy has no idea what he will do now that he has retired for the third time. “I am not one for playing golf and things of that nature, but I will no doubt find some way to occupy myself,” he said.