Chesley E. Emery

February 7, 2018


Chesley E. "Chet" Emery, 95, of East Road, Scituate, a World War II Army veteran, retired refrigeration serviceman, dedicated handyman, and devoted husband to his wife, Mary, for 71 years, died Wednesday, February 7, at home. He was the father of Deborah Nadeau of Chepachet and C. Eugene Emery Jr., a Providence Journal reporter for 40 years, of Cranston. Born in 1922 in Great Neck, Long Island, he was a son of the late Eugene R. and Emily (Ratcliffe) Emery. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Maine, first to Owl's Head and then to Camden. He graduated from Camden High School in 1941 after playing on the hockey team for four years. One of his jobs was at a dairy farm. He met his future wife during one of the weekly dances at the Camden YMCA around 1941-42. As they became friendlier, he would walk her home, a trip of more than a mile, in darkness. After the Pearl Harbor in December, 1942, Chet was drafted and he entered basic training, first at Camp Davis in North Carolina and later at Camp Hulen Texas. By December, 1943 he found himself on the Queen Mary, going from New York to Greenock, Scotland. He was part of the 486th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, Battery B. They weren't just anti-aircraft. They were anti-anything that looked German, Chet would recall. The battalion landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, 17 days after the invasion of Europe had begun. Bodies, burned vehicles and scattered equipment were all around. He ended up in the Battle of the Bulge and the battalion eventually crossed the Rhine River to Dessau. Once Germany surrendered, "We thought we were going to have to go to the Pacific. And then they dropped the atomic bomb. We were relieved," he recalled. Chet came home via France and the couple reunited in Providence, where Mary was working. They went to the Lowe's Theater, the movie house that now houses the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC). They sat in the balcony and, when asked about it on their 60th wedding anniversary, neither could remember what movie was playing. "We didn't care," Chet said. "All we did was look at each other." He came back to Camden and, with his brother, Lester, bought a Ford truck and hauled coal from Rockland to Camden for $1 per ton. He and Mary were married in November of 1946. She wore a second-hand wedding gown that belonged to an aunt and got married in the home of an uncle. Sandwiches, the crust cut off, were served. He borrowed a car so they could go on their honeymoon in Canada. During the getaway -- family and friends like to chase the car of the bride and groom for a while -- the passenger door wasn't closed properly and Chet had to grab Mary to keep her from falling out when he made a sharp left. He and a brother, Desmond, spend the summer of 1947 working as a cook on Virginia, a schooner, taking his new wife's cookbook as a guide. He later picked up work storing 500-pound blocks of ice in an ice house owned by Mary's uncle. In those days, home refrigerators were called iceboxes. They didn't make ice. Ice delivered by trucks was put in the iceboxes to keep the contents cold. When the uncle decided to make his own ice, he asked Chet to get training to maintain the refrigeration units so he wouldn't have to bring in maintenance people from Boston. He decided to get training under the GI Bill and had two options: Boston or Providence. He chose Providence because of family connections and because "we went to Boston and didn't care for Boston." They rented an apartment on the third floor of a Massachusetts Avenue tenement for $22 a week, but eventually moved downstairs to a smaller place because the rent was cheaper. He studied refrigeration at New England Technical Institute for a year, graduating in 1949. He earned money by working nights at Schoolhouse Candy in Providence stamping out lollipops. His wife worked as a nurse at the Jane Brown unit of Rhode Island Hospital. A year after graduation, it was a big year. They bought their first new car and their first television set. In 1951, they bought a house on Elkland Road near the airport in Warwick. A year later their son, was born. In 1955, they had their daughter. By then, he was working as a refrigeration serviceman for William N. Harris Inc., a job he got because "I pestered [Harris] every day until he got sick and tired of me." He wouldn't retire until 1984. In 1957 he moved the family to Highland Street in Cranston, where they stayed for 22 years until building a new home on East Main Road in Scituate. He was a bit of a packrat when it came to tools and hardware. He felt one never knew when you were going to need that bolt or that extra set of pliers. He could build just about anything, doing most of the remodeling on the Highland Street house. When his daughter and grandsons needed a place to live, he turned his basement into an apartment for them. When he needed a new tool shed in the back, he built one using a half-width entrance door; it was what he had handy at the time. He would try to fix just about anything. After attempting a repair, he would plug it in or start it up and, if it still didn't work, he would declare, "Another satisfied customer!" Mr. Emery had a lifelong love of golf, although he never took it too seriously. He tried, without success, to get his son interested, even trying to sneak him onto the course when he was too young to officially play. When course officials said they were concerned about liability issues, he had the boy wear his old army hat to protect his head. He was a member of the now-defunct Meshanticut Park Baptist Church in Cranston and helped to build its home at 180 Oaklawn Avenue. He coached the first basketball team, played on their bowling team for many years and was a bridesmaid at the church's first Womanless Wedding, a faux shotgun ceremony where all the women were actually men in drag. They laughed till they cried. Even in his 90s, he could be seen cutting down trees and maintaining his land in Scituate. Besides his wife and children, he is survived by four grandchildren -- Michael and Mark Salerno, both of whom he helped raise, Matthew Emery, and Rachel Feeney -- one sister, Joan Watters of Medford, Oregon, and four great grandchildren. He was a brother of the late Lester and Desmond Emery, both of Camden, Camilla Polisner of Portland, Maine, and Muriel Beda Dean of Camden. A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday February 17th at 11:00am in the Oak Lawn Community Baptist Church 229 Wilbur Avenue Cranston. Visitation will be held in the church for one hour prior the service beginning at 10:00am.


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