Jack Fahey, a 40-year resident of Jamaica Plain, died on Jan. 11 from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 74, in the loving company of his family and friends.
Jack was a lifelong left-wing activist, beginning with his opposition to the Vietnam War while a student at Northeastern University and member of Students for a Democratic Society, and extending through his participation with many groups and community organizations in Jamaica Plain and beyond.
Jack is the son of Edward Fahey, an immigrant from County Mayo, Ireland, and a lifelong member of the Bartender’s Union, and Rita (Murray) Fahey, a second-generation immigrant of British descent. The Faheys had four children: Thomas, Jack, Eileen, and Janis.
Jack grew up in the Mission Hill projects before moving to Dedham in his early teens. He apprenticed as an electronic technician for Raytheon from 1961 to 1964. Bored by factory work, he decided to leave the shop floor, entering Northeastern University in 1965, graduating with a degree in economics in 1970. During this period, the U.S. government ramped up its prosecution of the Vietnam War, which would claim the lives of over 55,000 U.S. service men and women and well over 1 million Vietnamese by the time it ended. Enraged by the slaughter in Vietnam, and inspired by the SDS slogan “Not with my life you don’t!” Jack joined the national student organization. Jack participated in numerous demonstrations, including a memorable pitched battle with police on Hemenway Street in the Fenway, with the theme from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey booming from speakers placed in a student’s open window.
Jack’s activism soon expanded to support for imprisoned members of the Black Panther Party, engagement with the feminist movement, and support for oppressed peoples fighting U.S. imperialism around the world, setting the trajectory for his life. In 1970, Jack cut cane for the sugar harvest in Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade, recalled as “the hardest work I’ve ever done.”
In 1971, he and his political collective moved to Montville, Maine, where they built a 5000-square-foot stone house and cultivated fields of organic blueberries, which remain productive to this day. In the 1970s, the commune served as an occasional way station for political activists. Jack helped start a cooperative food distribution network, which became what is now the Belfast Food Co-op.
Jack returned to Boston in the mid-1970s, moving to Jamaica Plain. In 1980, he moved into an apartment on St. Rose Street that he would live in for the remainder of his life, thanks to the generous friendship of his landlords, who insulated Jack and a succession of roommates from the escalating rents in Jamaica Plain. From 1978 to 1983, Jack worked for the Boston Building Materials Cooperative, now Boston Building Resources, a consumer cooperative in Roxbury.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, Jack became active in the Central America solidarity movement, opposing U.S. funding and support of Contras in Nicaragua, and right wing death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala. In 1986, he co-directed a video, Enough Crying of Tears: The Story of the Comadres of El Salvador, about an organization of mothers of disappeared leftist activists. When the civil war in Guatemala ended, Jack served as an acompañante, a North American tasked with living in La Victoria, one of several newly established villages for returning Mayan war refugees in remote jungle areas of Guatemala. The role of acompañantes like Jack was to act as a deterrent, and potential witness, to any resumption of massacres of indigenous peoples by the Guatemalan military. In 1995, Jack worked as a writer, videographer, and editor on the documentary Deadly Embrace: Nicaragua, the World Bank and the IMF.
In Jamaica Plain, Jack began his long association with the housing rights organization CityLife/Vida Urbana, working on The Community News and teaching videography to neighborhood high school students. He also worked with the Boston Film and Video Foundation, and with Spontaneous Celebrations on their annual Wake Up the Earth celebration in Jamaica Plain.
Jack worked from 1986 to 1995 as the crew chief for installations at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and from 1996 to 2016, at Massachusetts College of Art in Mission Hill, across the street from the projects where he grew up. Jack often quipped that he had come a long way in life.
Rejecting the notion that wealth equates with happiness, Jack was a strong advocate of part-time work, advising that full-time work was bad for your mental health. He freelanced as an art preparator and installer, helping numerous local and visiting artists set up installations and exhibitions at museums throughout the Boston area, as well as in Mexico, NY, CA, Spain, and Guatemala. He spent his winters in Oaxaca, and visited Maine often in the summer.
He is survived by his sister Eileen of Grass Valley, California, his partner Tracy Brown, who cared for Jack during the last months of his life, and by countless friends grateful for the love and wisdom he shared during his life. In keeping with Jack’s anti-consumerist values, he was given a wake at home, then carried out of his house in a cardboard coffin by friends the next day and brought to Forest Hill Crematory in the back of a pickup truck. A memorial service will be planned for the spring. In lieu of flowers, Jack requested that friends contribute to City Life/Vida Urbana or Spontaneous Celebrations.