Joseph Thomas Birch V
Joseph Thomas Birch V, always a bit too optimistic for his own good, passed away on June 5, 2019 after having struggled with Parkinson’s Disease and dementia for over three years. Joe was born in Quincy, MA on October 12, 1943, the son of Joseph Thomas Birch IV and Ann (Halloran) Birch. He grew up in Quincy and graduated from Quincy High School in 1961 where he was captain of the football team, and where he later was inducted into the Quincy High School Football Hall of Fame.
Joe played semi-pro football after high school and received a football scholarship to American International College. Injuries on the field forced him to drop out of college, and Joe moved to Cambridge, MA. He enrolled in extension courses at Harvard, studying psychology & religion, and eventually became a degree candidate in the extension program, only to be called by the spirit of entrepreneurship.
By 1967 he had started selling used bicycles to Harvard students from his back yard off Central Square, and he turned this venture into The Bicycle Revival, a chain of 19 stores along the east coast. He revived the use of sandwich board signs for advertising, hiring students and hippies to wear them in Harvard Square. He sold the business in 1972 to an Italian bicycle manufacturer and moved to New Hampshire with his first wife Sue (Hildreth) Birch, where they raised four children with Joe’s unique sense of zest, risk and adventure.
Joe loved being an entrepreneur and loved being in the woods. After he moved to New Hampshire he was involved in logging, firewood and timber sales, sand and gravel excavation, and land development. For many years he went by “The Firewood Emperor of New England” and “Butcher Birch,” and he was featured on the Today Show and in the Boston Globe, Yankee Magazine, and Newsweek. During the 1980’s, he had a regular spot on the Charles Laquidara show on WBCN-FM, where he added some local flavor and gave tips on home energy-saving. He enjoyed creating unique advertising campaigns and had a personal cartoonist for a number of years who helped him build a larger-than-life persona.
His career took many turns, from the rent-to-own used car business, to searching for shipwrecks in the Bahamas, to logging with workhorses in the woods of Michigan and New Hampshire. As a teenager, he was a golf caddy for members of the Kennedy family on Cape Cod, and in college he worked as an aide at McLean Hospital, where he befriended the poet Robert Lowell.
He was unorthodox, imaginative, creative, and like his father before him, could “talk a hungry dog off a meat-wagon.” Joe had a sharp mind, loved to debate and invent, and made fast friends, and likely a handful of foes, everywhere he went. He wrote poetry and a book on nutrition, studied myth, politics and theology, and could play the piano by ear. He was proud of his Irish ancestry, and as the fifth Joseph Thomas Birch in his family, was proud to see his son and grandson also carry his name.
A mountain of a man, he had both a mighty spirit and a great athleticism and strength, walking up a flight of stairs on his hands and saving at least four people from drowning. His family imagines some of his favorite memories were being carried off the football field after a big game, and Christmas Eves when his kids were young, when he staged performances by “Santa” worthy of Broadway. He loved his children and grandchildren deeply and loved to travel the world. Many agree that Joe Birch lived a hundred lifetimes in one, and life around him made for a wild, colorful, and entertaining ride.
Joe is survived by his five children, Anna Birch and her husband Chris Volpe of Hollis, Joseph Birch VI of Hollis and Singer Island, Florida, Sarah Birch of Hollis, and Samuel Quincy Birch and his wife Elizabeth of Hollis, and Daniel Birch of Estonia. Joe is also survived by ten grandchildren – Amanda, Joseph VII, Jarrell, Jackson, Henry, Charlotte, Martin, Isaac, Max, and Colin. He also leaves behind his former wife Sue (Hildreth) Birch of Hollis and his three siblings – Mary Williams and her husband George of Norwell, MA; Joann Bateman and her husband Robert of Scituate, MA; and Robert Birch and his wife Gail of Scituate, MA. He also leaves behind his second former wife Olga Birch of Estonia, and many cousins, nieces and nephews, including his very close cousin Elizabeth Duane of Scituate, MA.
A memorial service will be held at the Congregational Church of Hollis, 3 Monument Square, Hollis, NH on Saturday, June 15 at 11:00 AM. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, you befriend a stranger, read a poem, or do something outrageous and follow Joe’s philosophy that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
To view Joseph’s online tribute, send a message of condolence, or for more information please visit www.csnh.com.