By DEAN SHALHOUP, Nashua Telegraph, Reprinted with Permission
AMHERST, NH – He fought fires, ran his home-based high-tech business and crafted columns for The Telegraph with vigor, not afraid to step on a couple of toes but always the first to step up and give credit where credit was due.
John Bachman, who as a town firefighter and eventually chief of the department raced to the scenes of disasters to save and comfort neighbors and strangers in their time of tragedy, became the victim of a tragedy early Monday afternoon.
“In all the years I worked with John we saw those tragedies,” former assistant Amherst Fire Chief Rick Crocker said Tuesday. “This is an awful loss for his family and his many friends, and for the entire community. “Everyone liked the guy,” Crocker said.
Bachman, 71, was in the process of retrieving mail from his roadside mailbox when a vehicle operated by 20-year-old Mont Vernon resident Travis Hobbs allegedly hit him, pushed him into a snowbank and kept going west on Merrimack Road, according to police.
Medical personnel rushed Bachman to Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua, where he was pronounced dead.
Memories of Bachman flowed as news of his death spread.
“John was a very principled man, and one who was never afraid to speak his mind,” Amherst Town Administrator Jim O’Mara said Tuesday.
A town resident since 1974, when he moved from the Baltimore area after being hired by the former Sanders Associates in Nashua, Bachman rapidly grew deep roots in his new community, founding two businesses and joining the fire department. He was chief from 1991 to 1994.
“He cared very deeply for the community,” O’Mara said. “He often took on projects he felt would benefit the town and its residents. Most recently, he was involved in a mutual-aid regionalization project.”
Crocker described the project as a low-cost mutual fire aid network that streamlines the typical mutual-aid systems long in place.
“That’s something worth looking at, and John would have been a great guy to do that,” Crocker said, who was assistant chief with Bachman.
“He was a very smart guy, and came up with some innovative ideas” when he was fire chief.
Even more than Bachman’s innovative nature and desire to keep his fire department up-to-date, Crocker said, was the “great sense of humor” he brought to the table.
“I’d say some of the ‘funnest’ and funniest times on the Amherst Fire Department was when we were officers together,” Crocker said. “From a management standpoint, he had a great attitude, and was able to make it fun to work with him. I just really liked working with the guy.”
Bachman’s columns for the Telegraph, which usually ran the first Sunday of the month, examined the issues of the day through his conservative politics, making sharp, pointed discussions about issues like taxes, gun control, and the importance of small business, as well as local issues.
“The Telegraph’s thoughts and prayers are with John Bachman’s family as they cope with the tragic circumstances of his death,” said Telegraph Publisher Greg Pohl. “John was a trusted and well-respected friend of the newspaper whose keen wit and unique perspectives on life graced the editorial page for more than a decade. His voice will be sorely missed.”
No subject was off-limits for Bachman, who alternately pilloried and praised town, state and even federal officials depending on the topics of the day or week.
The controversy that erupted in Town Hall in late 2012 and early 2013, sparked mainly by the Board of Selectmen quietly placing O’Mara on administrative leave without offering an explanation, provided Bachman with plenty of fodder. Bachman accused selectmen of “habitually ignoring the state Right to Know Law,” claiming town government “has operated in this mode for way too long – 20-plus years, to my reckoning.”
Former Amherst Town Administrator and Police Chief Gary MacGuire said Tuesday, “I can’t say I’ve always agreed with his viewpoints, but his presentation was always civil and you could always have a civil, pleasant discussion,”
“Whether I was on the police force, was the administrator or whenever, John and I would have a lot of conversations about this, that, and anything,” he said. “He was a very knowledgeable guy. He could carry on an educated discussion on almost any subject.”
Another of MacGuire’s fond memories of Bachman is seeing him working in his garden, most of which is visible to motorists passing by.
“He had it right out there, next to the place he had his business,” MacGuire said. “I remember thinking what a great semi-retirement he has, everything right there near his home.”
Crocker, who coaches the girls hockey team at Souhegan, said he drove past Bachman’s house on his way to practice Monday.
“I saw the paramedics and police there, but just figured it was a fender-bender, or maybe someone was ill,” he said. “I thought, jeez, I hope everyone’s OK … I had no idea, until I heard later what happened. “It’s just so tragic.”