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Unforgettable Characters: Remembering Archie MacLaughlin

October 14, 2011

Special to the Standard

NORTH KINGSTOWN – It was with a bittersweet mix of sadness and warm memories that I learned of the passing of Archie MacLaughlin, 88, longtime resident caretaker – with his wife, Elizabeth – of Casey Farm.
They had celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary this past April.
I came to love Archie and Elizabeth during my years covering North Kingstown for another newspaper, starting in the mid-’70s, and that fondness endured. They reminded me of my Appalachian farm family, especially my Uncle Jim, who kept cows and nearly every other critter imaginable.
Like Jim, Archie wore bib overalls; like Jim, he had a natural way with animals who instinctively felt his caring and surrendered their trust.
“He was Grizzly Adams before his time,” observes Liz MacLaughlin, the town’s animal control officer, of her dad.
Before taking over the farm, Archie had owned the Pier Cafe in Narragansett as well as three private planes that he flew to help fishermen locate schools of pogies.
It was through visits to Casey that I encountered my first Scottish Highland cows – called “coos” as I learned on a later trip to Scotland – and watched a border collie working solo, masterfully herding a flock of more than 100 sheep up the road and into their pen.
I also learned Archie’s rule of conquering the treacherous behavior of geese:“Don’t let them get away with anything.”
The MacLaughlins, who had raised seven children, retired to California after 24 years managing the 330-acre farm where they escorted tours and offered a home to countless abandoned or orphaned animals.
Elizabeth, 86, is here now visiting and we shared grand reminiscences including the story of Clementine, the donkey they took in after her elderly owner entered the hospital with a premonition of death.
“It meant a lot to us that Clementine was in the Jamestown Christmas tableau every year” bearing Mary to the manger, Elizabeth recalls. “In the summer, kids in wheelchairs would come and Clementine would get really close to them and put her head down low so they could feel her soft nose.”
The MacLaughlin kitchen also became a refuge for needy baby animals.
“At one time I had 12 boxes of tiny raccoons lined up on the windowsill,” laughs Elizabeth. “It was the only way I could remember which ones I’d fed.”
They rescued a little brown bear whom they named Bedelia; she eventually found a permanent home at Slater Park, in Pawtucket. Then there was Twyla, a fawn they raised.
It was commonplace, Liz notes, to have undersized calves tucked into sleeping bags and ensconced in front of the kitchen wood stove.
During his time at Casey, Archie became a minor film star, appearing in a number of PBS productions where animals and their drivers or handlers were needed. His credits include “Brother to Dragons,” directed by Adrian Hall of Trinity Rep, “The Dean of Thin Air” and “The Industrial Revolution,” which was filmed at Casey Farm and narrated by Tony Randall.
He was also included in a memoir by Dr. Martin O. Kaplan, longtime South County veterinarian.
The MacLaughlins retired to California and it suited them. They kept geese and continued rescuing creatures that needed a good home; Archie specialized in picking up dogs dropped along the roadside.
Flow – which is wolf spelled backwards because she was, well, a wolf – was mangy and starving when they enticed her up the driveway with a trail of dog biscuits. She befriended the dogs, became well-nourished and lived as a pet to age 16.
Archie also took up a hobby: shooting rattlesnakes and curing their skins to make hatbands as gifts.
In 1998, he had surgery for an abdominal aorta and, in the past three years, his health had steadily declined.
On Sept. 11 the whole family and friends from as far away as Germany converged on Rhode Island for a gigantic cookout with the MacLaughlins.
“He had a wonderful time,” Elizabeth remembers. “He sat and held court all day long. A week later, to the day, he died in the VA hospital in Providence. He’s the only person I know who attended his own wake. He saw everybody.”
Because Archie fought with the 43rd Division, 169th Field Artillery for nearly four years in the Pacific during World War II, when he died, a quilt handmade by Heartbeat Quilters of Onset, Mass., was placed over him on the bed.
On the back was written: Quilt of Valor. Archie MacLaughlin.

Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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