Amid Cold War fears of air attack on New England, Massachusetts National Guard leader William J. Gormley III was an expert in operating antiaircraft missiles to defend Greater Boston.
A retired brigadier general, he commanded Nike Missile sites in the state during his 30 years in the Guard.
“He was a great commander. He took care of his people. All of his people came first and he made sure they were well-trained and well taken care of,” said his friend and fellow Guard leader Brigadier General Tom Bittelari.
General Gormley, who was the former battalion commander of the 241st Field Artillery, died of leukemia on Feb. 9 in Honolulu, a few days after he was first diagnosed while traveling on business, according to his wife, Mary. He was 74 and lived in West Roxbury.
“He loved the Guard,” said his youngest son, Michael of West Roxbury, who spent more than 20 years in the National Guard. “He loved being part of the Massachusetts National Guard and helping out when things were going on.”
As personnel director of the Guard, General Gormley helped run security for the Boston visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979, his family said, and also was a key leader in the guard’s response after the Blizzard of 1978, leading Governor Michael S. Dukakis on a helicopter tour of snowbound vehicles stranded on Route 128.
General Gormley graduated from Boston College High School and Boston College, his family said, and also graduated from the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.
His military interest began at Boston College, when he jointed the ROTC.
General Gormley met Mary R. Timmerman when she was in high school and they began dating during their college years. She recalled that he was delivering mail during the holiday season when he delivered Christmas cards to her home in the 1950s and asked her to go on their first date at an ROTC ball.
They were married for almost 50 years.
She said General Gormley loved his family and loved summering in Scituate, where he could fish off the deck of their beach house and cook his catch.
“It was out of the ocean and on to the grill,” she said.
In addition to his wife and youngest son, Michael, General Gormley leaves another son, William, an Army lieutenant colonel who is stationed in Saudi Arabia; three daughters, Mary Anne Cronin of Marblehead, Karen J. Burns of West Roxbury, and Michelle E. of Roslindale; two brothers, James P. of Derby Line, Vt., and Richard F. of West Roxbury; two sisters, Mary E. Clasby of Ashland, and Katherine A. Ahern of Westford; and eight grandchildren.
A funeral Mass was said Feb. 16 in Holy Name Church in West Roxbury, and a burial with full military honors was held in St. Joseph Cemetery in West Roxbury.
General Gormley’s grandfather founded the William J. Gormley Funeral Home in West Roxbury a century ago, said the general’s son Michael, who is now a funeral director and a Boston firefighter.
The general’s father, William J. Gormley Jr., ran the funeral home for decades until his death in 1989. General Gormley became a director of the company, and his siblings now run the company.
In 1996, after General Gormley retired from the Guard, he publicly criticized the relocation of the Guard headquarters to a centralized location in Milford.
“I find it incredible that in an era of military downsizing nationally that the Massachusetts National Guard is expanding its real estate holdings and state budget,” General Gormley told the Globe in June 1996.
Over the years, General Gormley served on the boards or in leadership positions for several civic organizations. He was on the board of Faulkner Hospital, served as past district chairman of Boy Scouts of America’s Greater Boston Council, and was past vice chairman of the USO Council of New England. He also served as president of the Holy Name Society.
Since 1972, he was a member of the third oldest chartered military organization in the world, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, with headquarters in Faneuil Hall.
At his funeral Mass, 20 members of the company formed an honor guard and saluted General Gormley’s coffin as it was carried into Holy Name Church, said Brigadier General Emery Maddocks, who is the executive secretary of the artillery company.
“He was a good guy,” Maddocks said. “He was a good ancient and a good soldier.”