As an Army staff sergeant, Fred Sheehan was crossing a field in France during World War II when a bullet felled his best friend, who had been running next to him, stride for stride, until that moment.
They were near Herrlisheim and in the January 1945 battle that took place there a bullet found Mr. Sheehan, too. In that frigid winter, he didn’t discover the wound until the next day because he was so frostbitten when the round pierced his leg.
One night, between the day his friend was killed and the battle when he was shot, Mr. Sheehan was patrolling a warehouse when a mortar shell crashed through the roof and landed next to him.
“It was a dud,” said his son Mike, “and I swear from that moment on he knew God was taking care of him, and he was going to repay that. And he did, every day of his life.”
Mr. Sheehan, an estate lawyer who formerly was state comptroller and chairman of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, died of a brain tumor Thursday in his Hingham home, where he had moved recently after living nearly his entire life in Weymouth. He was 88.
Guided by deep faith, Mr. Sheehan was a seminarian briefly after the war, before deciding he wasn’t cut out to be a priest. Yet when he opened a family law office, his professional choices set a personal example.
“I remember him telling me he wouldn’t handle divorces,” said his son, who lives in Norwell and is chairman of the advertising firm Hill Holliday. “When someone came to him with an estate and said they wanted to divide it among their children unequally, he would say, ‘You might want to see another attorney for that.’”
Mr. Sheehan knew he would face the family rift when such a client died, “and he hated to see families ripped apart like that,” his son said. “He was absolutely adamant about equal shares among children. It bothered him morally that one child might be loved more than another.”
A son of Irish immigrants, Frederick J. Sheehan grew up in North Weymouth during the Depression, one of three children whose father commuted by public transportation to a job repairing buses for the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway.
“His mother kept a firm hand on the house and they both just set terrific examples for my father,” Mr. Sheehan’s son said. “It was all hard work and it was all integrity.”
The starting first baseman for Weymouth High School’s baseball team, Mr. Sheehan played well enough to land a tryout with the Boston Braves. As he left the field, manager Casey Stengel called out: “Nice glove, kid.”
A few months later, Mr. Sheehan enlisted in the Army and was sent to Europe. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions during the battle of Herrlisheim.
The Army “wanted him to stay and go to officer school,” his son said, “but when he came home on leave, his father said, ‘Fred, I think you’ve had enough.’ My grandfather was a man of very few words. My father said that when he spoke, you listened, so he took that advice.”
While working in a job his father helped him land at Eastern Mass. railway, Mr. Sheehan used the GI Bill to graduate from Boston University. He also received a law degree from Boston College Law School in 1950 and, in 1978, a master’s in business administration from Babson College.
A family friend suggested he might make a good federal agent, so after law school Mr. Sheehan spent a year with the FBI in Virginia and West Virginia, “mostly chasing moonshiners,” his son said.
“Dad was an extremely gentle person,” he added. “He was not born to be a law enforcement official. He told me many times that he’d go in and say, ‘Why don’t you guys break up this still and when I come back it’ll be gone. What do you say?’”
Mr. Sheehan left the FBI and entered St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. Returning home to Weymouth in the summer after his first year, clad in his black robe, he was telling his family about his priesthood studies “and again his father said, ‘Fred, I think you’ve had enough,’” Mr. Sheehan’s son said. “And again he took it to heart, and he opened his law practice in Quincy.”
Through the years, Mr. Sheehan also served in several state posts, including comptroller, general attorney for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and chairman of the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.
Early on, during the lean years of his private practice, a young woman volunteered to be a typist in his office. Claire O’Brien was 10 years his junior and had grown up down the street in Weymouth.
“He thought that was great, and finally his mother said, ‘Fred, I think she might like you. People don’t volunteer to work for free,’” Mr. Sheehan’s son said. “He was very earnest, very sincere, and he finally took the hint. That is classic Dad. They were married on Memorial Day in 1955.”
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Sheehan leaves another son, Fred Jr. of Braintree; two daughters, Kathleen Speredelozzi of North Weymouth and Mariclaire Buckley of Hingham; a sister, Catherine Flaherty of Braintree; a brother, Jack, of South Weymouth; and 10 grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Monday in St. Jerome Church in North Weymouth. Burial will be in the town’s Old North Cemetery .
“He had his beliefs and he never wavered,” his son said, “and he loved being around people.”
Mr. Sheehan served on Weymouth’s Board of Public Works. He also had been on the investment board of South Shore Bank and chaired the board of the Cardinal Cushing Centers in Hanover. In retirement, he used the French he learned during World War II and the Latin he studied in seminary to teach languages as a volunteer at St. Jerome Elementary School in North Weymouth.
“He made an impression wherever he went without being bombastic or ever needing the spotlight. Everyone I met would say, ‘I love your father,’ ” his son said. “He led by example. That’s the gift he gave all of us.”