BEVERLY — Late last year, Clark Young stood in a City Hall office and accepted his colleagues’ parting gift of a gold-painted parking meter. He gave it a playful shake to see if there was any change inside, but the violation flag was already showing. It had been relabeled to say “retired.”
After more than 50 years trekking through the streets – first as a letter carrier and then as a parking officer — the 78-year-old Young was hanging it up to spend more time with his wife, Brenda Young.
On Thursday, a fast-moving fire tore through the first-story apartment the couple had shared for years, investigators said, killing the longtime public servant and his two beloved dogs as his wife escaped. Brenda Young was hospitalized for evaluation, officials said.
“He was an absolutely lovable guy,” said his former boss, Robert Dever, standing in the office where he held a retirement breakfast for Young just six months ago. “I’m going to miss him.” Outside, Mayor Michael P. Cahill had ordered flags lowered to half-staff.
Three other people escaped from a second-floor unit during the morning blaze, including a 90-year-old woman whose family said she was aided to safety by her grandson.
Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the Highland Terrace fire, though they believe it was accidental. The state fire marshal’s office is investigating whether the home had working smoke detectors.
Pamela Morris, who lived in the second-floor unit, said she heard smoke alarms when the fire broke out around 7 a.m. The family said her son, Nathaniel Morris, 27, helped her mother, Helen Riddle, get out of the apartment without the help of the walker she usually uses.
Two of the family’s cats also died in the blaze, Pamela Morris said.
Her husband, Timothy, had left just before the fire to head to work as a social worker for the Salvation Army in Boston.
The Salvation Army is now looking to help the family that suddenly finds itself without a home and mourning their long-time neighbor.
Pamela Morris described Young as patient and friendly. Both families had rented there for more than 20 years, she said.
She and her husband, “had four boys and they were not quiet,” she said. But Young always had a smile and a pleasant greeting, and was eager to catch up with the boys — now grown — when they were at home.
The news of Young’s death was met with disbelief as it spread through this North Shore city where he had charmed many. Those who knew him remembered the shorts he would wear even after the weather turned cool, and the kindnesses he offered.
“No matter how down you were, he brought you back up and made you laugh,” said Linda La Rosa, who regularly had coffee with Young at the Dunkin’ Donuts just across the street from City Hall. She said she could always get a chuckle out of Young by pointing to a car and hollering, “Repeat offender!”
Sharon New, another friend from the coffee shop, recalled the emotional support he’d given her family through many challenges, including the death of her parents: “He was always there for me.”
On Thursday, police and firefighters were called to the home at 7:04 a.m. Police, who arrived first, were able to help the survivors out the back. But the building became so consumed by flames that they could not get inside.
“Knowing that the person was in there was very difficult for all of us,” said Beverly Fire Chief Paul Cotter.
Beverly Police Chief John G. LeLacheur recalled Young as an “extremely likeable, very cordial man.”
Young began as a letter carrier in 1960, and retired from his job in Beverly in 1996, according to the US Postal Service. He started working as a parking officer in Beverly in 1998.
Dever, Beverly’s project coordinator, said Young brought a postal ethic to his work in parking enforcement, and didn’t let the weather stop his appointed rounds.
“Rain, shine, he was out there,” Dever said, “dedicated to contributing his whole life.”
Though nobody likes getting a parking ticket, La Rosa said that Young’s demeanor was pleasant enough to soften the blow. “You’d probably thank him for it,” she said.
“I would find it hard for anyone to get mad at someone who is honest,” he said. “Clarky was honest in what he said, and he was honest in his job, and there wasn’t much to argue.”Globe correspondent J.D. Capelouto contributed to this report. Andy Rosen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.