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The sweet, enduring afterlife of Charlie Tufts

Charlie Tufts raised money and awareness for those living with cystic fibrosis, the disease that took his life in 2020. Now, his friends and family are making sure his legacy lives on.

Charlie Tufts, with his cousin and goddaughter Caroline Connelly, at 2016 Cystic Fibrosis Softball Tournament in South Boston.Tufts family

When he was a kid growing up in Milton, Charlie Tufts would speak at an assembly every year at Tucker Elementary School, explaining to his schoolmates why doctors believed he wouldn’t live past 30.

Charlie had cystic fibrosis, which gave his lungs a decidedly short life span. Every year — every day, really — he gave his schoolmates a lesson in perspective.

But, even as a kid, Charlie was determined to prove the doctors wrong.

“I’m not dying when I’m 30,” his younger brother Peter remembers him saying.

Charlie Tufts had a lot of living to do first. He graduated from BC High, then UMass Dartmouth. He was a hardcore fan of the Boston Celtics and, in a nod to his birthplace of Memphis, the Tennessee Volunteers. He got a good job as a data base analyst.

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He did all this while, beginning as a small child, having to spend weeks every year in the hospital because of his medical condition. He was a frequent flyer at Massachusetts General Hospital, where his infectious spirit lifted those of the nurses, doctors, and specialists at the cystic fibrosis and infectious disease clinics.

When you have a limited time on earth, the clock is ticking, and Charlie knew he had to make an impact fast. After years of taking part in fund-raising walks for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, he decided to organize a softball tournament to raise money and awareness.

Charlie put the arm on every relative and friend he knew. The first year, in 2013, seven teams raised $7,000 at Joe Moakley Park in South Boston. By 2017, there were 20 teams that raised $125,000.

Two months after that tournament, Charlie went into the hospital. He needed a lung transplant.

Charlie Tufts’s advocacy and fund-raising contributed to the research that led to breakthrough treatments for CF, but his condition had worsened to the point that his body could not benefit from those new drugs.

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He underwent a lung transplant in March 2018 and was still recovering from it when September rolled around, the time he always held the softball tournament.

“Charlie didn’t want anybody else to feel obligated to take on all that responsibility, so we put the tournament on hiatus,” Peter Tufts said. “He was determined to get it back up and running as soon as he felt well enough.”

That day never came.

Two years ago, Charlie was in hospice care when he made his final wishes. The pandemic was raging, and he knew it would be a while before his family and friends could attempt to fulfill those wishes. When it was safe, he wanted them to throw a big party. And he wanted them to start the softball tournament up again.

Charlie Tufts died at home in Milton on Nov. 22, 2020, from complications of cystic fibrosis. He was 33.

Because of COVID, only 20 people were able to attend his funeral at St. Michael’s Church in Milton.

Last month, a huge group of Charlie’s friends and family gathered at the Brick & Beam Tavern in Quincy for that party Charlie wanted. And on Saturday morning, after a five-year hiatus, the softball tournament returns to Joe Moakley Park in Southie.

Peter Tufts said Charlie’s friends and family didn’t want to be overly ambitious, with 16 teams aiming to raise $50,000. They’ve already surpassed that goal.

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It will be bittersweet. Not because Charlie won’t be there, because he will be, in a way. This is Charlie Tufts’s legacy, his sweet, enduring afterlife, after a life of helping and inspiring others.

Among those taking the field Saturday will be his cousin and goddaughter Caroline Connelly and his college classmate and close friend Nicole Corcoran, both of whom are living with cystic fibrosis and have been able to avail themselves of those new treatments, leading active, athletic lives.

Nicole Corcoran has two children, and they’ll grow up hearing stories about their mom’s great friend Charlie, who didn’t get nearly as much time as he deserved, but made every minute count.



Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.