Mike McDuffee was the embodiment of someone who led by example. A husband, a father, a grandfather, a son, a sibling, an uncle, a friend, and a diehard lover of life, McDuffee’s smile and infectious laughter lit up a room and could be felt long after his departure. When others spoke, he listened, when others cried, he opened up his arms for an understanding embrace, and when others needed advice, he offered honesty laced with compassion.
While there are a number of words to describe McDuffee’s genuine demeanor, there are twice as many real-life stories that showcase how he stood by his word and was a friend to everyone.
“He was more than just my brother, he was my best friend and role model,” said Bob McDuffee. “My life would not be what it is today if it weren’t for him. I’ve also seen what an impact he’s had on the lives of so many other people over the years.”
Described as the “cog that keeps the family together,” McDuffee was known as the sibling that everyone would go to for advice.
The age gap between Bob and Mike was nine years, but that didn’t equate to fewer childhood memories together, as Bob can remember moments from his youth when his older brother left a mark. At 9 years old, after Mike had enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed in Germany, he flew home on Christmas Eve and surprised his siblings while dressed in a Santa suit.
“I sat on his lap, not knowing that it was my big brother,” said Bob. “And then, I noticed that Santa kept stealing bites of my pizza and I complained to my mom about it.”
Bob soon discovered that Santa was his older brother, and Mike became the family Santa over the years, bringing joy to his grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
McDuffee’s ability to bring two separate friends of different backgrounds together was uncanny. Bob remembers how generous he was with sharing his relationships and the two brothers formed one big circle of friends.
“He was always in a good mood whether he came in to talk business or exercise,” said RPM fitness owner Marie Hamilton. “No matter who he talked to, he made them feel like they were special and what they had to say was important, and he brought all different people together in conversation, with his contagious energy. He was the kind of person who would give you the shirt off his back and he will certainly leave a void at the gym.”
McDuffee was vested in his friendships whether he had known someone for just moments or a lifetime, and he was dedicated to having fun with those he loved. Kevin McGee, one of McDuffee’s best friends, recalls McDuffee helping him pull off the surprise engagement to his -wife.
“He was always fun to be around, and lit up rooms everywhere he went,” said McGee. “He was there handing me the ring when I proposed to my wife and he was my best man.”
As a Winthrop High School graduate, McDuffee had a close group of friends that he grew up with and maintained throughout the years. One of those friends was Joe Cox. McDuffee and Cox enlisted in the Air Force together on the buddy system in 1974 and remained close over the years. It all started when Cox was giving McDuffee rides to see the recruiter in Malden and he ended up enlisting right alongside him. Cox credits his 22 years in the service to McDuffee and recalls memories of their first days in basic training together.
“We outnumbered everybody right off the bat,”said Cox. “We were so determined to be side by side in formation, that we devised a plan so Mike would crouch down slightly to minimize his height and I would stand as tall as I possible so I could to be level with him.”
The two ended up marching side by side in formation, but not much later McDuffee was sent to the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, California for a 52-week Linguist school.
“Mike scored higher than everyone else on the aptitude test, he was incredibly smart,” said Cox, who shared a story about how Mike spoke fluent Russian to an Uber driver, so many years later in 2017.
McDuffee was known for how he made others feel and his ability to remember even the most minimal of encounters.
“If he met you, he would never forget you,” said Cox, who will in turn, never forget the best friend that shaped his life.
Described as a truly different human being, McDuffee is remembered for so many things, but most of all the impact that he left on everyone he came into contact with. His smile will be marked on all those who had the pleasure of meeting him and his laughter will forever ripple through the town of Winthrop and beyond.