Harold Jay Moffie Lived One Hell of a Life

My Grandpa (“Puppy”) lived one hell of a life. Harold Jay Moffie, or “Hal,” to pretty much everybody, was probably the smartest man I ever met. I have traveled the great country of the United States, meeting people from all walks of life, and have attended some of the best schools in the country, and yet, my grandpa was probably smarter than everybody. A man born with an outsized intelligence, it was his humor though that stood out the most. That was the most interesting thing about him; although he was almost always the smartest man in the room, the thing most people will remember about him is his sense of humor. The man was funny as hell, even if you were the subject of his somewhat caustic wit. But through it all, Hal Moffie lived one hell of a life.

The best way to describe his sense of humor is “sardonic.” The better you knew him, the more likely you were going to get cut down by him. The irony in that was never lost on me, and I think in a weird way I appreciated that about him. To me, he was a great grandpa. But he was a walking contradiction. While I personally had a great relationship with him, I knew that was not the case for everybody in the family.

My younger brother was usually an afterthought to my grandpa. So the man who will almost certainly be remembered for his wit, never really connected with the funniest of his grandchildren. The one grandson who probably could go toe-to-toe with him in an insult battle never got the attention he deserved as a grandchild. That is especially peculiar considering he was the grandchild who could probably make him laugh the most. My grandpa missed out on that, and there is no way to get that back. c’est la vie.

But although he sometimes struggled to show the proper amount of love and affection to those around him, he had his excuses. His mother died four months after he was born. He could have lamented this fact and let it destroy his life… or he could bend life to his will. Hal Moffie chose the latter.

Hal Moffie: Amazing Athlete to Badass Businessman

If you tried to pitch a script for the life of Harold Jay Moffie, you would get laughed at for its implausibility:

Best scholarship athlete in his class at Brookline High in Brookline, MA (a suburb of Boston)? Check. Greatest running back in Brookline High School history? Confirmed in 1980. 93-yard punt that etched his name in Ripley’s Believe it or Not? Yup. Scholarship to Harvard? Ayuh. Lettered in football and baseball at Harvard? Sure, why not. Still a holder of records for Harvard football (punt return yards in a game)? Sounds like something a Jewish boy from Brookline would do, right? Longest punt return record holder for 69 years? Niiiiice (Page 25). Teammate of Robert Kennedy? Yeah, that one. But that was Hal Moffie the athlete. While his accomplishments in the first 20+ years of his life would suffice for the average person, Hal Moffie was anything but average.

After graduating college in 1950, he was drafted into the Army where–thanks to his expertise in romance languages, specifically Spanish–he served in counterintelligence before an honorable discharge in 1955. He mozied on from the life of an Army officer and turned his love of construction (given to him by his architect father) into one of the most successful nursing home organizations in America. In 1972 he formed Connected Health Facilities (CHF). It was this organization that was the true foundation stone for the Moffie family. By starting his own business, he provided an avenue of success for his five children (Calvin–Cal, Celia, Carrie, Clint, and Cathy) and their ever-burgeoning offspring.

And yet, while his ability to show love and affection to those closest to him may have been a bit muted, to any employee of his, Hal Moffie was the kindest, most generous boss anybody could have asked for. I personally sat and watched as he shook hands with members of maintenance crews who were dirtied with sweat, oil, and grime up to their elbows. He would ask how they are doing and truly listen to the answers. For them, he was never too busy. He almost always remembered not just their names, but the names of their spouses and their children. Hal Moffie knew he worked his butt off and lived a blessed life, and he wanted to share that blessing with as many people as possible. Why not try to do that with those who helped build his life?

That sense of sharing drove him into philanthropic works such as the funding and founding of the Chabad House of Greater Hartford. A somewhat stereotypical American Jew, Hal was more concerned with helping other more religious Jews practice their faith (maybe so he did not have to). While he was even more stereotypical when it came to kvetching about “the rebbe” always asking for money, that well never seemed to run dry (and for those asking, anybody who wishes to make a donation of remembrance to the life of Hal Moffie, can do so by… donating to the Chabad House of Greater Hartford, right here). 

Who Was the Walking Contradiction Known as Hal Moffie

But that was the kind of man Hal Moffie was. He could easily be described as selfish and self-centered, and yet, he would go out of his way to help others without a second thought. Hal Moffie was such a difficult person to put your finger on. Was he a good man? A good husband? Father? Grandpa? The answers to those questions could run the gamut from, “of course, are you crazy?” to, “Hmmm… I’ll need to think about that long and hard.”

While I was only his grandson (the fifth in line of all grandchildren), I do not think I am capable of answering any of those. Honestly, he was a much smarter, and more athletic man than I am. And as I sit here at 33-years-of-age, I would say he lived the type of life any man would be proud of. Was it perfect? Of course not. Was he perfect? Not even close.

However, Harold Moffie lived his life his way. Jew, athlete, Harvard Man, intelligence officer, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and… almost ambassador. It is that last tidbit that I think sums up Hal Moffie the best. When trying to encapsulate the 93 years of Hal Moffie’s life, it is best to let the smartest man in the room have the last word. For that, we turn to a profile done of my grandpa more than 20 years ago. The profile was written soon after he got word he would not be working as an ambassador for the Clinton administration. When the interviewer asked him what he thought of the snub, “Puppy” answered in the best way he knew how; brutally, unequivocally, and of course, honestly:

I know this. I am very immodest. I can’t believe anybody could do a better job than I could. It’s their loss. There’s no one better to legislate and to lead than a businessman who has character and has displayed over a long period of time consistent quality.

Harold Jay Moffie… Hal… Puppy… was the most immodest person I ever met. But he had every right to be. He was the smartest person I ever met and probably the best athlete in a family of ultra-athletes. He thought he knew better than everybody else because he almost always knew better than everybody else. And yet, through it all, he stayed true to his character. He was more consistent and reliable than the sunrise. And sometimes, like the sunrise, he would bowl you over if you weren’t prepared. But tomorrow, for the first time in 93 years and three days, there will be a sunrise that Hal Moffie won’t greet. And for the world–just like the Clinton administration so many years ago–it is our loss.

Love you Puppy.