Harold Purington grew up in Framingham and lived the last 11 years of his life in Fairhaven. Harold was a World War II pilot, a devoted family man, and a born craftsman who brought joy to many people over the years through his woodworking creations.
Harold Purington, who everyone knew as “Hal,” was always willing to take on a new project. He once volunteered to rebuild a baptismal font at a Dartmouth church because it needed to be done, and everyone knew Hal was the right man for the job. He’s best known for the iconic large wooden soldiers he built for the Shopper’s World mall in Framingham. But beyond his many talents as a craftsman, Hal was devoted to his large family.
Hal and his wife Marian moved to Fairhaven 11 years ago, after growing up and spending most of their lives in Framingham – 60 of those years married to each other. She remembered that Hal’s sister introduced them when Marian was working part-time in a local bakery shop. And she recalled that when Hal proposed, she was working as a nurse at Mclean Hospital.
“He gave me my diamond on the road from Framingham to Mclean,” she said. “And so each time we’d go by it again, we’d say ‘They haven’t put up a plaque about that.’”
Two days after they wed in 1943, Hal went overseas as a pilot in the US Army Air Corps, and Marian didn’t see him for another two years. Their only contact was through letters back and forth. To this day, she recalls Hal’s Army serial number: 3135332.
Hal flew missions in North Africa, Italy and the Balkans. He often had to make dicey landings on Ascension Island, a 5-mile wide speck of land in the middle of the Atlantic.
“If the engine sputtered, he had to pull a lever to get some more gas out, and sometimes there were some shaky moments when he didn’t get it as quick as possible. But they joked about they didn’t run out of gas over the Atlantic,” said Marian.
When Hal was due to return from overseas, Marian didn’t know exactly when or where he would get back. She was working for the Red Cross Blood Program, and was drawing blood from an officer when she heard Hal had returned. Marian dropped everything and went to find him. She didn’t even finish drawing the officer’s blood.
“He probably had a heart attack wondering where that nurse went,” Marian said with a laugh.
After the war, he joined his father and brother in the family painting and decorating business. Eventually, Hal went to work at Shopper’s World in Framingham, and it was a perfect match, according to his daughter Susan Burr. With his own workshop beneath the mall, he created promotional displays for events and holidays.
“He did blocks, he did a gazebo. He did a big clock, and there’s the gazebo at Christmastime. Santa would be in his workshop,” Susan said.
There was a time when visiting local malls or department stores to see these displays were part of many family holiday traditions. The scenes captured the spirit of the season, and Hal enjoyed the satisfaction of watching families “ooh” and “ah” over his creations. In Hal’s case, 27 wooden soldiers he crafted, each 12 feet high and painted bright red and white, quickly became seasonal favorites for countless families.
Shopper’s World is long gone, but when it closed, the town of Framingham stepped in to rescue Hal’s wooden soldiers. Some are still displayed around town during the Christmas season.
When Hal retired from Shopper’s World in 1986, they gave him a plaque honoring their “Master Craftsman.” His daughter Susan said the title is well-deserved. She remembers her father building all sorts of things for she and her siblings growing up.
“He made a walk-in dollhouse for us that was filled with our doll furniture. My sister and I had a great time with that,” Susan said.
Once someone gave her father an idea, Susan said, he could always come up with a solution…. even if he did have one peculiar quirk.
“We always teased him because he’d say, ‘Well, I have to take a ‘MAY-surement,’” she laughed. “That was one of our favorite things to tease him about. ‘MAY-surement.’ And we tried to correct him, but it didn’t work.”
In recent years, macular degeneration slowed down Hal’s activities. But his creations – his legacy - are scattered around the Fairhaven house: a grandmother clock in the living room, a wooden napkin holder in the kitchen, and many other items which bear his distinctive style.
Harold Purington passed away two days before his 71st wedding anniversary. He was 93.