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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Bernard James McGrath

Bernard James McGrath
Bernard James McGrath

Bernard James McGrath
May 7, 1942 – March 23, 2024 (age 81)

Bernard James “Jim” McGrath passed away peacefully on March 23, 2024 at Leesburg Regional Hospital in Leesburg, Florida surrounded by his family at the age of 81 after a three-month battle with complications following triple bypass heart surgery.

Jim was born on May 7,1942, in Abercorn (Quebec), Canada to the late Arlie McGrath and Beatrice Benoit McGrath. He lived in Canada until they moved to the United States around 1952. They lived in Berkshire, VT, for a couple of years then relocated to Enfield, CT, in approximately 1954. He was naturalized as a U.S. Citizen in 1958. He attended Enfield High School until he joined the Army at age 18. He had a passion for music and began playing the drums at a young age. He would go to Mt.Tom on Saturday nights to attend the Battle of the Bands and would sneak out to play in clubs when he was not old enough to get in. While in the Army, he served at the same time as Elvis Presley and had the privilege of being asked to sit in to play drums for him. He married his first wife at age 21 in 1963 and began having his children in 1965. He had a passion for music and car racing throughout his whole life. He was able to pursue his dream and became a professional musician. His stage name was “Jimmy Mac.” He was in a backup band on Heehaw and played drums for several country artists such as Barbara Mandrel, Roy Clark and Buck Owens to name a few. He toured and travelled on the road with some famous country musicians like Box Car Willie, Red Sovine,Brenda Lee and Leroy Van Dyke. He also played bass guitar, some steel guitar and self-taught the piano and fiddle. There wasn’t an instrument he couldn’t play. Any instrument he picked up he could dabble on by listening to the music and imitating it. He ultimately ended his professional career because his three daughters needed him to be both mother and father. He continued to play locally in several bands throughout his life until he got too old to keep up with the nightlife; but he would always say,“he wasn’t too old to play”.

His other love was racing cars. In his early years, he had several race cars and raced at tracks in New England such as Riverside in Agawam, MA, and Monadnock Speedway in NH. His car number was always 70, and he held several championships. Of course, he was a huge NASCAR fan. He watched the race on TV religiously whenever it was on. He also held a CDL and drove a tractor trailer truck which led him midlife to fulfill another dream of being part of the NASCAR circuit. He worked with several race teams such as Jasper Motors, Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Racing and Roush Fenway Racing.He hauled the show cars and back-up race cars to any area there was a race. He would sometimes stop to visit family while passing to go to the next race and loved showing the kids the car and starting it up for them. He eventually retired from RoushFenway Racing but still religiously watched the races. He loved travelling over the road and was able to visit almost every state in the U.S. throughout his life. He and Betty spent 21 years living in Lake Havasu City, AZ, and everyone in town knew him. He always had so many stories to tell. He could talk to anyone and made friends with people everywhere he went. He had a huge heart and loved his family dearly. He eventually spent his winters in Florida and his summers in his camper at his daughter’s house in Ellington, CT, so that he could be close to his daughters, grandchildren, great grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews. He made sure not to miss any event no matter how big or small, and he loved being with family.

Jim is survived by his significant other Betty Fleming of 34 years, 3 daughters from his 1st marriage, Lori McGrath Holden (David), Alice “Jan” McGrath and Michelle McGrath Zinn (Byron) as well as Jason Fleming (Mandy) and a 4th daughter Jamie Duffy Heath (Brent). Jim is also survived by siblings Carol Sala (Bob), Penny Sroka (Jim) and predeceased by his brother Barry McGrath. He also is survived by his grandchildren Morgan Holden, Shaye Holden, Marc Fragoso, Amber Fragoso, Amanda Zinn, Byron Zinn, Kylea McGrath Shea, Ethan Zinn, Drew Fleming and Caden Fleming. In addition, he has 6 great grandchildren and 2 on the way along with 9 nieces and nephews, several great nieces and nephews and cousins. He will be greatly missed by his little dog Pebbles.

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