David Flint, instrumental to River Rat Race, dies at 63

  • Dave Flint holds the “lucky penny” for the River Rat Race in this photo from 2008. File photo

  • River Rat Race Director David Flint logs entries at the Athol Daily News in 2018. Flint died on Dec. 22 following a lengthy illness. FILE ATHOL DAILY NEWS PHOTO/DEBORRAH PORTER

  • Competitors in the 55th annual River Rat Race begin the race along the Millers River in Athol as seen from the Main Street bridge, on Saturday, April, 14, 2018. Staff file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 12/31/2021 9:56:25 AM
Modified: 12/31/2021 9:55:57 AM

ORANGE — David Flint, an Athol Lions Club member who rescued the beloved River Rat Race from potential extinction 30 years ago, died last week. He was 63.

The longtime owner of Flint’s Garage at 990 South Main St. in Athol had been plagued with health issues that caught up with him on Dec. 22.

“It sucks, but we saw it coming,” his son, Matthew Flint, said this week. “We knew it was coming.”

The younger Flint said a private family service will be held.

“He never wanted a big service or a big to-do ... and I’m happy to abide by that right now. COVID numbers are high in this area,” he said, adding that a public funeral would likely be swarmed with mourners because of “who he was in the community.”

At a later date, Matthew Flint said, the family might plan “a celebration of life ... that he would appreciate, instead of one of these stuffy affairs at a funeral home.”

The elder Flint, who lived in Orange but grew up in Athol, is also survived by his partner, Kathryn Chaisson, daughter Adriann Flint, of Braintree, sisters Dianna Dugas of Orange, and Kathleen Senor of Auburn, and former wife Karen Flint, with whom he remained friends. He had also recently reconnected with daughter Jennifer Meattey, of Athol.

“I can’t go anywhere without people ... offering their condolences, and that’s not a bad thing,” Matthew Flint said.

His father wished to be cremated and have his ashes spread in two special spots in the area.

The longtime Lions Club member became an instrumental part of the annual Orange-Athol River Rat Race, which once appeared to be going the way of the dinosaur, when he convinced the Lions’ international organization to throw its support behind the event and asked then-Athol Fire Chief Tom Lozier, a childhood friend, to assist with public safety.

Then came time to approach Ted Crumb, one of the race’s founders who served as its commissioner from 1964 to 1991.

Crumb was known to frequent the former Travis Street Inn, so Flint went one day and sat down on a stool next to the man, who kept glancing at Flint out of the corner of his eye.

“‘I know why you’re here, and the answer’s ‘No,’” Flint recalled for the Greenfield Recorder in 2017 in his best impression of Crumb’s well-known gravelly voice. “He said, ‘I know why you’re here. You want me to help to keep that damn canoe race going.’”

So Flint buttered up Crumb with a few shots and, eventually, he agreed to help on the condition that all canoes be 18 feet or smaller and that the race always starts with cannon fire.

The previous two River Rat Races were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but organizers hope to hold the event in April and will discuss the likelihood at an upcoming meeting.

Chaisson, Flint’s partner since 2013, said the race will be a great way to carry on Flint’s memory.

“That was his thing. It was definitely his passion,” she said. “I think one of the best ways to honor his passion would be to continue it.”

Chaisson said she met Flint when she worked at the Athol Daily News, which served as the River Rat Race’s headquarters for many years.

“I was so honored to have him in my life. I mean, how lucky am I?” she said. “He was my best friend, he truly was.”

Lozier, who graduated Athol High School with Flint in 1976, said his friend will be remembered as a generous man.

“We did a lot of stuff together, him and I. We were close,” Lozier said. “If somebody was down and out, he was always there to help him.”

Flint’s sister, Dianna Dugas, stressed that her brother’s community outreach stretched well beyond the canoe race.

Flint was also heavily involved in the Lions Club’s haunted, tractor-pulled hayrides around Silver Lake to various Halloween-themed skits, even inheriting several tractors from event pillar Dick Phillips.

“I would say (he was) just such a community leader,” Dugas said of her brother. “He was just such a kind person. His motto was always ‘Treat others the way you want to be treated.’ And he really did that, he lived by that.”

Dugas said she taught second grade at Silver Lake Elementary School in Athol for three decades and Flint substituted for her at times.

He also played Santa Claus at Christmastime, with the school’s cafeteria decorated like ‘The Polar Express.”

Dugas said their father died when Flint was 11 and he became something of a protector of their mother.

His love for cars developed as a teenager.

“It was nothing to come home from school and see an engine hanging from a tree,” Dugas recalled. “But it kept him busy and out of trouble and that was kind of an important thing for him, I think.

“Me and my sister were his guinea pigs, driving around on frames,” she added. “We’d be holding the gas tank as we’re going around.”

Donations in Flint’s memory can be made to the Athol Lions Club, P.O. Box 293, Athol, MA 01331.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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