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Legendary fencing coach from Peabody, Joe Pechinsky, dies at 92

Posted by Justin Rice  September 28, 2011 12:15 PM

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Photo courtesy of Molly Sliney

A disgruntled child with a learning disability, Molly Sliney entered the Peabody firehouse for the first time as a 10-year-old so she could learn fencing from a firefighter named Joe Pechinsky.

But before the lifelong Peabody resident and legendary founder of the Tanner City Fencing Club could mold Sliney into an Olympian, he wrote her name on the board in the firehouse kitchen.  
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“He asked 'how do you spell 'Molly,’ he didn’t know if it was ‘ie,’” Slimey recalled during a telephone interview this morning. “I remember panicking because I couldn’t believe my dyslexia followed me into the fire station. I said ‘yes’ and all I was thinking about was leaving. And as I was thinking about leaving he created a bird out of [my name], it kind of shook me; some things are more than what you actually see.

“He told me you could do anything you want to do if you believe in yourself.”

Pechinsky, who coached four other Olympians at the Tanner City club, died last week at Radius Health Care Center in Danvers after a long illness, according to his obituary. He was 92.  

The retired firefighter and World War II veteran who survived the attack at Pearl Harbor, served as the national coach for the US Fencing Association and also coached in the Pan-Am Games. He was inducted into the U.S. Fencing Hall of Fame.

Besides Sliney, formally Sullivan, Pechinsky also coached his niece Sally Pechinsky, M.J. O’Neil and Jana Angelakis at the Tanner City club and into the Olympics.  

Sliney went to the Olympics in 1988 and 1992 and also won two gold medals at the Pan-Am games. The 45-year-old Bradford resident now incorporates Pechinsky’s lessons into the motivational speeches she gives to school children. She also volunteers every Wednesday at the Tanner club, which is now housed at the Higgins Middle School.   

“I would not be the person I am today without Joe, period,” she said. “He really taught me to believe in myself, to set goals and that anything was possible. One of the things he showed everyone is you really need to experience life and go out and do it. If you like something go out and do it because it can lead you to other thing.”

Pechinsky is survived by a sister and brother-in-law,   Jennie M. and Raymond Maciewicz of Danvers and many nieces and nephews and grand nieces and grand nephews.  He was the brother of the late John, Frank, Benjamin and William Pechinsky.

A Funeral Mass was held on Monday at St. John’s Church in Peabody followed by a burial at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Salem.  Expressions of sympathy may be made to the Peabody Fireman’s Relief Fund, 41 Lowell St., Peabody, MA 01960 in his memory.

“Through the last couple days I’ve done a lot of soul searching,” Sliney said. “He’s such a part of me, he’s always with me that I won’t really miss him because he’s such part of my life and who I am. I feel he’s living on with what I do and who I am. I know that sounds strange but that’s what I feel.”

Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.

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