Lives Remembered

James Rafferty: Carrickmore man who helped raise skyline of California

James Rafferty left Carrickmore as a young man and made his home in the US

JAMES Rafferty was among the army of immigrant ironworkers who helped raise the modern skyline of San Francisco.

The Carrickmore man arrived in California during the construction boom of the 1960s and his work would take him across the Golden State.

He scaled the great cables of the iconic Golden Gate bridge, worked on the headquarters of famous Silicon Valley industries, and built high rises near the State Capitol and ski lifts as far as Lake Tahoe.

James Rafferty worked on San Francisco's iconic Golden Gate Bridge

While working on the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Fransisco he had a miraculous escape which made headlines coast to coast after his outside elevator slipped its catch and plunged 250 feet to the ground.

Drawing on his time in the army, the 34-year-old quickly lay down flat on his back to spread the force of impact over his whole body and somehow managed to walk away from the wreckage of twisted steel and cables.

He would settle down and raise three children in his adopted home but regular trips back to Ireland and a lifelong interest in Gaelic games always maintained a strong family bond with Co Tyrone.

James was born in March 1938 in Carrickmore to Patrick and Mary “Minnie” Rafferty (née McCullagh), who ran a village store known for having one of the longest counters in Ireland.

After school he went to work in England before crossing the Atlantic in 1959, where he served in the US Army from 1960-62.

James then moved to San Francisco where he reunited with fellow army veteran Sally Carey from Delaware. They wed in 1966 and made their home in the quiet suburb of Burlingame, San Francisco.

An incredibly hard-working man, he had loved the outdoors since childhood and was an avid hiker, backpacker, swimmer and cyclist.

Adventure was a big part of his life and his love of two wheels took him on many bicycle touring trips across California and Europe.

Even at the age of 69, he rode nearly 4,000 miles across the US in a mere 62 days.

Camping and long road trips all over the US, Europe and Latin America were a staple for the Rafferty household and James instilled the same sense of adventure in his children.

He also passed on his passion for Gaelic games and ensured his family became avid GAA fans like him.

James was an avid GAA fan. He is pictured here at Croke Park with his sister Rachel Gillen and his late brother Pat John and Pat John's wife Mary

After retiring from Ironworkers Local 377, James and Sally settled down near Sacramento and enjoyed a lovely retirement with family nearby, welcoming a grandson into their lives.

James Joseph Rafferty passed on peacefully from this life in California on Sunday October 13.

He is survived in America by his wife Sally, sons Seán and Séamus, daughter Meagan, and grandson Reiley James, as well as numerous cousins in the east coast of America and Toronto, Canada.

In Ireland, he was predeceased by his brothers Pat John and Hugh but is survived by his Auntie Bridie, sisters Esther, Sarah, Martha and Rachel, and many nieces and nephews.

Séamus Rafferty

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Lives Remembered