John Michael McCruden, 62, firefighter and bagpipe player

August 05, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

John Michael McCruden, a retired Baltimore County firefighter and paramedic who played the bagpipes at many police and firefighter funerals, died of cancer Sunday at his Brooklandville home. He was 62.

Attired in his McKenzie, Royal Stewart or County Cork plaid kilts, he frequently played "Amazing Grace" on World War II-vintage ivory-and-silver pipes.

"Firefighter McCruden was the most recognized and most requested ambassador from our department in 25 years," said Baltimore County Fire Chief John J. Hohman.

Born of Irish and Scottish descent in Baltimore, and raised on Jonquil Avenue and in New York City, he earned money by walking horses at Pimlico Race Course. He dropped out of high school and joined the Maryland National Guard's 19th Special Forces detachment -- the Green Berets.

After he broke his leg in an Army parachuting accident and left the service, he was hired by the county Fire Department in 1970. The next year, he was assigned to the Brooklandville station, Old Court and Falls roads, remaining there until he retired in 2002.

The hardest moments in his job were helping children and their families at fire scenes, said his wife of nearly three years, Elizabeth Clagett Nuttle.

Family members said that as a child living in New York, he often broke away from his family when he heard marching bands in parades. "He loved the bagpipers and watching the joy they brought the spectators," his wife said.

In 1974, he began taking formal instruction in bagpipe playing.

"Piping was the love of his life. When John was piping, he dreamed his dreams," said Jim Quigg, his Glasgow-born instructor and pipe major of the Loch Raven Pipe Band.

Mr. McCruden was a pipe major in the John F. Nicoll Pipe Band, which marched in the 1988 procession through Baltimore to mark the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution and the naming of Federal Hill. He played at the annual Fallen Heroes ceremony at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens and at the National Fire Academy's annual October memorial service at its Emmitsburg campus for firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Mr. McCruden, who maintained a library of Irish music, played at weddings and family reunions, as well as the opening day of Roland Park Country School. Family members said he enjoyed explaining the music and history of bagpipes.

At funerals, he would usually play "Amazing Grace" as he walked away from the grave site, explaining to mourners that he was piping the departed soul to heaven. Then Mr. McCruden would begin playing a Celtic jig or reel -- as a sign that the soul had the opportunity to reach its final destination.

At the time of his retirement from the county department, Mr. McCruden was given honorary firefighter status by the Baltimore City Fire Department in honor of his devotion to playing the pipes for many burial details.

"He never turned down any family," city fire Battalion Commander Raymond O. Devilbiss Jr. told The Sun at the time.

His funeral, with county Fire Department honors, will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St.

Survivors, in addition to his wife, include three sons, Michael G. McCruden of White Marsh, Chad Edward McCruden of Owings Mills and Gregory M. Johnston of Hillsborough, N.J. His wife of 22 years, the former Mary Ann Keogh, died in 1992.

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