MARLBOROUGH — On the day he died, James Philopena did at least two things he loved. He spent time with his golden retriever, Murphy. And he answered questions about ham radio in an online forum.
The 59-year-old Marlborough resident last posted on the forum Thursday, April 4, at around 4 p.m., his friend and fellow radio enthusiast Neil Goodell of Swanzey said.
Philopena drowned in 12 feet of water in Meetinghouse Pond sometime that evening. He was trying to save Murphy, who had wandered onto the ice, Marlborough Police Chief Christopher Lyons told The Sentinel Sunday. Murphy died, too.
A friend alerted police Friday that Philopena hadn’t been heard from since Thursday afternoon, according to a Friday news release from Marlborough police and the N.H. Fish and Game Department. Neighbors helped first responders find the area where Philopena and his dog had drowned.
Like others in the amateur radio community, Philopena went by his call sign, a letters-and-number combination that represented his station: KB1NXE. He had a page about his radio station at QRZ, a directory of amateur radio channels. As news of his death spread through the community last weekend, someone created a post to let others know KB1NXE had gone silent. People in the ham radio world use the term “silent key” when an operator dies. Borrowed from Morse code, it denotes the end of a transmission.
On Wednesday night, less than a week after Philopena’s death, many of his radio friends gathered to remember him at the Community House in Marlborough. Goodell, who is also the president of the Cheshire County DX Amateur Radio Club, led the meeting. Another member, Larry Levesque of Surry, had compiled a slideshow of photos of Philopena doing club activities. There were pictures of him building radio towers and shots of him with his equipment. Nearly every one showed a dog beside him. The pup in these photos — Goodell’s dog, Buddy — always seemed to find a spot at Philopena’s feet, Goodell said.
“Dogs know people,” Goodell told the 20 or so members in the room Wednesday night. “Well if that isn’t the truest compliment to the type of person Jim was ... I mean, that pretty much says all that you need to know about the type of person that he was.”
Philopena had been part of the club for 12 years and participated in many of its activities. He helped with the club’s annual field day each June, an event that coincides with similar events across North America and includes setting up a transmission station in a public place to demonstrate ham radio to the community. He also helped set up a radio-tracking system for the Clarence DeMar Marathon each fall, according to Goodell. The system allows organizers to track runners throughout the course.
“Jim was a big part of the club,” Goodell said. “And every person here knew him.”
Philopena’s “go-box,” a collection of portable radio transmission equipment for emergencies, was impeccable, one of the club members said. He knew his equipment, said another, and was happy to answer questions.
Philopena was born in Manchester, Conn., and served in the U.S. Air Force for about 20 years, retiring as a master sergeant, according to his obituary (see A4). He’d worked most recently as a senior network and systems administrator at Landmark College in Putney, Vt., where he’d worked since 2017. Philopena adopted Murphy in April 2018 from the Westbury, N.Y.-based organization Pets4Luv, his obituary said.
In written remembrances they sent to The Sentinel, his Landmark coworkers said he loved his four-legged companion. Kirt Sorensen, network and systems engineer at the college, wrote that Philopena spoke about Murphy often. He beamed when he talked about their walks together, Sorensen noted.
Another colleague, Jennifer Lann, director of library services, wrote that under Philopena’s care, Murphy transformed from “a fearful and thus sometimes aggressive dog into a happy and peaceful canine companion.”
Philopena was known for his generous heart and sense of humor, she wrote, and his rescue attempt was in line with who he was.
“While it was devastating to learn what happened to both of them, it surprised none of us who knew Jim to learn that he sacrificed his life in trying valiantly to save Murphy’s.”