PROVINCETOWN — Charlie Welsh, who worked in Orleans District Court as an assistant clerk magistrate during the half century that his father, brother, and nephew all presided as first justices, died at home on Dec. 5, 2020 of cancer. He was 75.
With his puckish smile, impish personality, and old-world charm, Charlie’s presence lent a heartwarming small-town feel to what can be a cold place. He was known for his compassion.
Jay W. Carney Jr., the defense attorney who represented James “Whitey” Bulger, sent a note to Charlie’s wife, Liz, that said, “He was a perfect gentleman to everyone including the homeless souls who had come to court. He was old school in all the best ways. The court has not been the same without him.”
Retired Justice Brian Merrick, the only judge in Orleans District Court in 100 years who was not named Welsh, and who presided in Orleans from 2008 to 2014, became close friends with Charlie, who had started as an assistant clerk magistrate in 1966.
At Merrick’s retirement party, Charlie read a passage from Don Quixote that caused Merrick to come down from the bench and give him a hug. “Charlie, in his self-deprecating way, left a mark on the legal community and the public much more than any judge, including me,” said Merrick. “He was the best.”
Charles F. Welsh was born on July 11, 1945 to Robert and Alma Welsh, the fourth of their five children, in a stately home at 554 Commercial St. He attended Boston University and lived in Provincetown his whole life.
Charlie’s grandfather Judge Walter Welsh had been appointed presiding justice of the district court in 1914, when court was still held in Provincetown. Judge Robert A. Welsh, Charlie’s father, took over the position, and then in 1973 the baton passed to Charlie’s eldest brother, Judge Robert A. Welsh Jr.
“Living in that kind of family pecking order, to be a magistrate, he loved it,” said Liz.
For decades, portraits of every retired Judge Welsh have filled the walls of the Orleans court while other Welshes continued their work in the flesh. Merrick told the story of a Boston reporter who noticed this bizarre scene while covering a high-profile arraignment.
“Welsh?” she asked Charlie. “That’s the name of the judge? Are you related?” to which Charlie replied, “He’s my brother, but he didn’t appoint me. My father did.”
Charlie became a conduit between the public and the legal community.
Kathryn Hand, now an associate justice of the Mass. Appeals Court, recalled starting out in 2006. She had been a district court judge for just two days, when a legal conundrum stumped her on the bench.
“I was caught sort of like a deer in the headlights,” she said. “And Charlie was standing in front of me, and without even turning around and anyone else hearing him, he said, ‘Well, Judge, you could do this, this, and this.’ And he laid out the most sensible way to handle the case.”
Mischievous as a youth, Charlie had the kind of wit that never failed to lift spirits, said Lenny Enos, the head of Orleans District Court’s probation department and a friend of Charlie’s since fourth grade.
“His sense of humor wasn’t at anyone’s expense; it was a sense of humor that would show people that their problems weren’t as bad as they thought,” Enos said.
Some of the court clerks called themselves “Charlie’s Angels,” said Liz.
Enos said his childhood friend grew into a compassionate caregiver.
Charlie and Liz took care of Charlie’s baby sister, Ann, who had Down Syndrome, for 20 years in their home. Their son, James, suffered a traumatic brain injury at age 17. Though doctors recommended that he be institutionalized, they took him home and have been caring for him for the last 30 years.
That is one reason Charlie never went on vacation.
“We cannot leave Jimmy alone,” said Liz.
But he was also a creature of habit, who, with Liz, maintained a garden that rivaled all the professionally maintained landscapes in Provincetown. (It was twice chosen for garden tours.)
“I made him a cucumber and cheese sandwich for lunch every day,” Liz said. “He would never go out for lunch. He was not showy.”
But he did know enough to wear the suits, ties, sweaters, vests, and cufflinks purchased for him and laid out nightly by Liz.
Though he had been suffering from cancer for years, Charlie retired from the court only in December 2019, said Marion Broidrick, the clerk magistrate.
Even in terrible pain, Enos said, Charlie never complained, always telling people he was “tip top.”
In his final hours, his grandchildren lay around him. His friends cried, hugged, and kissed him even after he was gone, said Liz.
“Being his best friend,” said Enos, “it was such an honor.”
Besides his wife, Elizabeth Graeme Welsh, he is survived by his five children, Amanda, Nicole, Robert, James, and Jeanne. He also leaves his much-loved 10 grandchildren, Michaela, Kendall, Anna Rose, Madison, Julia, Zach, Lily Hope, Myles, Mason, and Max. Charlie is also survived by his brother Robert and his sisters Merry and Alma Welsh. He was predeceased by his brother Walter and his sister Ann Claire Welsh.
Funeral services will be announced at a later date. To honor Charlie’s memory, memorial donations may be made to two charities close to his heart: Turning Point, ℅ Tracey Chalifoux, 5 Perry Way, Newburyport, MA 01950 (turningpointinc.com) or the Brain Injury Association of Mass., 30 Lyman St., Suite 10, Westborough, MA 01581 (biama.org).
To share a memory or place an online condolence, visit the guestbook at gatelyfuneralservice.com.