A legacy of service: Four generations of the Duffy family

Clockwise from top: S1 Derek Duffy, Theodore Duffy, Peter Duffy, and Brian Duffy.

Clockwise from top: S1 Derek Duffy, Theodore Duffy, Peter Duffy, and Brian Duffy.

Joanie Veitch
Trident Newspaper

When Sailor First Class Derek Duffy received a Sailor of the Quarter award from Canadian Fleet Atlantic earlier this year, his father, a retired Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) sailor, was at the ceremony with him.

While the 27-year-old sailor followed in his father’s footsteps, he also took the same path as his grandfather and great-grandfather, making him the fourth generation of Duffys to sign up for military service.

“I’m proud to know I’m carrying on the tradition. It’s my family heritage. It means a lot to get the award and to be part of this legacy of service,” says S1 Duffy.  

The first generation

His great-grandfather, Peter Ernest Duffy, was part of the Irish settlement on Prince Edward Island following the Irish Potato Famine. Born in 1896, he was a young man when he and his brother went off to fight in the First World War, where he was a Lance Corporal with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

His brother, Wilfred James Duffy, died in 1916 and is buried at the Vimy Memorial in France.

Returning to PEI after the war, great-grandfather Duffy took up the boilermaker trade until the Second World War called him back to military service, this time with the Royal Canadian Navy. From 1940 to 1943, he served as chief stoker on several Flower-class corvettes, eventually working his way up to chief engineer.

Fortunate to survive the war once again, the senior Duffy went back to family life, moving with his wife, Margaret, and family to Halifax, where he worked at HMC Dockyard as a pipefitter.

“He survived two wars. The luck of the Irish, maybe,” says Brian Duffy, S1 Duffy’s father. “My grandfather went through a lot, but never talked about it. He never talked about the war at all.”

Peter Duffy died in 1975 at Camp Hill Hospital in Halifax.

The second generation

Theodore Duffy was born in 1937 and grew up in Halifax’s north end. One of 12 children, he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the RCN as a fire control technician in 1955. He served until his retirement in 1985. 

After retirement, Ted Duffy continued to wear a uniform as he went on to work for more than 20 years with the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires.

Well-known to many at Stadacona and HMC Dockyard, when he died in 2015 the memorial service at the Royal Canadian Legion on Main Street in Dartmouth was standing room only.

“The overflow had to go upstairs and listen on a speaker there were so many people. He left a legacy for sure,” says Brian Duffy.

The third generation

Growing up in Shannon Park military housing in the 1960s and 70s, it just seemed natural for Brian Duffy to join the military after finishing high school in 1980. Three of his siblings also joined up, two with the navy and one with the air force.

Working as a Naval Electronic Technician, Brian Duffy left the navy to go work on the Canadian Patrol Frigate Program, which was building the Halifax-class frigates in Saint John, New Brunswick, in the early 1990s.

He may have left the military, he says, but he was still working on navy projects, “just not in uniform.”

Duffy eventually moved to the Department of National Defence, where he worked as an Electronic Technologist on the Halifax-class frigate modernization project and, after that, with the new Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships.

He retired from DND in 2020, just two years after his son joined the navy.

The fourth generation

Not wanting to go the military route straight out of high school, S1 Duffy went to Nova Scotia Community College to study Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC).  He worked in the trade for four years but during a long lay off period decided to sign up with the RCN as a Marine Technician.

Brian Duffy with his son, S1 Derek Duffy.

Brian Duffy with his son, S1 Derek Duffy.

Posted to HMCS St. John’s just before the ship conducted a hull swap with HMCS Ville de Quebec, S1 Duffy earned the Sailor of the Quarter award for his technical expertise in helping fix a mechanical problem on board Ville de Quebec while sailing on Exercise Joint Warrior. 

The problem was in the chilled water-cooling system, an area S1 Duffy was very familiar with from his former HVAC work.

“My previous knowledge of refrigeration helped to get them back up and running; it felt good to know I could help, and it benefited everyone,” he says.

Even before he heard about his son’s award, Brian Duffy had a framed photo montage made of the four generations of Duffys, all in uniform, to give to Derek for Christmas last year. 

“We are so proud of him. He’s keeping the family tradition alive,” says the senior Duffy. “I just wish my Dad could have seen him getting his award. He would have loved it.”


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