By trade, Al Lima was an urban planner. In practice, he was a dreamer who devoted his life to resurrecting the Quequechan River, a polluted waterway buried beneath a highway that, centuries earlier, had given his native Fall River a name and a reason to grow.

Pamela MacLeod-Lima, his wife of 43 years, said Lima was a determined man who fought for what he believed in.

“People got fooled by him because of his look: he was always in a white shirt, silk tie, dark suit. He looked conservative, but it hid the soul of an activist,” she said. “He believed in preserving the beautiful landscapes that our forebears left for us, and that we were destroying.”



Lima died on Tuesday from complications related to cancer and a stroke he suffered in 2014, MacLeod-Lima said. He was 80 years old.

“It’s a tragedy because there was no one quite like him in Fall River,” said Everett Castro, an environmentalist and lifelong friend of Lima’s. “We need 50 or 60 Al’s to turn this city around.”

Lima began his career as an urban planner during the boom of highway construction that took place in the mid-20th century, when many American cities struggling with deindustrialization made decisions that forever altered their geographies and ways of life.

As a junior planner in Fall River’s City Hall, Lima said in an interview last year that he never questioned the decision to route Interstate 195 through the bed of the Quequechan River. Much of the river was already out of sight by that time, buried inside defunct textile factories that once harnessed the Quequechan’s strong current to spin cotton looms and cool steam engines.

But thirty years later, Lima said he experienced a mid-life epiphany while walking through the parking lot of an old factory in downtown Fall River. Lima had caught a rare glimpse of the Quequechan shooting from one pipe into another — an accidental, miniature facsimile of the 130-foot waterfall that drew the original industrialists to Fall River.

“When you see the falls of the river, and the power of the river, you realize, my God, this is amazing,” Lima said. “I just thought it was amazing that we had this in the city and that someday we had to make it happen that somebody would see it and be in awe of it.”

Having recently retired from a planning career in Boston’s suburbs, Lima devoted the rest of his life to helping others see the beauty of hometown’s hidden river. He began by self-publishing a history of the Quequechan, reminding readers that this Algonquin word for falling waters is the origin of the name Fall River.

“Every city has its own zeitgeist, you know — why things happen.” Lima said. “I think, in this city, why things happened was because of the Quequechan River.”

Lima never ran for public office, but through decades of work that could serve as a model for civic engagement, Lima shared his ideas with local government officials, who listened.

“People tried to get him to run for office because he was a highly educated person from Fall River,” MacLeod-Lima said. “He said, ‘No, I can do more from the outside. When you run for office you’re beholden to people, and then your opinions are slanted by that.’”

Today, a 2.5-mile stretch of the Quequechan that used to be inaccessible has become a popular rail trail, offering bikers and pedestrians a front row seat to witness the river’s recovering ecosystem. But an important element of Lima’s dream remains unfulfilled.

“The last thing he wanted to do was to unbury the falls,” MacLeod-Lima said. “He never got that done.”

Toward the end of his life, Lima’s patient work ethic came up against an increasingly tormented political climate in Fall River. In the past 15 years, seven mayors have cycled through City Hall; one of them is currently serving a prison sentence for corruption.

The current mayor, Paul Coogan, called Lima “an anchor” of Fall River’s civic life throughout this period.

“He was making the city a happier and healthier place to live,” Coogan said.

Still, Lima’s plan to recreate the falls may never make it off the posterboard renderings he kept a short reach away in his Victorian home in Fall River’s Highlands, where he often invited politicians and planners to listen to his ideas. Coogan pointed to cost as the main obstacle.

“That was the problem when I sat down with Al,” Coogan said. “These things were very expensive.”

“I’d still love to see it happen,” the mayor said. “I’ll never say never in politics.”

A funeral service for Lima is scheduled for Friday Oct. 28 at 10 a.m. at the Holy Name Church in Fall River. Viewing hours are scheduled the evening before at Fall River’s Hathaway Funeral Home from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Ben Berke is the South Coast Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio. He can be reached at bberke@thepublicsradio.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenBerke6.