Waldie, Kenneth Edmund

Kenneth E. Waldie, a Methuen youth basketball referee and devoted father of four, was never supposed to be on American Flight 11. After a change in itinerary, the 46-year-old Raytheon engineer rose before the crack of dawn yesterday, petted his golden retriever Casey and left his home in Methuen for the last time. "We can't believe this happened to him. It was a twist of fate," said his wife, Carol, leaning heavily on the railing of her back steps. "I got a call from my son about the crash and a couple of Raytheon people came to the house. The kids were so very close to him, they are devastated. We all are." A Pittsburgh, native Kenneth Waldie worked for 18 years for Raytheon at the company's Andover plant. Carol Waldie, a second-grade teacher at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Lawrence, said her husband was looking forward to the wedding of their oldest child, Andrew, 24, on Oct. 6. Kenneth Waldie had coached his younger children in Little League and could be seen on the sidelines cheering on his only daughter Meredith, a field hockey and basketball star who is a junior at Methuen High School. He was never without his sidekick, 14-year-old son Jonathan, nicknamed "J.T.," a seventh-grader at the Tenney School and a budding baseball player. Another son, Jeff, 20, is a stationed with the U.S. Coast Guard in New Bedford and alerted the rest of the family to the tragedy as it unfolded. "This is such a shock," said Karen McLaughlin, Methuen varsity field hockey coach and physical education teacher. McLaughlin was teaching Meredith when school counselors took her out of class to deliver the news. "Ken never missed a game. He was so supportive of his kids. Meredith is just an unbelievable athlete and she loves her father. This is really going to hit the Methuen High athletic program hard," she said, breaking into sobs. About a half-dozen of Meredith's teammates stood in front of the house last night looking dazed and hugging family members. Several other neighborhood kids on bikes and skateboards came to pay their respects, remembering Ken as a guy who "always had a compliment for you." "We're like family on this street. Everything was put on hold when we heard the news," said a woman who lives across the street but didn't want to be identified. "He always had an up attitude and a great sense of humor. A tragedy like this really hits home when it's someone you know who dies."