It’s always big stuff in any small town when “one of our own,” having scaled great heights in the outside world, returns for a visit.

And so it was in October 1991 when Dick MacPherson, five games into his first season as head coach of the Patriots, returned to Maine and found himself surrounded by adoring locals as he pulled up to St. Joseph’s Church in Old Town.

MacPherson, the former Patriots and Syracuse University coach who grew up in Old Town, died Tuesday at age 86.

Back in 1991, beaming at familiar faces and reaching out to grab extended hands, this plumber’s son did all he could to return the love that was washing over him, even though his heart was heavy.

He had come to speak at his brother’s funeral.

The Rev. Normand MacPherson, 65, had been a priest.

But 30 minutes before the service was scheduled to begin, Coach MacPherson, then 60, still wasn’t sure what he wanted to say, so he found a quiet place to work through his thoughts.

“It’s strange how notoriety works,” he reflected later. “I’m the one who always seemed to get the attention even though I’d try to tell people, ‘You’re proud of the wrong MacPherson.’ ”

That wasn’t false humility. That was exactly how he felt.

“Hey, it’s fine if people want to be impressed by ‘Coach MacPherson of the New England Patriots,’ but what you’re seeing here today is a much bigger story. The MacPherson they’re coming to honor today just made it to his Super Bowl.”

More than 2,000 mourners soon packed St. Joseph’s sanctuary and, typical of MacPherson, he would have them laughing.

“My brother loved to sing,” he said, looking at the choir. “Wasn’t he awful!”

But in those private moments he admitted to being awestruck by the life his brother led.

“All I’ve been hearing are stories of things he did, like helping kids to straighten out. Look at what’s happening here this morning; talk about love!”

A popular bumper sticker at that time suggested, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

MacPherson shook his head dismissively.

“Whenever I looked at Normand or Walter, our brother who was also a priest, I never saw any toys because they didn’t have any. They took vows of poverty. But what I saw was peace.

“It bothers me that we seem to give the glory to the wrong people. When I look at Normand’s life and realize more people would want to be like me rather than trying be like him, I find that sad.”

Was he being rough on himself? Probably.

But that was Dick MacPherson.

Like his brothers, he was truly one of the good guys.