Memories and Musings: Honoring a Special Friend

Published 10:44 pm Friday, June 26, 2020

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By Gene Gallelli

We were in elementary school together in East Rochester, New York. Tony started out a grade behind me, but because of his scholastic ability was promoted into my grade level and class. (It was always a last-minute mystery whether I would make it to the next grade level or not.)

My elementary school friendships had already been established with fellow neighborhood street kids, but Tony and I established a friendly acquaintanceship in school where his scholastic excellence and friendly demeanor continued to flourish. In fact, his easygoing, friendly nature rightfully earned him the coveted “teacher’s pet” appellation.

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It was in Junior High School — yes, I made it, too — that Tony’s and other’s athletic ability began to emerge and get noticed, particularly when Little League Baseball hit our community. (It was a bitter pill for me because I missed the age limit by several months and never had the chance to try out for a Little League team.)

During my generation’s journey through grades seven and eight, we exhibited the same idiosyncrasies as current generations, one of them being giving odd nicknames to our friends. We had a Head, a Biskie, a Bookie, and I was almost a “Beaky” because a few of my friend’s dads remembered that was my father’s nickname in junior high . . . although I did inherit his “Roman” nose. Through all the nicknaming, Tony remained Tony; there just wasn’t anything about him of which to make fun.

Tony and I became best friends when we entered high school, shortly after my parents built a house on Worthing Terrace close to where he lived. My parents knew his parents and both of us were proud to say that our moms’ pasta sauces tasted the same, although we gave our own mom the edge on the meatballs.

Two other good friends, Bob and Dick, lived close by and both had basketball hoops and backboards on their garages, so there was plenty of energetic and competitive two-on-two basketball played in the neighborhood.

I got to know and love Tony’s two brothers, Jimmy and Alex, and his sister, Joanna; I was proud to later become Alex’s Godfather. Along with their amazing parents, they became a second family to me.

After our high school graduation, Tony went to Notre Dame and I enrolled at Saint Bonaventure University and, later, SUNY at Fredonia. Tony went on to have a hugely successful business career that had him traveling worldwide, during which time he became a collector of valuable original art work and amazed by the different and beautiful cultures he experienced.

During our college-day-and-later summers Tony and I double-dated often, were ushers each other’s weddings, and managed to get in a few rounds of golf. Marriages and parenthood (and “grandfatherhood”) entered and enriched both our lives.

With the advent of the Sam Urzetta annual Memorial Golf Tournament — Sam was a cousin who was the 1950 National Amateur Golf Champion — Tony and I played in the same foursome for many years alongside several other high school classmates. During our annual “tournament” trip to East Rochester, my wife, Pat, and I would “double-date” with Tony and his date; often his daughter, Gina, would join us.

My father and mother loved Tony and the entire male and female gang we hung with. My father loved to tease Tony because of his remarkable ability to concentrate and get totally lost in what he was doing. One time I’ll never forget was when Tony was watching a basketball game on TV at our house. My dad got behind Tony and said, “Tony! Tony! The house is on fire!” Tony never even flinched.

Since crossing the Rainbow Bridge, Tony will be remembered for many things: making All County in baseball; pitching against Irondequoit to win the county championship; catching a long pass against Fairport that led to our winning the coveted Little Brown Jug; always volunteering if he wasn’t assigned a task; and being our class Valedictorian.

Along with all the aforementioned reasons to remember Tony, family and those of us who knew him well will most remember him for his profound, intense and undying faith in God. He had the gift of prayer and used at every opportunity for those in need.

After his passing, during a phone conversation with his sister Joanna, she told me that Tony said he had lived a good life and was ready and prepared for what came next. She went on to say, “If Tony doesn’t make it to Heaven, none of us will.”

For me, Tony’s passing was the loss of a wonderful, one-of-a-kind friend that can never be replaced. I learned from his example that you can always find a way to be kind to whomever and with whatever comes your way. Although we were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, it never interfered with our friendship.

I may, but probably will not, play in the Urzetta Golf tournament again, since it can never be the same teeing up without Tony. So, my friend, play plenty of golf up there with brothers Jimmy and Alex, and hit ’em long but not often and be sure to have a white hot dog at the turn. Hopefully there will come a day — not soon, I hope — when we will be a foursome again.

Gene Gallelli was Associate Superintendent of the Dare County Schools for eight years. He received his Doctor of Education degree from East Carolina University, where he taught and supervised students studying to become school administrators.