Sunday, January 28, 2007

Goodbye Andy...

During the past week, I was in that garden spot of the Eastern Seaboard, Newark, New Jersey, due to the untimely death of my first cousin Andy. In our big, Italian family, I am the oldest male grandchild and Andy the second. He was the son of my father's brother.

Andy was a good man — a dedicated family man who leaves behind a wife of almost 30 years and five children — three who are grown, as well as a 21-year old daughter soon to be married, and another who just graduated high school in June. But he was also a man who made a difference to his country, his community and to all the people he touched. Literally hundreds of people came to the funeral home to pay their respects, and at one point on two different days, the line was out the door — in spite of the 20 degree weather.

He was also an electronics genius. His mother is almost totally deaf and his father only had about 20 percent of his hearing. They had a specially equipped telephone made for people like them — but they could never hear it ring. At nine years old, Andy fashioned a system to make a special light come on when the phone rang, and another for the doorbell.

Andy was an inventor who held a patent on an automatic envelope opening machine used by businesses that process large volumes of mail.

He was a serious car guy (an interest we shared) and was restoring the '72 Corvette he bought new. He actually talked me out of buying one back then. I had just graduated from the IBEW Electrician's Apprenticeship, as Apprentice of the Year, and decided I was going to reward myself with a new Corvette. Visiting my first wife and I in Florida right about then, Andy had driven his new 'Vette down from Jersey and said, "Why don't you drive it while I'm here? By the time I leave, you won't want one." He was right.

Andy was also a successful businessman who owned a company servicing and repairing engraving machines, and his work took him all over the world. He was one of only two people in the country doing what he did. In this age of computers, gold and silver engraving on paper is a lost art, and he often had to fabricate the parts needed to fix the machines, since most of them aren't even made any more.
He had a machine shop where he would do this and had to acturally design and build some of the machinery he needed to do that work. Andy had a client in Seattle and we would get together whenever he had to come here to deal with her.

I lost my entire immediate family — both parents and a younger brother — within a six year period. My mother suffered a stroke and succumbed to pancreatic cancer a year after that. My father died of colon cancer after a long, painful battle, and my brother of a heart attack a year and half later. On all three occassions, Andy was there, making the trip from New Jersey to Ft. Lauderdale to do what he could to help. No one asked him to come, he just showed up believing it was his family duty to pitch in, do what he could, and stay until the work was done. But that's just the kind of guy he was.

He was the same way in his own community. Andy loved to fly, and owned a six-passenger Beechcraft. He was a member of the Air National Guard where he flew Blackhawk helicopters. He also flew Medivac helicopters locally, and volunteered his Beechcraft for a group called Angel Flights. And that's how he died. On a flight from New Jersey to Charlotte, North Carolina to pick up a transplant organ, something went wrong with his plane shortly after takeoff. He attempted to land in a residential area putting it down on a street, but crashed into an illegally parked car, and his plane burst into flames. FAA investigators said it was only his superior piloting skills that kept anyone else from being injured or killed.

Even worse, was that his only son, Scott, who is an EMT, was on call that night and was first on the scene, not knowing until he arrived and recognized the numbers on the plane, that it was his father who had crashed.

The story made the national news on CNN for a day and the front page of the New York Times local section, but both played up the father-son angle of the story — not the fact that Andy was a man who sincerely believed in contribution and died doing what he loved.

Naturally, his death was shock to all our family, and there was no way I would not be there for the family of the man who was always there for me. Andy was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things — not for the glory or recognition, but because it was always the right thing to do. I am proud to say he was not only cousin, but my friend.

The world will miss you Andy — you made it a better place. You also left us all a very high standard to aspire to...

1 comment:

  1. Ed Stern1:38 PM


    Sorry to hear of your loss; I recall now the incident in question on CNN.
    At least you have Dee there to welcome you home after the funeral.
    Take care,