Jimmy Valvano, the late basketball coach and TV commentator, showed incredible courage during his battle with cancer. He was famous for his coaching style that earned him and his North Carolina State University team a national basketball championship in 1983.
Valvano’s defining moment came during the 1993 ESPY Awards when he spoke from the heart just eight weeks before succumbing to bone cancer. He stood on that stage with every fiber of strength in his body to give a speech I will never forget.
Valvano said, “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
Think about what he said. It really does make for one heck of a day.
I had such a day Friday, Feb. 26.
John Ford, a native of West Pittston, passed away Feb. 19 from melanoma. A soft-spoken man with a great sense of humor, John was loved by everyone he came across.
The first time I met John, he was working at Grablick’s Dairy Bar in West Pittston. The second time was when his sister, Mary Claire Donnelly, moved two houses away from me and the third was at his in-laws’ home, the McColes, in West Wyoming.
Each Christmas at the McColes’ home, John dressed up as Santa Claus. He was perfect for the part and loved doing it.
Over the years, John had been plagued with several illnesses, making life difficult for him and his wife, Colleen. The couple’s only child, Patrick, passed away a few years ago, making life even more difficult for John.
At John’s funeral, my childhood friend and John’s brother-in-law, Dave Fusco, delivered the eulogy. Dave struck all emotional chords, making us laugh and cry. It was a perfect tribute to a class act like John. Dave had mentioned a little-known fact to many — John was a Marine, something quite uncharacteristic for such a mild-mannered man.
At the conclusion of the funeral Mass at St. Joseph Marello Parish Church, a Marine honor guard waited on the sidewalk in front of the church to conduct a U.S. flag-folding ceremony and present the flag to Colleen.
Holding back tears is tough anytime “Taps” is played at a funeral service, but standing on the steps of the church with Marines conducting the ceremony was really something special.
Colleen asked me to record the ceremony on her iPhone, which was an honor for me. As I did my best not to shake in the cold air while holding the phone with no gloves, I noticed traffic was idling by in both directions. A ceremony usually reserved for the cemetery was suddenly a very public event.
To the left, out the corner of my eye, a 10-wheeler truck approached. Then, all of a sudden, it stopped in front of the service station next door where the driver shut the rig down. Soon, traffic in the opposite direction eventually did the same thing, with all vehicles shutting down their engines.
William Street, one of the busiest streets in Pittston, had become eerily quiet and totally still as two Marines folded the flag to perfection before handing it to Colleen. I recorded nearly eight minutes of video of the ceremony. The respect shown for John and the military was so incredibly moving, I will never forget it.
After I handed over the phone, I walked to my car and, with each step, my eyes filled with tears. I was so choked up, I couldn’t control myself once in the car. For the next few hours, when I told someone what I had witnessed, I choked up all over again. It was truly moving.
That was one heck of a day. I was so grateful for knowing John and happy for him and his family that he received such a dignified salute and final goodbye.
Quote of the week
“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” – Dr. Seuss, American writer and illustrator
Thought of the week
“Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint you can on it.” – Danny Kaye, American actor, singer, dancer, comedian and musician.
“Give people not hell, but hope and courage.” – John Murray, theologian.
Tony Callaio’s column My Corner, Your Corner runs weekly in the Sunday Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected]