Ode to Tony

My 92-year-old father passed away on April 4, 2023. Here is the eulogy I delivered at his funeral on April 12:

Thank you, Pastor Murphy, and thanks to all of you for coming here, from near and far, in person and in spirit, to celebrate Tony.

Many of you were also here, in this very room, just a few weeks ago for the funeral of Tony’s wife and my mom, Leah, who passed away on January 13. Thank you for returning, and thanks again to Rutherford Funeral Home for hosting us.

My father passed away peacefully on April 4, and I indeed take comfort that he is now at peace. The last couple of years have been difficult for him, as dementia tortured his mind and twisted his reality.

We are here to honor Tony’s life, and I want to spend the majority of my time up here talking about his good years. However, I believe you all deserve to know how his latter years unfolded.

His decline began in 2019, at the age of 88, as he would occasionally hallucinate and imagine seeing people. We met with physicians to diagnose his condition, and learned that he would only decline further and never improve. At this point, Tony was aware that his mind was failing him, and he was frustrated. He told his doctor that he lived his professional life as an engineer, solving problems, but now he had become the problem that cannot be solved.

When the pandemic hit, and quarantine was imposed, his decline proceeded rapidly. By 2021, he could no longer take care of himself and was confined to the health care unit of his retirement home. In October of that year, his doctor told us that he likely had only 2 more months to live. He ended up living for 18 more months.

I would visit him often, and although he stopped recognizing me a few months ago, he loved to share wild stories that his mind concocted. He was a boxer and a ship’s captain. He traveled the world and even advised the Queen of England. But he’d sometimes recall his actual childhood, and describe playing catch with his brother Pete.

Tony was the eldest of five children, and his personality was typical of a first-born child. Growing up on the north side of Pittsburgh, he was serious, he was responsible, and he respected authority. He often worked at his father’s restaurant while his younger siblings were playing outside.

Tony loved his father, but he adored his mother. Until he had grandchildren, and would frequently cry tears of joy to celebrate their accomplishments, I saw my father cry only twice: once over an incident at work, and deeply, on his mother’s shoulder, when he was transferred to Columbus in 1973 and had to leave her.

His family moved to Greensburg, Pennsylvania during his teenage years, and then back to Pittsburgh during his senior year of high school. Tony, however, stayed in Greensburg that year to finish high school; he lived on his own in the local YMCA.

After high school, Tony went to the University of Pittsburgh and received a Bachelor of Science degree in petroleum engineering. As legend has it, during his senior year of college, taking several challenging math courses, and using a slide rule to perform calculations, Tony missed only one math problem all year.

After college, Tony began a 43-year career at Columbia Gas. My dad loved his work, and his company. He’d awake at 5:00 a.m. to get to the office early, come home around 6:00 p.m. for dinner, and then read reports in the evening. He was determined to become an expert in his field, and, through much hard work, that’s exactly what he became. Upon his retirement in 1996, the federal government enlisted him to consult with other countries around the world to help them improve their gas distribution systems.

In fact, as I tell my own children, let my dad’s life be an important lesson: choose a field, no matter how narrow, and become the best in the world at it.

Tony married Leah in 1953, and they remained together until her passage earlier this year. He truly worshipped her and couldn’t live without her. In fact, he never really did live without her, at least in his mind – honoring her wishes, we never told him that she passed away, as he was past the point of processing or understanding it. My sister Harriet was born in 1954, and passed away in 2015 – an event that devastated my father. He never really stopped grieving for her.

I came along in 1957, and have forged many fond memories with my dad. He would help me with my math homework, play catch with me in the backyard, and shoot basketball with me in the driveway. In my adulthood, as I played for our church’s basketball and softball teams, my dad would regularly attend – often as the only spectator. He never spoke or cheered; he just sat quietly and watched.

His most beloved hobby was watching the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. He bought his first set of tickets in the 1940s, and remained a season ticket holder, even after moving away to Columbus, for more than 60 years until his vision declined. He never cheered or gloated; he would just sit and watch, and occasionally smile if the team did something good. He endured the lean years of the 1950s and 1960s, but was rewarded with the glory years of the 1970s and beyond. And, yes, he was truly in attendance at the legendary Franco Harris “Immaculate Reception” game in 1972 – as was I.

Tony lived an honorable life. He did not drink, smoke, gamble, or swear. After his retirement, he volunteered at Riverside Methodist Hospital for 20 years, and was even elected president of the volunteer association there.

His favorite retirement duty, though, was caring for his five grandchildren. When they were younger, his sense of safety, developed during his working career, would kick in. He was ever vigilant around them, and he would often redirect them away from danger. His grandchildren began calling him “No boy” because he seemed to always be telling them no.

As they got older, Tony enjoyed tutoring his grandchildren in math. He would study textbooks and prepare worksheets for them. He was very proud of the excellent students and citizens they all became. He was also delighted that his grandson, Sam, chose to follow in his footsteps and become a professional engineer.

Most of all, though, Tony was a perfect gentleman. He was kind to everyone, and never had a discouraging word for anyone. He was a wonderful father to me, but I am most grateful that he was a terrific role model for my own children – demonstrating every day of his life how a kind, honorable, gentle man behaves.

May his memory be eternal.


About Wm. Amurgis

Father of 5, husband of 1
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