From The Valley: There's A Tear In My Beer For Jimmy
BY TOM VALLEY
The bad news arrived two weeks ago. I was finishing a late-season round of golf with friends and walking from the 18th green toward our carts - and minutes away from a cold beer - when I heard the familiar ping from inside my golf bag. It was my phone alerting me to an incoming message.
Fumbling to unzip the bag's pocket, I inadvertently scattered a half dozen tees on the ground before anxiously reaching the phone to see who and what was going on,
Shielding my eyes from the autumn sun, I discovered that it was a 'group-text' from my brother, Mike. He'd also sent it my other brother, Tim. The message was short and to the point.
“Jimmy has passed away. Sad. Talk later.”
'Jimmy' was our cousin. Whether it's expected or not, whenever a loved one dies, it's a shock. It was no different here. Particularly so, because he was even closer than 'cousin' implies - he was more like an older brother.
James Leo McNally grew up a block and a half away from our house. His father, Tom – my namesake and Godfather – was a ruggedly handsome 'man's man' whose gentlemanly ways belied the fact that he could (and would) more than stand his ground if and when the situation arose. He was a much respected high-school teacher, coach and college athlete (Niagara University/football) in his day.
Jimmy's mother, Annette was my dad's sister. She was an amusingly energetic and unpredictable sort who kept all of us on our toes. The twinkle in her eye was an indication to expect the unexpected. And I sometimes wondered if even she knew what was coming next.
Jim's older brother, Chuck, was a brilliantly gifted young man (high school valedictorian) who, like Jim, was the type of son that parents dream of. He attended Clarkson University and graduated with an engineering degree (excelling at football along the way). Both boys were born leaders.
Maryann and Susan were Jimmy's younger sisters. Each had their own, unique personalities. (Redundancy? Yup.) Maryann was the playful sister who knew that her status in the previously 'all-boys' hierarchy allowed her to push the envelope. She got away with more than the boys did; she knew it; and she playfully let them know, she knew it.
Susan was fortunate to have her older sister – and brothers – there to blaze the trail and learn from their adventures. She had a ringside seat to watch the diversity and see how they came together to grow as a cohesive unit. She didn't say much back then; that's because she seldom got a word in edgewise. But she did laugh a lot … a whole lot; a contagiously wonderful laugh. Sadly, they are the only two surviving members of that (immediate) family.
Because Chuck and Jimmy were born before my brothers and me, my mom and dad treated them as sons. Jimmy's middle name 'Leo' came from my father, Leo. Hence, I guess, the absorbed reason they felt like brothers.
Jimmy attended Michigan State, earned his Phd and settled in Geneseo, NY. (I've not the space to list the breadth of his education.) He and his wonderful, late wife, Shirley were both in the field of academics. They raised a son, Andrew, and a daughter, Laura. And both of them are shiny examples of the McNally legacy. They gifted Jim and Shirley with five precious grandchildren.
Words here do little to describe the impact and positive footprint that Jimmy left. He was a humbly generous, intelligent, family/community oriented, Christian man with a wonderful sense of humor. His intentionally under-the-radar skills were boundless.
In the mid/late 1950's, when Jim was in high-school (St. Mary's, Ogdensburg, NY.), he scored 58 points in a single basketball game. And note, that was in an era before the 3-point shot was introduced. And at Jimmy's expense, I'll jest that I'm not sure if they had yet, replaced the straw-filled-ball with air. I'll just assume they had. Bottom line: He was an athletic legend, like his dad and brother, as well the perfect role model for Mike, Tim and me … or anyone else, for that matter.
With his boyish good-looks and red hair, he never completely outgrew the younger version “Jimmy” into the older variant, “Jim.” Add that same Opie Taylor effect, to the fact that 'gosh' and 'gee-willikers' was as profane as he got, and you can see why.
It's often said about great people who pass away, that the world has lost something irreplaceable. The same can be said of Jimmy. But you can also say that what he left, in the form of a textbook-illustration on how to live a life of humility and kindness … is just as great.
Love you, cuz. And … thank you.
That's the way it looks from the Valley.