Eulogy for Amy's father, William R. High, who passed away on October 25, 2006.
Good morning Father Mike, Family and Friends…
We’re gathering together today to wish Bill a very fond farewell…and this comes after almost a year of absolute torture…both physically and emotionally… for him… for Margie, for Amy and for all of us that loved him.
2006 has been a very sad one for this family. In early February, Margie lost one of her sisters very suddenly. Within weeks of returning from Mary’s funeral in Ohio, Bill was diagnosed with cancer…not just any cancer…Sarcoma…one of the rarest forms of cancer.
This has also been a year of anger for us… We’ve been angry at modern medicine for its incompetence, false hopes and callousness; we’ve been angry at ourselves, thinking that if we’d done things differently, the end result might have changed…we know this is foolish…but this is what humans do.
And there have been times, we’ve probably been angry at God. There have been more than a few un-answered prayers…or at least they weren’t answered in the way we were hoping.
As Christians we’re taught that God has a plan for everything, and that things happen for a reason. When you experience grief and pain to this extent, that is a very hard pill to swallow.
Yet as Christians we continue to believe these things….because to not believe, would make this unbearable.
Bill’s pain, sadness and anger are now over and our faith tells us that he’s now completely content. After nine months of nothing but the horrors of cancer; of not even being able to recall what life was like before it, the family gathered almost immediately after his passing and in our minds, he was restored to the robust, extroverted, funny and absolutely affectionately disrespectful guy that we all gravitated to whenever he was around. This is the Bill…or for his casino friends, the “Billy High”, or for Nico and Alex, the “Pap” that we’ll never forget.
Believe me, this family has been and will continue to properly toast and roast Bill in the gatherings to come. Those of you who want to know some really good stories will want to sit down with John Ferrelli and Kerry Monahan after Mass today. For now though, let me give you a brief little bio of the best father-in-law one could possibly ask for.
Bill was born, raised and lived some of his adult life in almost heaven West Virginia. This of course gave his Hilton and Bally’s friends an endless supply of “inbred” “redneck” West Virginia jokes to torment him with over the years.
As a young kid, Bill tried for a while to walk “the straight and narrow”, even testing out the waters with the local Boy Scouts, rising through the ranks as the head Bugler for his troop.
All of us know that Bill would go to great lengths to get a good laugh out of people and had absolutely no problem throwing himself under the bus to do it. That after all, is the key to a great sense of humor. So there he was…little Billy High….Boy Scout…a position of honor in his troop… and during morning ‘revelry”, he starts blowing some ridiculous tune through his bugle.
As you can imagine, this did not go over well with the Troop leader. Bill told me he was “branded” as a result of this. Now I always thought branding was a hot iron to your ‘bum”, but in this case it was a full blown ceremony, where he was stripped of his bugler’s badge…literally ripped it off his shirt… with all the other scouts looking on. “I was scarred for life”, he said.
He tried to stick with scouts a while longer, but I think his “branding” took the fire out of it for him…pardon the pun.
So then he turned…to a life of crime.
One would think with a name like Musitano, I should have some good “connections”. But actually my only link to organized crime was Billy High….second in command of the Marland Heights Mafia. Marland Heights was the mountain that Bill grew up on in Weirton, almost heaven West Virginia. I know you Ohio Valley folks will argue that it isn’t a mountain, but when you grow up in Brigantine, anything higher than a sand dune is a mountain.
So the Marland Heights Mafia was a group of young teenage ruffians… kinda like Rumble Fish or the Outsiders and it was during one of their major operations….trying to break into a locked bathroom at a school dance…that Bill would meet his future wife….Margaret Ghenne.
Margie was from nearby Toronto, Ohio….just outside almost heaven. We’ll just call it Purgatory. Margie comes from a big family, she has about 206 sisters and one brother, Saint Bub. Grandma Pat was clearly an exceptional Catholic.
Margie and her friend were at this same school dance when they wandered onto the crime scene. Bill looked up to Margie, from the lock he was picking , and his first words to her were...”Hey baby, you got a bobby pin?”
With a pick-up line like that, it must have been love at first sight. They began dating and were married after high school. Amy arrived shortly thereafter.
Though Bill and Margie only had one child, Margie’s sisters Karen and Lisa are only a few years older than Amy. When they were little, they preferred to spend every available minute around Margie, Bill and Amy. Amy got stand-in older sisters, and Karen and Lisa got to idolize Bill.
Sister, Betty announced that she would be moving in with Margie and Bill immediately after graduating high school. Once again, Bill and Margie’s was the place to hang.
Word got back to Bill and Margie that Betty was starting to date a notorious figure in town, John Ferelli. The first time she brought him home, I’m told they were wearing matching Fedoras. John Ferrelli was trouble and Bill knew it.
“I don’t want you hanging around that Ferrelli,” he told Betty. One night Bill, Margie and Saint Bub left Betty to baby sit Amy, while they went down to a club called Littleton’s where Ferrelli tended bar. The plan was to confront him, to tell him to stay away from Betty, some familial intervention nonsense like that. Well the three of them arrived home well into the next morning, and Bill announced to a very worried and angry Betty, “That Ferrelli is alright!” John must have been a very good bartender. The two of them started a very dangerous and wild brotherhood.
When Bill, Margie and Amy moved to New Jersey they met Sue and Kerry. For years they were inseparable; dinners, vacations, margaritas and Jimmy Buffet. They had a million good times together. When Bill got sick Sue and Kerry were there right away; representing the best of what real friendship is all about.
Now let’s talk about Amy… Amy has always had a very close relationship with her father and he was proud of everything she has done. Why shouldn’t he be? They have virtually the same personality. She’s got his very twisted wit and his temperament. This is not always a good thing, because it can be earth-shattering explosive. Amy knows how to freak out, as many of you have witnessed. When she does, I’m the one running around shutting the windows so the neighbors don’t hear her. After all, you’re only “dysfunctional” if someone hears. But, just like Bill, after the Tsunami of temper, the waters recede and five minutes later, there’s no grudge held.
When Amy was little, Bill did have to make due with not having a son. So he forced Amy to do some of those father/son things…..like watch every John Wayne western that was ever made….over and over again.
When Amy and I got together, about 75 years ago, I was immediately welcomed into the family. Bill and Margie turned out to be most excellent in-laws. I’ve heard the horror stories; I’ve witnessed a few of them, but with them, never experienced one personally…and we’ve spent a lot of time together.
When Nico and Alex were born, they became Bill and Margie’s whole world. Until he got sick, I don’t think Bill ever missed a soccer or baseball game. He’d frequently show up, straight from work, definitely the best dressed guy at the little league field.
Holidays, vacations, Sunday dinners….Nico and Alex have always had it good; both sets of grandparents always around; all still young and energetic, and everyone genuinely enjoyed being together.
One of those grandparents has now been taken away, far too early, and it’s now up to the rest of us to make sure Pap’s memory is always fresh in their minds.
Even in his last days of life, Bill always found the strength to be upbeat when the kids walked into his room. In the end, he knew every day he fought was another day he’d hear the familiar words, “Hey Pap”.
If you’ve been around these past months you’ve really watched Amy and Margie suffer through Bill’s illness. The rest of us felt the grief and did whatever we could, but it was in them that this knife kept twisting. It was pure hell for them.
I think all of us are in awe at how they dealt with all this; the strength they found. Margie has shown us what the marriage vows are really all about, and Amy, you can take comfort in knowing that in the end, as always before, you were everything your dad ever needed you to be.
There are some other people this family can never thank enough…
Father Mike, we thank you so much for putting Bill on the “fast track” to Catholicism…
Although Bill was raised Protestant, he married in the Church, and his daughter was raised Catholic. Assumption is where Amy and I got married, and both of his grandchildren have had their sacraments. This is the only Church he ever felt attached to. In June, Bill converted to Catholicism. He’s wanted to do it for years, for the kids, because it always bugged them that Pap wasn’t Catholic like the rest of us. When he got sick, he made the decision to do it.
Father Mike came to the house and we had a very nice ceremony with the family. Bill received all the sacraments that he missed as a Protestant. Father Mike was on a roll; I didn’t think he would stop. I thought we were going to have Monsignor Bill before it was all over. The good news is Bill wasn’t immediately ex-communicated when he confessed his love for the Steelers.
For Bill’s friends at Bally’s and Hilton, who put together the benefit at Diorios in June… The family was overwhelmed by the generosity you showed us. I have to tell you, Billy High was left speechless….and you know that didn’t happen often.
For other friends that have been so supportive to us, some everyday, we are very lucky to have you.
And finally, even though she’s part of the family, I have to give a huge thank you to our very own “Rosario”….Karen, you were such a huge help to us this whole summer. You were with Margie caring for Bill all day and night, and you gave Amy just enough spare time so that she could also be a semi-normal mother to the kids while they were home. You’re the best!
So now it’s time for us to move on and we have a difficult series of “Firsts” to get through without Bill: The first Steelers game, the first Christmas, his first birthday, the first vacation, the first Absolut Martini straight up with a twist and the first Chester’s Cake.
We will get through them together and we’ll know he’ll be right there with us… with that characteristic smirk of his and that little devil laugh. And he’ll be wanting to hear our laughter….even if its at his expense.
We Catholics all have this great visual about death. The famous image of St. Peter waiting at the gates of Heaven for us. The décor for each of us is different of course. On Wednesday afternoon, the pearly gates for Bill were landscaped with palm trees and the angels flying about were wearing sunglasses just like his, with the little band to hang around their necks.
St. Peter put his arm around Bill’s shoulder to welcome him; probably told him everyone had been waiting for him. He commended him on fighting the good fight, being brave and dignified through all he’d just faced. And as he ushered him in, he gestured to a familiar sound just up ahead…the sound of blender and ice crushing…After all, It’s always Happy Hour somewhere.