As I climbed the steps of St. John the Evangelist Church to attend Jay Delaney’s funeral Monday morning, I kept picturing him in a camel-hair sport coat. No one wore a camel-hair sport coat quite like Jay Delaney.
I could see him in a crisp navy-blue blazer, too. I could see him specifically at a Pittston Memorial Library dinner, his navy blazer worn over a blue and white checkered shirt with a solid red tie. He could not have looked more perfect, and I wished that just once in my life I could look that good.
I smiled when I saw a similar red tie Monday on Jay’s son-in-law Charlie Adonizio. “This is for Jay,” Charlie said when I approached him, but I already surmised that. Charlie wasn’t just referring to his wearing a red tie, but to his wearing any tie at all. Charlie’s trademark look is an opened-collar dress shirt under his suit jacket. But not this day.
Jay Delaney, though, sometimes went without a tie. I can see him standing next to me at a Salvation Army red kettle wearing a brown suede jacket, over a cream turtleneck, with tan corduroy slacks and one of those hats that snap in front. There’s a lot of names for such hats: flat cap, newsboy, Gatsby and even Hooligan, although that conjures up an image hardly appropriate to Jay Delaney. I’ve tried on those caps from time to time and always conclude I look ridiculous in them. But not Jay. On Jay, they looked perfect.
On Jay, everything looked perfect.
It’s been said clothes make the man, but in Jay’s case, it was just the opposite. The man made the clothes. Jay’s impeccable style reflected his impeccable character.
Two words come to mind when one remembers Jay Delaney: “dignified” and “gentleman.” Indeed, they were on everyone’s lips at St. John’s, typically combined. “Dignified gentleman” tells you all you need to know about him.
Jay was many things to many people: successful businessman, elected official, public servant, generous philanthropist, tireless volunteer, man of God. My personal relationship with him revolved around the aforementioned Salvation Army kettles. Several years ago, Jay chose me to be his bell-ringing partner. We spent many a cold December morning wishing a Merry Christmas to shoppers at either Redner’s market or Kmart in Pittston. But the cold could never stand up to Jay’s warmth. Our typical three-hour shift always flew by, helped along by a visit from Jay’s daughter, Karen Adonizio, bearer of hot chocolate.
When Jay’s health brought his bell-ringing days to an end, his granddaughter, Kristie Adonizio, stepped in and joined me for two years. And when Kristie’s job kept her in Vermont this Christmas, she insisted her dad, Charlie Adonizio, fill in, which he did. We spent a chilly Christmas Eve outside of Walmart.
If Jay Delaney had a female counterpart in Greater Pittston, a “dignified gentlewoman,” it was Helen Brigido, who passed away just four days before him, on New Year’s Eve. At 98, she was 12 years older than Jay, but both represented a generation that valued civility and honesty, conducted themselves in a mannerly fashion at all times, never failed to put others first and helped to make Greater Pittston a wonderful place to live.
Similarly, my memories of Mrs. Brigido turn to Pittston Memorial Library dinners. Her daughter, Barbara Quinn, served several terms as the library’s board president and guided the library through the completion of a massive expansion project which resulted in the John P. Cosgrove Center and the Weinberg Children’s Wing. Without saying a word, Mrs. Brigido would own the room with her bright smile and dignified demeanor. She was a lady in every sense of the word.
Just as I see the impress of Jay Delaney on his granddaughter, Kristie Adonizio, as well as her brother, Chad, with whom I spent some time last summer, so too is the kindly nature of Helen Brigido apparent in her grandsons Mitchell, Michael and Brian Quinn. The newspaper facility I worked at for the first 23 years of my career was located literally in the Quinns’ backyard, and as little tykes, all three boys were regular visitors, dashing in for a cool drink out of the water cooler, or in Brian’s case, to ask me a couple of hundred questions.
I’ve written before that when you stay put, when you elect as I, and many of us around here have, to live your life in one place, you inevitably arrive at the point when you hate to turn to the obituary page, when you feel the sting of every death, the loss of every passing.
With the passing of such well known, well respected local legends as Jay Delaney and Helen Brigido, one is tempted to say life here has been diminished. While this is true to a certain extent, we can also say life here is enhanced purely because they have passed this way. And with their example as a beacon, a light to guide us, a standard to inspire us, we cannot help but smile and to be grateful. They made us better people. And will continue to do so.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.