So Long Joe…

Yes, a very special man quietly passed away last weekend–Joe LeMay, Sr. of Ansonia (CT); he died of lung cancer at the age of 78. The name may not be familiar to the average sports fan/loyal reader out there, but he was a man whose positive presence/deeds surely influenced me during my earlier years. He was a neighbor, friend, loyal husband, and a devoted father of five–not to mention a very hard-working, blue-collar individual. Oh, yeah–he was an avid sportsman, too–just one of the many reasons why I liked the guy so much. If I had to describe Mr. LeMay to a stranger, I’d definitely say that he was the “salt-of-the-earth”-type–for sure.

After moving to his neighborhood with my family when I was approximately 11-years-old, Joe went out of his way to make us all feel welcomed; I soon became very close friends with his children and spent a good part of my teenage years being in and around the LeMay household. Joe was an avid sports fan who was a big supporter of the NY Yankees. There were countless times on hot summer evenings when I’d go next door to hang out with his sons in the cool basement of their three-floor dwelling; I could always count on hearing the WPIX telecast–along with the resounding voice of Phil Rizzuto–on the living room television directly above us. And I remember him often butting heads in a playful manner with Al–his youngest son who was an avid fan of the AL East rival Tigers; it was all in fun and Mr. LeMay usually ended their short but fiery debates by kindly complimenting a Detroit player. Joe LeMay was like that–a selfless, pleasant man. I don’t recall the man ever becoming angry; I’m sure he did at times, but he never demonstrated any sense of ire while the young, admiring kid from next-door was visiting. Thanks for that, Mr. L.

I also remember Joe being SO supportive of us neighborhood kids’ sporting endeavors. We’d use his backyard to play wiffle ball nightly during the summer; he’d always make sure the grass was cut or the swimming pool was skimmed well-before we’d be ready to “take the field.” In fact, he KNEW we’d be planning a game each night after dinner and arranged his yard work around OUR schedule in order for us to play until darkness set in. Yes, he was a conscientious man–like few others I’ve met. Once his manicuring deeds had been completed, Mr. LeMay often became a spectator–sometimes yelling, “Good hit!” as he’d watch the action from the patio area while smoking his pipe and perhaps enjoying a cold beverage. Yeah, “LeMay Stadium” we called it–complete with an outfield fence with rocks as bases. It may have been just a backyard to some, but it was surely a ‘home field’ to many of us–all due to the efforts of “Head Groundskeeper Joe.”

Looking back, Mr. LeMay followed all of the major sports–but he just LOVED to go fishing. In fact, I remember Joe taking me on one of my very first fishing “expeditions” as a young teen–angling off the banks of the Housatonic River one evening during the 70’s shortly after fishing season had commenced. I remember being in awe about how much the man knew about rods, reels, hooks, lures, etc. Yes, a fishing pole in Joe LeMay’s hands was almost like Rod Carew swinging a baseball bat–it was natural. I recall Mr. LeMay snagging a perch on his line that evening and allowing me to reel it in–remarking, “You got one!!” And he was so devoted to his craft, too; he’d sometimes fish in the early AM–long before any family members had even risen for the day. I surmise that fishing was Mr. LeMay’s main source of “down-time” and his way of relaxing; honestly, I truly don’t remember the man being all-that-comfortable just sitting around the house back in those days. He’d often be tinkering and doing various home improvement chores; he was a great “handyman”–always busy–but he’d always be sure to take time out to say “hello” to me and ask how my folks were doing if he hadn’t seen them in awhile. Again, selfless AND likeable–THAT was Joe LeMay.

Some more fond memories of Mr. Joe LeMay:
*him telling us to “Be Careful!” as we’d play touch football in the road in front of his house
*calling his sons from afar when it was dinnertime as we played tackle football in the snow a few houses away
*grilling “steamers” or a recent “catch” during a backyard barbeque
*perhaps sharing some of that same “catch” with the family cat, Chester
*tossing the keys to his ’66 Barracuda to his son, Joe Jr.–kindly allowing a carload of us kids to grab a burger at Hardee’s following a long day of sports activities during the summer

I last saw Mr. LeMay at a memorial service for my Mom–following her death three years ago. He had aged somewhat since our last meeting and exhibited a noticeably-slower gait as he paid his respects to his former neighbor. I simply smiled as we shook hands and hugged–bathing myself in some of the aforementioned memories in order to provide some needed comfort; yeah, it worked, too.

My sincere condolences to his wife, Kathy, and the entire LeMay family regarding the passing of a wonderful man. He was simply your “regular Joe”–and just happened to possess the name to go with it. I’ll miss your kindness, Mr. LeMay; thanks for being such a positive presence during those formative years. May you rest in peace.

About the Author

Bob Lazzari

Bob Lazzari is an award-winning sports columnist for both Connecticut's Valley Times and NY Sports Day--where his "Sports Roundup" column is featured weekly. He is a member of the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance and host of "Monday Night Sports Talk" --a cable television show on CTV/Channel14 in Connecticut. A Fordham grad, Bob is a regular contributor to ESPN Radio's "Inside Yankee Baseball"; he can also be heard weekly every Tuesday morning on WXLM/104.7 FM in New London, CT. He has a popular blog where many of his past columns have been archived.

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