When the call came I was not surprised, but I was saddened – not only by the news conveyed by the caller, but by the fact that I was in transit and on my way to the scene of the event described in the call. On Monday, October 29, a nurse from Crossroads Hospice informed me that Thomas J. Healey ’52 had peacefully passed away at 3:37 p.m. in his room at Southern Hills Nursing Home.
Over the past month my dad’s health had steadily declined and his sudden and dramatic weight loss indicated to us all that his time here on earth was coming to a speedy conclusion. His mind was still sharp – he kept tabs on how the Wildcats and Fighting Irish were doing and was pretty grumpy when his beloved Indians were sent packing in the playoffs – but his body was a mere shell of its former self. The time had come, as Hamlet said, to shuffle off this mortal coil.
As I began to clean out his room and pack up his few remaining effects I stopped and paused as I gathered together the only four books (the only four books that weren’t prayer books) in his room. The 1949, 1950, 1951, and 1952 editions of the Ignatian, the yearbook of our famed Alma Mater, had pride of place in the heart of my dad. These artifacts tell the tale of a man for whom admission to and graduation from Saint Ignatius High School were sources of deep and abiding pride.
For my father, interest in attending Ignatius came as if by chance. Neither of my grandparents came from Cleveland and so Ignatius wasn’t on their radar – especially because of its exorbitant tuition of $110. A young man in the neighborhood, Emil Straub ‘48, convinced my dad to spend a day visiting Wildcat High and that was enough for him to fall in love with the school that would be such a prominent part of his life for seventy years. Even knowing that he would have to work long and hard to earn the tuition money – thus keeping him from any after-school activities – he willingly took on the challenge.
Many of my earliest memories of me and my dad are attached to this school. My dad taught me early on how to introduce myself to his fellow alumni: “Hi Mr. Fill-in-the-blank, I’m Tom Healey, Class of ’77.” I remember saying this for the first time when we ran into the late Don Mack ’52 sometime in the mid-1960s. Don Mack was senior class president and a hall of fame athlete – he bled blue and gold, yet I think he was taken a bit aback by the diminutive fifth grader shaking his hand and by the dad who had so indoctrinated him.
My father was one of those guys who had a series of pet phrases to be spoken on any and all occasions, and despite their constant use none of them ring in my ears like the one that in two simple words expressed the pride that he had in being an Ignatian: “Fifty-two rules!” Marty Chambers ’52 is named head basketball coach: “Fifty-two rules!” Leo Spellacy ’52 becomes a judge: “Fifty-two rules!” Mike Cleary ’52 is honored as a Distinguished Alumnus: “Fifty-two rules!” Dave Demko ‘52 is inducted into the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame: “Fifty-two rules!” Bill Ginley ’52 is universally acclaimed as the most true blue and gold Wildcat supporter ever: “Fifty-two rules!”
So it was only fitting – maybe even fated – that I would marry the daughter of a member of the Class of 1952. If my dad had lived one more day he would have died on the second anniversary of the death of my wife Ann’s dad, Pete Geiger ’52. But my dad did not hold on one more day and by departing on the 29th of October he played his part in the amazing and mysterious work of the divine plan.
On 10-29-1904 a baby named John Healey was born in Boston and on 10-29-1958 a baby named John Healey was born in Cleveland. The former was my grandfather and the latter was my brother. My brother John did not attend Saint Ignatius, but only because of the extreme brevity of his time here on earth. John Healey, who would have been in the Class of 1976, died on 10-29-1958 only hours after his birth and sixty years to the day before the death of his father, our dad.
As I stood at my brother’s grave Monday afternoon after cleaning out my dad’s room and saying my last goodbyes I could not help but think of the reunion of the three Healey men to whom this day, October 29th, had such life-and-death significance. But despite my sadness I had to smile, for in the back seat of my car were four yearbooks, one with a senior photo and – more relevant to my smile – a senior quote: “Tom’s buoyant spirits kept him out of deep water.”
When I was young I asked him what that meant and he deflected in a way that met my early grade school curiosity. As time went on I forgot about the quote, but it of course popped into my head now - when I no longer have the ability to ask for the answer. So before I left the grave I made sure to let my brother know that this question would be a great one with which to begin their conversation, and I’m sure that the answer will finish with the phrase “Fifty-two rules!”
Thomas John Joseph Healey, Class of 1952, requiescat in pace.