From The Olio
ANTHONY RALPH COTIGNOLA
16 Anding Ave., Merrick, New York
Prepared at W. C. Mephan High School
Delta Upsilon, Social Chairman, Vice President
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From Our Reunion Book
That our fiftieth year reunion could be upon us without Tony Cotignola in our midst brings home the aphorism, so acutely observed by President Kennedy, that life is unfair. For Tony - and all who reveled in his unbridled love of life - that unfairness came unexpectedly in the fatal accident that took his life at age 27 as he piloted his Navy anti-submarine airplane while practicing take-offs and landings from the U.S.S. Randolph in the waters off Elizabeth City, N.C.
Tony was ascending, another plane was descending - both planes had been given clearance to go to the same altitude - when tragedy ensued. Tony once suggested in a prescient moment of musing about death that a "good way to go" would be to have something fall on you from above so that you never knew it was about to happen. True to form, Tony called it.
A military funeral service was held aboard the U.S.S. Randolph. Fellow DU, Joe Freeman, and I were in attendance - a moving ceremony and a most poignant moment in our lives. A memorial cross bearing Tony's name now stands in the Arlington National Cemetery.
Tony was survived by his wife, Jeanne, a daughter to be, Delores, and his parents, Joseph and Frances. His parents have since passed.
I had the good fortune of connecting recently with Jeanne and Delores. Jeanne and her husband, Tom, reside in Edenton, N.C., have been married for forty years and are the parents of a son, John Thomas. Tom is also the father of two daughters, Laura and Sharon, from his previous marriage. Jeanne, now retired, enjoyed a career as a personnel manager of a community mental health center and later of a state mental health hospital. Tom is retired as a deputy regional director of FEMA and is now engaged in an environmental service business. Jeanne was pleased to reflect upon her life with Tony -"he was very romantic…. he would sing to me while I cooked", the high regard in which Tony was held by his fellow pilots, and his effervescent personality - "he was not a timid man!"
Tony's daughter, Delores, born a few months after Tony's passing, resides in Summerville, N.C.. Delores and her husband, Danny, are the parents of two children, Kaitlin, 16, and Caleb, 14. Delores is the Director of Corporate Communications and Human Resources for International Textile Group, a global textile manufacturer headquartered in Greensboro, N.C. Delores is a graduate of North Georgia College and earned a M.B.A. from the University of Georgia. Modestly, not unlike her father, Delores did not mention what her mother Jeanne later told me that at both schools Delores was in an accelerated program completing her college degree in three years and her M.B.A. ahead of schedule as well. "She has her father's photographic memory", Jeanne related.
Delores was gratified to have the unfortunate void of her father's life sketched in with regard to his time at Amherst. An Amherst connection had not been previously made. Thankfully, the onset of the 50th reunion triggered the making of a connection long overdue.
Tony had a mind for all seasons: academic - a quintessentially quick study in all matters of the curriculum (with the notable exception of his comic misadventure with Russian I in the fall of his senior year - cries of Do svidaniya! Vy govorite po-russki! and other selected snippets of the language emanated from his cubicle and punctured the stillness of the DU study room, all to no avail to his great chagrin); analytical - the classic chess matches with the "Italian opening" and, with one particular house member, the opponent's prized bottle of champagne staked on the outcome; creative - the unforgettable episode of his devise of a "system" to beat Las Vegas at roulette: a junior member of the house with an aptitude for computer science was dispatched to UMass to test Tony's theorem by running the numbers in the computer lab a thousand times over - the results were heartening, if inconclusive; street-smart - though always quietly so, he combined his ease at academia with a working knowledge of the outside world - his understated "savvy" was to be admired and, for those of us without it, to be relied upon.
Recently I had occasion to reminisce with Tony's "Uncle Jimmy", now in his late eighties, who was a colorful avuncular presence in Tony's life. Jimmy's first words to me, with wonderment in his voice, were "He was absolutely brilliant". Those who knew him well can so attest.
His mind was cloaked with an exuberant personality. The images are bountiful: the house social chairman of legend (the Wop Hop, the Champagne Christmas Party et. ali.); the impromptu humorous monologues on most any given subject; the excursion he led to Chebeague Island off the Portland, Maine coast; the raucous all night card games when friends from L.I. came to visit; the chopping down of the tree in front of the Beta house - his personal punctuation mark to graduation weekend. And on.
No challenge was beyond his grasp. With challenge came its counterpart - risk - which he accepted. For Tony all was possible if only the Fates be kind. In the vein of the poem "To An Athlete Dying Young", Tony's life is measured by all that he attained in his young years. Had he lived only the sky was the limit.
Anchors aweigh, my friend.
---David T. Pagnini '62