Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Remembering a great and noble man: Angelo Tagarelli

I first heard of Angelo when I was a teenager, and I knew that he was a relative who was someone special.

My mother was talking to someone one day, and I heard her say that Angelo’s father had died, or maybe that he was very, very ill, and that Angelo had gone to Republic Airport in Farmingdale, N.Y., and rented a plane to go flying and clear his head.

As an airplane-fanatic teenager who was dying to get close to aviation, the news that I had a relative – actually a second cousin — who was a pilot was absolutely amazing. No one in my family shared my fascination with flight. Here was someone who was into aviation and even got to drive an airplane. I hadn’t even been up in an airplane then.

I didn’t meet Angelo until years later, in the late 1980s, after I had served in the military (in aviation), had gotten my own pilot’s license, was renting and flying planes at Lantana Airport in Lantana, Fla., and working for the Postal Service in West Palm Beach. My mother told me that Angelo and his beloved wife, Veronica, had moved to Florida and were right near me. She gave me their number and I called them, talking as always to Veronica first, and then Angelo.

Angelo and I agreed to meet at Lantana Airport for a flight and a few days later I arrived at the airport, rented a plane and waited. I didn’t know it was Angelo until a man walked up to me and said, “When I saw you, I knew you were Vinny. You look just like your father.”

That began a great friendship that I valued for so many years not only with Angelo but Veronica, and through them, Dorothy, Christelle and the other person I’m mourning and honoring, Dorothy’s husband, Jack Martin.

When you’re flying in a small airplane, you get to know someone really well. Fortunately, Angelo and I shared the characteristic of being of small stature, which is good news in a Cessna because shoehorning two men into such an aircraft sometimes requires, well, a shoehorn. I recently acquired Angelo’s logbook, and remembered the flights we took in those little Cessnas, and how much fun we had.

Angelo was a great pilot who could have been a wonderful flight instructor. I will always remember him that way, with his backup radio and his headset, and his sure hand on the controls.

But he was more than a great pilot; he was a great man. People sometimes thought he was my father – others though he was my uncle — and that I was being disrespectful for calling my “father” or “uncle” by his first name. On the contrary, I loved and respected Angelo beyond measure, and his advice was of so much value to me. When I went to college, it was a joy beyond measure that he, Veronica, Jack and Dorothy attended the graduation ceremonies and saw me achieve my goals. I felt his and their pride.

It’s a joy to me that when I changed careers and became a newspaper person, Angelo was there to see it happen. The course of my career took me away from the West Palm Beach area, but I made sure to come back to visit. I’ll miss Angelo and I’ll miss those phone calls and talks, both at his home at 1208 Sea Pines Lane and elsewhere.

Angelo the man was the most awesome of people. He served his country in the U.S. Air Force, and told me about the time he talked to a four-star general on his ham radio outfit. He’d burp at the dinner table, and remind us that in some cultures burping was a compliment to the chef after a meal. I have to admit that that’s something I would never have the courage to do myself. He could pull it off. He was the man.

If you had car trouble, Angelo would help. Need an oil change? Just bring the oil and a filter to Angelo’s garage, he’d set up the ramps and crawl under there with you and show you a skill you should have. Who needed Jiffy Lube when Angelo was in his prime? Thanks to Angelo, I saw the underside of my 1987 Firebird and 1993 Saturn, and learned the wonders of changing the oil myself.

Angelo loved his old cars, and prided himself that he never bought a new one. He’d tell me of a Chrysler 300 he once owned, and the two Buicks (He called one Esmerelda, and the name of the other I have forgotten) in the garage, his and “the Queen’s.” I could see when he was with Veronica that she was his love, and his life, and it seemed like much of the light went out from his eyes after she was gone.

Well, they are reunited now.

I was always welcome at the workshop he had in the garage. He’d show me his latest invention when I visited, and I remember those hours spent at his workbench watching him turn some scrap wood into something useful.

But Angelo would admit when something was beyond even his grasp. He liked to watch golf on TV, and I asked him if he’d ever actually tried the game. I don’t remember his exact response, save that it was several hours of futilely whacking the ball and sending the ducks in the pond running for cover.

Goodbye, Angelo, and if you’re up there where there’s no controlled airspace and no wake turbulence, and you don’t have to wait for a plane to be available and for the weather to improve, and you don’t have to hold short for the twin on final, and you never bounce the plane on landing or miss the first turnoff on the runway, know that you were always the person I admired the most, and I will miss you every day from now on.

And every time I see a small plane climbing out or coming in to land, I’ll think of you and the fun times we had, both in the air and on the ground.

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March 16, 2011 - Posted by | Life lessons | , , , ,

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