A life well lived

Do you believe in destiny? Because you tell me you like my stories, I’m going to tell you about my brother, Tony. His destiny was water. Both my brothers were excellent divers. They used to dive off the lighthouse and swim for miles, but Tony had close calls with water.

During WWII, Tony was a navigator. He was teaching the radio man how to navigate when their plane was hit. The radio man was in Tony’s chair and was killed instantly. Six of the crew were killed instantly and the plane went down. Four of them managed to get on a raft. Tony was hit in the knee and another crew member was so badly hit that he died on the raft and they buried him at sea. Then the three who were left drifted for four days until they were picked up by a British freighter.

Fortunately for Tony, there was a good doctor aboard and he saved Tony’s leg. The freighter completed its assignment and then returned to England. Those were tough days for Tony. He did a lot of thinking after the ordeal. I remember he wrote to us and said the only thing keeping him going was pride. Knowing Tony as I do, I think he meant self worth. We have been given so much that we have the responsibility of using our talents wisely. Tony was never boastful. I’ve never heard criticism about him. Well, that was his first escape from the water.

After Tony came home, he finished his college training at Columbia University and became a teacher. He married Ollie, (my college classmate from Long Island) and they lived in North Port, Long Island. One summer they decided to take a vacation with their children in Connecticut. One night they stayed in a cabin alongside a little creek. I visualize Canadaway Creek. In the early morning they heard a roar. It had rained all night and the creek was flooded and moving rapidly. They dressed up quickly. Tony told Ollie to carry their son and he would carry Nancy. Then he instructed her to hold his hand and not look down. He managed to find rocks that made a path. Ollie told me she was never so fearful in all her life. That was episode two,

The third episode was at the North Port Beach. The tide was coming in and a young boy was stranded on a sand bar. Of all the people on the beach no one made a move, so Tony went after him. Ollie said everybody on the beach was praying. Some were wringing their hands. For a while, it looked like they weren’t going to make it. When they finally reached shore, everybody clapped.

In his early 50s, Tony took up scuba diving. He loved it. Whenever he talked to us about it, his eyes would sparkle. He used to say, “It’s another world down there! You have to see it to believe it!”

At Christmas time, the kids were all home and one night they were talking about how and where they were going to be buried. Tony said, “I’m going to be buried in Fredonia next to my father.” They had read the story about the Indian beliefs called, “The Owl Called My Name.” They believed that when death was near, the owl called their name and they prepared.

Shortly after that in January, Tony said to Ollie that he dreamed the owl called his name. In a few days, he went scuba diving with a young friend. At the end of the diving, the young man looked back to check on Tony and he was lying still. Nothing could save him. He was gone. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral in North Port and many, many attended his funeral in Fredonia. It was so sad to see a fine young man taken away so soon, but he lived a good life and he loved life.

Tony was a principal in East Islip when he died. Each morning he was always at the door to greet the students and he knew each one by name.

A young third-grader drew a picture of Mr. Leone in heaven and wrote, “I’m sorry Mr. Leone died. I wish it had been someone else in his family.”

Among the many regrets I had about Tony’s death was that he didn’t have time to fulfill his great dream. He had always felt bad about the mistreatment of the Indians and had prepared his life after retirement to live among the Indians. Every summer his family took trips out west to find the reservation where he would be needed. He found it. He could teach history and science and Ollie, a professional artist, could teach English and the arts.

Well, he was due to retire in June 1975 and he passed away in January. He had so much to offer. But we can’t look into the future. However, God can, and I trust He did what was best for all.

I hope I did justice to my brother Tony’s story. He gave us all so much joy!