I don’t know if it’s because 2020 has been such an awful year in so many ways but it seems like every week there have been deaths that impacted me either directly or indirectly more so than in the past.  I know it’s not just me because others have said the same.

I honestly believe it all started with Kobe Bryant’s death in January. It just feels like that set off what has been a wave that keeps crashing down.  Sure there were what we call “celebrity deaths” like those of Alex Trebek, Sean Connery, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chadwick Boseman and Eddie Van Halen as well as sports stars who were important parts of my youth like Tom Seaver and Gale Sayers.

However as always it’s ones that have meaning close to home that have special significance and two of them took place this week.  One I did not know well but the outpouring of love for Michael Reilly on social media is like nothing I have ever seen.  He was the owner of SERVPRO of Toms River and clearly was someone who did not know how to say “no” when asked for just about anything.

More impressive is he usually did not wait to be asked. He just jumped in to help.  A 1991 graduate of Toms River High School South, a Seaside Heights lifeguard and proud US Marine, Mike leaves his wife Rebecca, two young children and a community that is heartbroken.  For those who think COVID is no big deal…it took his life at the age of 47.

For me and my family we are personally devastated by the passing of Ron Gundry after a courageous battle with cancer.  Some will remember him from his time as a Vice Principal and Athletic Director at Manchester Township High School but I knew him well before that and our friendship goes back 40+ years.

He and his wife Patty moved to Virginia several years ago and we didn’t see each other all that much but they came to my son’s wedding in March of 2018 and one week later we drove to Virginia where I served as the officiant for their daughter Devon’s wedding.

We shared some great memories with the Gundry’s and I brought a smile to Ron’s face when I spoke with him earlier this week and reminded him of a trip to see his son Craig at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.  Afterwards we went to Peter Luger Steak House. It was a couple of hundred bucks and we’re still waiting for the rest of our meal.

I’m glad I got to say good bye but am sad I’ll never get to talk football with a man who will forever be known as “coach” to thousands of athletes over 60 years.

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