Welcome… For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Mary Kaye, the oldest of Tom’s five children.
First, thank you so much for being here today. My mother, Joan; my four brothers, Tom, Matt, Jim and Pat; our collective children, my dad’s nine grandchildren; my father’s sister Ellen; his brothers Tim and Chris; his niece Jen; his nephews, Michael, Ryan and Kristian—all of us—appreciate you sharing in our celebration of my dad’s life—and holding us up as we grieve his death.
My dad passed away in his sleep last Thursday morning. My mom, my brothers and I were shocked, which seems impossible considering that my dad had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for years. For the last year and a half, he lived in a nursing home. He could barely talk. He couldn’t walk. He had two forms of dementia. But—even in the end—my dad seemed invincible. After he could no longer walk, he still tried to get up, over and over and over again. My mom and the nursing home staff spent their days pleading, “Tom, you CAN’T walk! Stop trying to get up out of your wheelchair!”
My dad had to literally fight to live, day after day. But, during the holidays, his five children and nine grandchildren traveled in from our different cities to be with him. We feel as if, surrounded by all of us, he knew how much he was loved and felt it was okay to finally let go.
On the day my dad died, I talked with my mother and brothers about my dad’s life, about his accomplishments, and about his loves. And, while it’s impossible to describe a life in a short eulogy, we distilled his life down into four categories:
Family. Faith. Focus. Lacrosse.
First, family: My mom and dad married in 1967, and, from their courtship to his death, they were together for 49 years. Together, they raised five children, and my mom talks about how proud my dad was after each of us was born, calling all our relatives and friends with the news—“And it’s another boy…”
My dad really came into his own as a grandfather, and we think that is the greatest loss, that our children won’t have the long-term benefit of knowing the indomitable man he was. Indomitable means “impossible to defeat or discourage,” and the word defined my dad to a T.
Second, about faith: My father was a devout Catholic. He never missed a Sunday mass. Even when we were on vacation, we had to track down a Catholic church—no excuses. He sent all five of us to Catholic grade schools and high schools, because the burden of five tuitions wasn’t a burden to him, but an investment in our futures—and the state of our souls, which he was always worried about. One of his primary hopes was that our family be together again in Heaven, and there is no doubt in our minds that he went straight there.
Third, about focus. My dad was laser-focused. He rose from an entry-level sales job to the top sales position at Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation. He succeeded because he never stopped trying to better himself, to increase his skills, to learn the latest in sales and motivational techniques. He attended seminars on his own time, and there were literally dozens of business-related books on his shelves at home. He was a living example of commitment: He worked for Milwaukee Electric Tool for 37 years; he tried to achieve his personal best; and he took his role as a boss very seriously, working to mentor his sales personnel so they’d achieve their best too.
Last, we have lacrosse, which was my dad’s passion. As a West Genesee high school and Syracuse University lacrosse player, my dad was a rock star.
After college, he played against the Onondoga Native Americans. He played box lacrosse. When we moved to Louisville, where there was no team on which to play, he founded the Louisville Lacrosse Club. I’ll never forget how proud I was of him when he played against the University of Kentucky team—a dad in his late 30s playing against 19-year-olds, who had to triple- team him and still couldn’t stop him from scoring over and over again.
When we moved to Cincinnati, he said he’d help Father Tedesco with the formation of a lacrosse program at Moeller High School. He was thinking he could line the fields—or something minor of that sort. He was shocked to learn that he’d been tapped to be head coach of the first lacrosse team in Cincinnati—without ever being asked. (Father Tedesco later said that he named my father as an act of faith.) And my dad lived and breathed lacrosse as head coach for 13 years.
He’d always wanted to be a physical education teacher, but, as father to five children, he couldn’t afford to pursue his passion. Being a salesman of industrial tools by day and lacrosse coach in his free time was perfection: He could feed and clothe his children and devote himself to the fastest sport on foot. He also was able to coach four of his children, my four brothers, combining his love of family with his love of lacrosse. (FYI: There was no girls’ lacrosse when I was growing up, or I would have been right there with them.)
My dad devoted himself to Moeller lacrosse. He mentored countless young men. Of course, he taught them stick skills. But he also taught them about focus and hard work and commitment. He taught them to never submit to feeling as if they were underdogs. He then led these underdogs to the state and Midwest championships. And then he did it again.
In recognition of his contributions as a coach, my dad was elected to both the Moeller Athletic Hall of Fame and the Ohio Lacrosse Hall of Fame. He also was named Coach of the Year by both the Ohio High School Lacrosse Association and the Midwest High School Lacrosse Association.
His players continued to play lacrosse in college, many with scholarships. (Three of my brothers played Division I college lacrosse—two with scholarships.) Some of his players—including three of my brothers— followed in his footsteps and became lacrosse coaches themselves. But, beyond lacrosse, his former players continue to live with his influence:
Upon learning of my dad’s death, his former players have written the following to us:
• Coach Kennedy was an amazing influence on us.
• I don’t have the words, other than “I love you, Coach, and thank you.”
• One of my favorite coaches of all time. Such a positive influence on so many guys’ lives. Great coach. Great man. You all have so much to be proud of.
• He was a great man and touched many lives. Your dad’s legacy will forever live on.
• Coach Kennedy was an incredible guiding force at an important time in my life. I don’t know the path I would have chosen—and know I wouldn’t have been inspired to become a coach myself, if not for him.
• I loved your father like he was my own. Words can’t describe my respect for what he did for me and my playing career. He was the most influential coach I’ve ever had—in all sports.
• I was devastated when I heard. He was one of two coaches whom I truly respected. He took a kid who had never seen a lacrosse stick and made me an All American and a better athlete. He meant a ton to me. He meant a ton to all of us who were part of the program. Truly a legend in my mind.
My dad had full life, a live fulfilled by family, faith, focus and lacrosse. He died too soon for all of us. But he continues to live on in his family and in his players.
We know that, last Thursday, my father was greeted with open arms by his parents and his brother Jim. We know that he is here with us—in spirit—today. And, last, we know that he is now our Guardian Angel, watching over us from Heaven, where he’s thrilled to once again be able to walk solidly, speak and think clearly—and, of course, love lacrosse.