A Tribute to Tom Celic
By David Panza
Can you imagine being so loved in life that a procession of people lines up outside a church already filled to capacity just to honor your life? That is exactly what transpired yesterday at Our Lady Queen of Peace in New Dorp for Tom Celic.
Although I have known Tom and Roseann for over 20 years, I did not know his family at all, nor did I attend many social occasions with him. Thus, it was refreshing and poignant to hear the eloquent stories of Rich Agnello and Tom's brothers at the podium. I did get a glimpse occasionally of Tom's sharp sense of humor in life when he'd throw a few barbs my way, but the stories yesterday, as well as Tim McCauley's moving tribute to Tom at the candlelight vigil, really captured the essence of Tom, I'm sure. The divot story at the golf course is a classic!
Our lives did cross in several ways, and I want to share with all of you what impact he has had on me, and will continue to have. I met Tom and Roseann in 1979 at a few parties, as both he and I attended Pace University. After a few years' absence, our lives again crossed paths at Johnson & Higgins. I had the privilege of running with Tom on the corporate team. And I do not use the word privilege frivolously here, it was a true privilege!!! We had one of the best corporate teams in NYC in the mid-80's, with all 5 of our runners below 21:00 for 3.5 miles in tough Central Park. (We finished 5th out of 700 companies in one race). There were 3 runners including myself competing for second place on our team each Corporate Challenge race, but none of us ever had as much as a sniff at Tom's first place (he ran low 18's, once 18:00). He trained us hard for these races too, training like I had never experienced before.
Which brings me to my first major point. TOM NEVER HAD A BAD RACE, NO MATTER THE DISTANCE, COURSE OR WEATHER CONDITIONS. I have always said this over the years, as several of my colleagues can testify to. Good runners and great runners come and go, some hang around, some are flash in the pans. Most of these good-to-great runners have bad races, even bad enough to lose to me. But I do not recall Tom having a bad race where he was more than a few seconds off. I never came close to beating him, and never anticipated being close to him.
What I admire most about an athlete, professional or otherwise, is consistency, dependability and a quiet efficiency and confidence. Tom exhibited all these qualities to the nth degree. He is and always has been the model that I attempt to follow, and that's the biggest tribute I can give a fellow athlete. Greatness is wonderful, but to be consistently excellent requires dedication, intelligent training, and strong mental focus to not mail it in on a tough day. Tom's consistent excellence was no accident, I can assure you. I rarely trained with him, but I can be sure his attention to detail and dedication had to have been thorough, and when he was injured, he waited exactly for the right moment to return, not a moment too soon.
As Alma Ramos and others pointed out, he always had a good word for you, and asked how your running was going, whether you were a top runner or not. He was not full of his own greatness, certainly.
A few words about Roseann, if I may. The news about Tom hit me hard, as did the news about Steve Lauria and another old friend of mine from many years ago, Firefighter John Giordano. I thought of Roseann immediately, and was heartbroken. She is such a sweet and kind person, with that rare quality of inner as well as physical beauty. I would see Tom and Roseann on the ferry sometimes and sit with them. They were a natural, loving couple, and it was impossible to think of one without the other. I know she has a large and supportive extended family that will be there for her, and that comforts me.
How do I best serve the memories of Tom and Steve, I ask myself? For each, there is only one answer, which I will surely honor. Steve dedicated himself to the success of the Fun Run. With all due respect to myself and my esteemed colleagues Mark Vogt and Fred Rigolini, Steve was the heart and soul of the Fun Run over the last year of his life. None of us can attempt to emulate him, but I owe it to him to make sure the legacy continues, throughout the year in all weather conditions, no matter how I feel that Saturday morning. I know Mark and Fred feel the same way.
To honor Tom and assist Roseann, I have already offered my assistance publicly for future Celic races, and will do anything asked of me by the Committee, no matter how large or small. As with the Fun Run, the Celic race must and will live on!!
Tom and Steve, I will never forget you, and will likely need to call upon your help at some point in my Philadelphia Marathon effort this November. My desire to break 3:20 and qualify for my second Boston Marathon in April 2002 has taken on new meaning and emotion in light of September 11. Rest peacefully with God.