It was just over a year ago - Pearl Harbor Day, 2011 - that I blogged about my high school history teacher, Pete Finelli, (click HERE to read that piece) and the effect he had on me.
I don't really have much to add to what I wrote back then, but Pete passed away earlier this week, and I couldn't let that go by without trying to add a few words.
He lived to age 84, was married to the lovely Lucille for 61 years, and really lived a remarkable life. A gifted athlete, he was signed by the New York Yankees and pitched in their minor league system for a time. He served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, and the same year I was born - 1956 - he became a history teacher in my hometown of Princeton.
Later in life, he and Lucille took teaching jobs in Hawaii, and he served as a volunteer tour guide at Pearl Harbor, a site he loved and knew more about than almost anyone. I can only imagine what a treat it must have been for a tourist to get him as a guide.
They retired to Rochester, where he passed away Monday. He had been ravaged by Alzheimer's in recent years, and it was just a month or so ago that I asked his daughter, Pam, about coming down to visit him. She gracefully encouraged me NOT to do so, because the disease had taken such a toll on him, and she said I'd be better off remembering him in earlier times. I heeded her advice, but still feel badly about not getting a chance for a final good-bye.
Pam posted the news of his passing on Facebook, and it's a tribute to Pete's popularity that more than 80 people have left comments. What struck me reading the comments was this: While I feel fortunate and special to have had him as a friend, there are countless fellow Princeton grads who feel the same way. He taught history with a genuine passion, and thousands of us passed through his classroom and were touched by that passion.
Pete's family donated his body to Mayo's Alzheimer's research center, so even in death, he will continue to teach.
Farewell, my friend, and rest knowing that you leave behind many, many people who feel that their lives were made better by knowing you.