We are all the better for seeing ... and knowing ... Steve Percy
A functional definition of a good life lived comes subjectively to many of us, given our varying interests, backgrounds and value systems. Maybe that's the true power of spirituality and its penchant to help us pursue a more objective meaning.
By any definition, though, we know this much about Steve Percy, one of the great humanitarians in this corner of the world's history: He lived the good life, using, as the old line goes, every single color in his box of crayons every single day.
Steve Percy, 20-year Marine, board member at Lawrence + Memorial and Mitchell College, dad, grandfather, great grandfather, friend and Rotarian, died recently at 87. A full house at St. James Church in New London celebrated his life Saturday morning, an inspirational, musical and insightful 90-minute tribute to the good life lived.
Steve Percy lived a life of amusing juxtapositions: the tough guy Marine who would also cry at sentimental movies. The straight-shooter who told you the truth, not necessarily what you wanted to hear, but with the gentility to be fondly remembered for the way he'd make people feel.
Steve's go-to line when asked how he was doing: "all the better for seeing you, my dear.'"
His son, Steve, gave the gathering a chuckle during the eulogy when he saluted his father's honesty, yet with expletives that always came in timely intervals.
"I remember some of the first words I ever said were "(gosh darn) red light!'" Steve Jr. said.
Yet Steve Percy's life is best told through how he helped others live theirs. Through others, for others and with others, fortifying the timeless idea that the community's problems are too big for us to live such small lives.
Ranjit Mathews, the effortlessly cool rector at St. James, said as much during his homily, dexterously tying the day's hymns and readings to Steve's life.
Mathews alluded to once reading "Bowling Alone," Robert Putnam's book on the disintegration of community institutions. Putnam used bowling leagues as an example of how we once bowled together in leagues after work, but not so much anymore, living in more isolation.
"People are knee deep in social media but deeply alone in other respects," Mathews said. "Steve lived a life that stood up against those societal tendencies. He embodied the heart of those treasured institutions like family, service to one's country and Rotary. Through the character muscles imprinted in who he was, he became a witness to God with service beyond himself and his own ego."
Steve and his wife Marilyn were patrons of the arts and devoted to education and community reform. Steve's name rarely was mentioned through the prism of sports. And yet a number of old coaches reached out in recent days to tell stories of his quiet generosity.
There were many times when kids in New London needed equipment or money to play on a team in a league or in a tournament. And there was Steve Percy delivering the goods, all with one basic understanding: shhhhhhhhh. Nobody needs to know where the money came from. The point is that the kids get what they need.
Saturday's service — through Mathews' eloquence, St. James' beauty, Byles-MacDougall Funeral Service's professionalism and the angelic voice of Phred Mileski — nary a dry eye when she sang a solo of "Hallelujah" — was the overt gesture to honor one of the greats who ever walked among us. But Steve Percy's immortality lives on through the words that concluded Mathews' homily:
"As we leave this sacred space, let's pray that those character muscles in Steve's life embody ours, too," Mathews said.
Character muscles, as Mathews calls them, can be flexed in everyday "Holy Moments," as written by author Matthew Kelly. "Holy Moments," Kelly wrote, "come in all shapes and sizes and are often small and anonymous."
Holy Moments: begin each day with a short prayer of gratitude. Go out of your way to do something for someone else. Offer the least enjoyable task of your day as a prayer to someone else who is suffering. Control your temper even though you'd be justified in losing it. Encourage someone. Praise someone. Be patient with that person who drives you crazy. Give whomever is in front of you your full attention. Volunteer your time. Forgive.
That was Steve Percy's life: a compilation of Holy Moments.
We are entrusted now to be inspired and do the same.
And rest in peace to a man who showed us all a light for the way.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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There are segments of New London that just aren't in the game. It needs to change. Bonnie Raitt sings, "I can't make you love me if you don't." I can't make people care about this if they don't. But they need to start.
It is either ironic — or entirely fitting — that the Connecticut Sun can look to the man from the old days, the man who built this, as a beacon for the days ahead.