It’s one of the moments in life when you get a phone call and the world seems to stop for just a moment, or maybe, longer. A week ago Sunday, I was holding the phone reading the caller ID, “Albert Ott,” registering Gert’s parents. Oh yes, she was going there to take a cake to her Dad to celebrate his 89th birthday that coming Tuesday. Oh no! Why would she be calling me from there? That couldn’t be good. Her Mom! Oh no! Something happened to her Mom! Gert was on the other end of the line, and I knew right away from her tone that something was really wrong. She told me through her tears, “Pam, my Dad died this morning.” And the world truly did stop for a moment. I could feel my heart beating and Gert was telling me what happened. We weren’t on the phone long — I remember her telling me that her Mom had found him in the morning asleep on the couch. I just couldn’t believe it and my heart was filled with sadness.
Al was just one of the good guys. A United States Marine — Semper Fi or Always Faithful. He used to say, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” He served in WWII as a still life photographer. I can only imagine the kinds of photographs one would take during a war. I asked Gert if he took amazing pictures of her younger years and she said “nope, he always bought one of those disposable cameras when he wanted to take pictures.” Maybe after you take photographs during a war, you don’t have the same passion for taking pictures when you return home. I don’t know — I never asked him about it.
I obviously met Al through Gert. And I met Gert at St. Gregory when Tom and I signed up to serve on the Super Bingo committee where she served as the chair. It’s been more than 10 years. Al and his wife, Lois came to almost every Super Bingo. Even though he loved any kind of game of chance, cards, casinos, and even game shows — he didn’t love Bingo. He came because Lois did love it — and it gave him an excuse to see his daughter and her family every month — and harass all of us. And we got to know Al and Lois during that time.
The first summer Gert invited us to their camp in Conneaut for the day, it rained. It not only rained, it poured. We were on the lake about an hour before the storms started and we ended up in the cabin. That was the same weekend we met Gert’s brother, Glenn who came riding to their cabin on a golf cart. Tom and Al started drinking Manhattans. Well, Tom had never drank a Manhattan before and Al introduced him. Needless to say that I had to drive home that day. From then on — it became a thing between Tom and Al. And from what I learned this past week — Al seemed to have a Manhattan thing with a lot of friends. That’s just it — he had a way with people that they could call him friend.
Today was his funeral mass at his hometown parish in the Allentown neighborhood in the city of Pittsburgh. Their church — St. John Vianney — was an amazing sight to see. When you think of an old, Catholic church, you imagine something this immaculate with a long aisle and endless pews. There were many friends who traveled from St. Gregory to pay their last respects to Al. We were there not only because he was Gert’s Dad, but because he was special to us too. Sitting in the front of church didn’t prepare us for the number of people that attended the mass. The number of Catholic people that came to communion seemed never ending. It warmed my heart to see the church completely filled — and it spoke volumes of the man who was Albert Ott.
The US Marine Color Guard gave a military tribute to Al at the back of the church, expressing their gratitude for his service. It was beautiful and amazing. A simple trumpet played the familiar Taps tune and three single rifle shots echoed among the building walls outside the church. They folded a flag and presented it to Lois.
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made,” as Al would often quote poet Robert Browning. Rest in peace, dear Albert. We will miss you.
Always B E L I E V E !