My Friend, Paul Capozzoli
by Buz Whelan
I feel a deep sadness settling into my body as I come to grips with the fact that a very dear friend and all around wonderful person has passed away. But I’m not writing an obituary. I just want to tell you about my friend. And if you’re looking for objectivity, you won’t find it here. I loved Paul Capozzoli. As I write this, my eyes are filled with water. I miss the guy a lot. The thought that I’ll never again be able to joke around with him is hard to bear.
The most defining characteristic of Paul was his generosity. He was the most generous person I have ever known and in every way. He was generous with his time, with his effort and with his money. Any resource that Paul controlled was subject to being shared with anyone who needed it. Just ask for help and you got it. No hemming and hawing, no excuses, just “Yeah, whaddaya need?” I cannot tell the reader how many times I heard him utter what seemed to be his favorite phrase. “No problem.” That was Paul’s ‘yes.’
Among the quiet ways Paul helped others was his involvement with the local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America. He kept in contact with scout leaders, especially Bob and Lola Lauri. When some boys couldn’t afford this or that program or piece of equipment, Paul was there. He would give the Lauris $500 every year to use in the most effective way they could choose. Paul couldn’t abide the fact that this or that scout couldn’t afford to go to camp with his fellow scouts. But that $500 was far from the limit of his sponsorships. He would cough up what was needed as needs arose. And like any true giver, only those with a need to know were aware. Never ever did he trade on his generosity. If you tried to talk about it or compliment him as I sometimes did, he would brush your comments aside and quickly change the subject.
Often when a daytime event was being held in or around the Emerald Lakes Community Center a Red Cross blood bank bus would appear. This was not magic or even coincidence; this was Paul arranging to take advantage of the presence of many potential donors. I was always one. After all the time and effort Paul put into making sure that bus was there it was the least I could do. Happily, many others felt the same. And this was reflective of Paul’s involvement with the Bloomfield (New Jersey) Emergency Squad with whom he proudly served for 25 years, attaining the rank of First Lieutenant. He brought skills learned and practiced there to Emerald Lakes, conducting CPR courses and issuing certifications. He was also active with the CrimeWatch committee. Not least of all, Paul donated an Automatic External Defibrillator which can be used here in a fraction of the time it would take for local EMT to arrive. We are all a little bit safer because of Paul.
If you asked Paul to do something, to perform a task you needed done, he was there for that as well. During a recent year the then-current board secretary was up for re-election and so couldn’t serve as Judge of Elections. I asked Paul if he would fill in as he had performed that task in previous years. His first response was a no, that he was done with all the ‘board stuff.’ I just kept looking at him. He said, “What?” I kept looking and said nothing. He then said. “Okay, okay. I’ll do it,” shaking his head and laughing. That was sooo Paul.
Paul and I were elected to the Emerald Lakes Board of Directors the same year, 2007. I didn’t know him or much about him, but we quickly bonded over our shared military service. We both served over 5 years, but at different times and in different services. I was an army vet, Paul, a proud marine. Once when I described him as an ex-marine in his presence he corrected me. With good humor and a twinkle in his eye he said, “Marine. There’s no such thing as an ex-marine.” During those 3 years together we grew closer and closer, sharing a mutual respect, mutual attitudes toward community service and pretty much the same evaluations of the people around us. I think when you share that last thing, that similar view of people, you feel a strong connection, and I believe we did.
Paul was a man of good humor. He enjoyed a good joke, and he genuinely liked people. Most people. But for all his generosity of spirit, he was nobody’s fool. I won’t sour this homage with specifics, but Paul could spot a phony, a poseur, quickly and wasn’t the least bit reluctant to call the individual to task. When his normally pleasant demeanor was interrupted by a flash of anger, it could be scary. But it was always a righteous anger in my view. He never blew up over petty squabbles, though he could show a bit of impatience if he felt disagreements went on too long. And he rarely engaged in anything you could call gossip.
So my good friend is gone. We always add ‘way too soon,’ but at the tender age of 58, it is so true this time. And so surprising, so unexpected. He appeared so fit, so trim. He was buried in his military uniform. Who can fit into a uniform they wore 34 years before? I am a somewhat gelatinous blob of nearly 74 years. If you asked people last year to bet on which of us would live longer there wouldn’t have been much money on me, yet here I am, writing about Paul. I’m told by his girlfriend Lena Ciervo that he was on regular medication, so much so that he had an alarm wake him at medication time. Yet other than Lena, no one knew. That was Paul. He wouldn’t want others to worry about him. And he was right. We would have.