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Wellington Timothy "Duke" Mara
Wellington Mara 1941
|Funeral Mass St. Patrick's Cathedral|
|October 28, 2005|
|Eulogy To His Father Wellington Mara|
On behalf of my mother and my entire family, I want to
thank everyone here to celebrate my father’s life. Many of you came from
deep distances and we are very appreciative. Thank you also to all of you
who called, wrote, or visited over the past several weeks. The outpouring
of love and affection displayed to my father has been overwhelming and a source
of comfort to my family. Also, I want to thank Cardinal Egan for his
frequent visits and comforting words; Bishop McCormick who visited my father
every day and brought him communion; Frank Gifford who was a constant visitor
and who has been a true friend to my family for so many years. Thank you
also to Sloan Kettering, who took such good care of my father the last six
weeks. They treated him like they were his own father. When he
finally decided that he wanted to go home and he was being taken out of the
hospital, the nurses and the staff were all in tears. That is how close a
bond they formed during that stay. There is one person who deserves
special thanks, Ronnie Barnes, who my mother refers to as her 12th child, spent
night after night and many days in my father’s hospital room taking care of
him night after night. ‘Is Ronnie coming tonight?’ My father
would ask. Of course, the answer was always ‘yes’ and my father’s
face would light up when Ronnie’s face walked into the room. We joked
with Ronnie that one of the reasons he did this was because so many of the
nurses kept trying to slip him their phone numbers at the hospital, but that
really wasn’t the reason. My father asked him one night, ‘Ronnie why
are you so good to me?’ ‘Because Mr. Mara you’ve been so good to
me,’ Ronnie replied. Nobody took better care of him and there was no one
that he trusted more. Ronnie, my family can never thank you enough.
As we made our way over here from the funeral home this
morning I couldn’t help but think he would have been so embarrassed by all
this. The police escort, the traffic being stopped, the bag pipes; he
would have just shook his head and tried to hide somewhere. As painful as
it is to say goodbye to someone you love so much, to someone who has been such
an important part of your life, I could not help but think when I sat down to
try and prepare this how fortunate I am and all my brothers and sisters are to
have Wellington Mara as our father. He was the finest man they we have
ever known or hope to know and he was our Dad.
Many years ago his good friend Tim Rooney said something to
me that I have reflected on many times since. ‘You realize, don’t you,
that your father is the best example of how we should all live our lives.
You will never find anyone better to emulate.’ Over the years as I have
watched my father live his life, I have come to realize how true those words
were and what a role model he really was.
‘What can you expect from an Irishman named Wellington,
whose father was a bookmaker?’ A local sports writer derisively wrote
those words about 30 years ago during a time when we were going through some
pretty awful seasons. My father usually didn’t let criticism from the
media affect him very much, but those words stung him in a very personal way.
‘I’ll tell you what you can expect,’ he said at our kickoff luncheon just
a few days later. ‘You can expect anything he says or writes may be
repeated aloud in your own home in front of your own children. You can
believe that he was taught to love and respect all mankind, but to fear no man.
And you could believe that his abiding ambitions were to pass onto his family
the true richness of the inheritance he received from his father, the bookmaker:
The knowledge and love and fear of God and second to give you (our fans and our
coach) a Super Bowl winner.’
My father’s faith was his strength. It never
wavered no matter what happened in his life, no matter how sick he was. He
and my mother went to mass everyday and made sure that we went on every Sunday
and holy day long after we were married with children of our own, he would still
call to remind us about an upcoming holy day of obligation. Each year at
Christmas time, the confession schedule of our parish was hung on the
refrigerator door with a little handwritten note: No confession, no Santa
(Claus), he wrote.
As sick as he was, he still received communion everyday in
the hospital, his rosary beads never left his hands. His family of course
was his pride and joy. He was married to my mother for more than 51 years
and they had as wonderful a marriage as I have ever seen. I can’t even
remember raising their voices to one another. They met of course in church
when a woman fainted and they both went to assist her. My father later
claimed that the whole thing was staged by my mother’s Aunt Lil in order to
get his attention. Well after 51 years of marriage, 11 children, 40
grandchildren soon to be 42, I would say that she got his attention. When
my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary about a year-and-a-half-ago
right here in St. Patrick’s, my mother asked him if they could renew their
vows. He was very reluctant at first. ‘The original ones haven’t
expired yet have they,’ he said. Of course, he went along with it, but
when Cardinal Egan asked him during the ceremony, ‘Will you accept children
lovingly from God?’ The look on his face seemed to say, ‘Your eminence
I think that ship sailed a long time ago.’
If there was a category in the Guinness Book of (World)
Records for most christenings attended or first communions or graduations,
school plays, little league games, my father would surely hold the record.
He loved watching his grandchildren compete or act on stage. He always sat
or stood in the background never wanting to draw attention to himself, always
positive, always supportive, setting yet another example for all of us.
One of my father’s greatest attributes was his loyalty.
It was so much a part of his life whether it was his friends, former players,
coaches, he was always concerned about their well being. He considered
Giants players, coaches, employees both past and present as part of his extended
family. If a member of that family was in need, he or she didn’t stay
that way for very long whether it was money, a job, or just a call from a
friendly voice as he’d like to say. There was a time years ago when he
was criticized for that loyalty and for it clouding his judgment. ‘If
that’s the worst thing they can say about you, he would say, ‘Then you must
be doing something right.’ I remember going on countless road trips with
him over the years and he would always make it a habit to call a former player
or coach in the town that we were playing in. Many of these guys were long
forgotten by many of these people, but not by him. He never forgot them
and he knew how much it meant to them that he was still thinking about them.
Next to his faith and his family, the thing my father loved
most was his team, the team that he spent 80 years of his life around. His
father wanted him to go to law school after his graduation from Fordham in 1937.
‘Just give me one year with the team,’ he pleaded. My grandfather
agreed and that number turned into 68. He never went to law school, he
went to spend the rest of his life, with the exception of four years that he
served in the Navy during World War II, around the team and the sport he loved
so much. He attended nearly every practice from mini camp right through
the end of the season. It didn’t matter if we were 10-2 or 2-10, he was
there wearing that old floppy hat, carrying that ridiculous stool, and usually
wearing a shirt or a jacket that was almost as old as he was. Each year
our equipment manager would give him the new apparel for the season and it would
always wind up in the same place, stuck in the back of his closet and out would
come the same old and battered outfits. When we changed our logo several
years ago back to the traditional lower case, n y, he actually started
wearing some of the shirts that he had worn the last time we had used that logo
more than 25 years before. ‘I knew they would come back,’ he said.
He loved participating in the draft meetings. It was
his favorite time of year. Day after day, he would sit there as reports
were read on every prospect. No matter how remote they were, he didn’t
want to miss anything and he loved interacting with our scouts. He
identified with them because he had been one himself for so many years.
One of the visions I will always have of him is sitting on
the equipment truck prior to Super Bowl XXXV alone in his thoughts, a scene I
had witnessed so many times over the years. No pregame parties or
festivities for him, he was where he wanted to be, with his players and coaches,
but off to the background so as not to interfere. During our road games,
he always sat in the press box, never one for a fancy suite or entertaining
people during a game, his focus was on the game. He always maintained his
composure and often tried with mixed results to calm his family down, more so
his daughters than his sons. I remember one game years ago when a
particular player was having a tough day and some of us became a little
exacerbated with him. At one point I yelled out, ‘What is he doing out
there?’ My father put his hand on my shoulder rather firmly and said,
What he’s doing is the best that he can.’
My father had a special relationship with Giants fans.
It amazed me that he answered nearly every letter a fan wrote to him no matter
how derogatory they got. ‘They are our customers,’ he would say.
‘They’re just demonstrating how much they care about the team and they
deserve a response.’ For years it was a joke around our office that if
someone wanted to have their season tickets improved all they had to do was
write my father a letter that they had some physical ailment that made it
difficult to climb the stairs or see from such a distance. The tickets
were always improved; the fans knew who the soft touch was.
My father was very proud of his contributions and his long
time associations with the National Football League. He believed so deeply
in the principles upon which it was founded and has flourished. He served
virtually on every committee imaginable and he valued all of them. None of
those committees mattered more to him than a little known one called the NFL
Alumni Dire Need Fund, which was established to take care of former players, who
had fallen on hard times.
There were so many lessons that my father taught us over
the years, maybe none more important than in the last few weeks of his life.
He never gave up his will to live. He tried so hard to get out of bed and
walk. He fought until the very end and he never complained. His
faith never waned. On his last day in the hospital, when he came to the
realization that the doctors could no longer treat him, he summoned me to his
bedside, he could barely talk. I held his hand and he looked at me and
smiled and said, ‘I’ll be there when you get there.’ It was his way
of telling us that he was going to be okay. He was going to a better
place. He was always concerned with how his family was dealing with his
condition. ‘I don’t want to be a burden’ he said just days before
his death, ‘Go home and take care of your own families.’ Of course we
had to be there with him. He had always been there for us and when he took
his last breath, he was surrounded by the family he loved so much and taught so
There’s a scene from the movie “Saving Private Ryan”
that is worth recounting here. A then elderly Private Ryan visits the
gravesites of some of the men who died trying to save his life. Overcome
with emotion, he turns to his wife and asks her, ‘Have I been a good husband,
a good father, a good person?’ Questions I suppose we will all have to
answer at some point. In the case of Wellington Mara, the answers were so
clear. Yes you were a wonderful husband, you were the best father and
grandfather that anyone could ever have, and you were the best example of how we
should all live our lives. That is what we came to expect from the
Irishman named Wellington, whose father was a bookmaker.
He may be gone from this world and we certainly grieve over that. But, we also rejoice over our good fortune in having had him with us for so long for the extraordinary life he led and for his spirit, which will live on in his children and grandchildren for generations to come. When my father’s brother died 40 years ago, Arthur Daley, the well-known sportswriter of The New York Times, wrote a column lamenting the loss of his good friend Jack Mara. My father had that column on his desk for all these years and the last line from that column is a quote from Hamlet:
“Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight sweet
prince and flights of angels sing the to thy rest.”
Steve, Jack, Tim and Wellington
The picture is property of New York Giants.
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