Thursday, September 27, 2012

My pal Joe

It's now safe to tell this story, which tells you about the strange relationships that journalists sometimes have.

Joe Illuzzi was something of a gadfly to the politics in Western New York. He ran several blogs, including It's fair to say Joe was well to the right on the political spectrum, and wasn't shy about his expressing his views. Otherwise, the blog was devoted reprints of columns by other right-wing pundits, such as David Limbaugh and Anne Coulter. Surrounding those posts were ads from several political types of a variety of viewpoints. You may not have agreed with Joe, but you certainly know where he stood.

One of his frequent targets was The Buffalo News. Not surprisingly, Joe's rhetoric was turned up a few hundred degrees about our newspaper after The News did a story on the website. It seemed that the politicians who bought ads received much kinder treatment from Illuzzi than those who didn't. That raises certain words like blackmail, extortion and protection money.

But there was at least one person at The News who had a civil relationship with Joe. And that was me.

Joe's father was something of a runner. He showed up at races well into his late 80's, at the end walking more than running but taking pride in his participation. One time Joe Sr. had won an age-group trophy for the Runner of the Year competition, but didn't drive and thus couldn't come get his reward. Being the nice guy that I am, or at least not wanting to mail the trophy to Cheektowaga, I stopped by the condo of Joe Sr. to deliver it to him personally. That got me a warm write-up in the blog, praising me for my actions. I think I sent him a quick note of thanks. We probably exchanged a couple of other short emails over the course of a couple of years.

Joe Sr.'s running days ended in a strange way, as he was hit by a car while walking home from a workout last year. He hung on for much longer than anyone thought, but never did get out of the hospital and died after a couple of months. When the accident first happened, Joe Jr.let me know about it and kept me up to date on events. In fact, he wrote once to say that doctors had turned off all the machines for Joe Sr. because there was nothing else they could do. But the elder Joe fooled everyone, and stayed alive a few weeks longer.

Death finally did come to Joe Sr., and his son wrote to say that he was happy to be an anonymous source of background material for a story. The younger Joe also directed me to another son, who lived outside of Philadelphia, who gave me a terrific interview. Joe Jr. sent me a note after the story ran, saying how much the whole family appreciated it.

Joe Illuzzi often came off badly in his stories because he seemed to have a lot of anger. Still, I only saw the side of him that was a loving son. It was a nice reminder that all of the aspects of a personality don't fit neatly into one compartment. We need the whole dresser, and then some.

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