In memory of a true gentleman

When I checked my voicemail Saturday morning, there was but one message: a friend telling me of Al Doyle’s passing. As I listened to those words, it was as if the world ground to a halt around me. For while I only knew Al for a little over a year, I will still mourn the loss of this truly remarkable man.

There are those people who are nothing short of legends. Their list of accomplishments so long it seems unfathomable that any one person could have done so much in just one lifetime; the number of lives they have touched in their years on this earth, too many to count. Even before I met him, I knew that Al fell into the category. Once I came to know him, I learned quickly that he was also a man of humor, honor and commitment, as well as a true gentleman. I am so glad that, while the opportunity was brief, I had the chance to know him.

I first met Al shortly after starting at The Evening Sun last summer. One of my assignments was to cover the Town of Guilford, where Al was the long-standing supervisor. The night before, I’d attended a particularly raucous town meeting elsewhere in my coverage area, and I was a little leery of sitting through another so soon. Especially once I got a look at Guilford’s town hall/highway garage. (No offense, but their old digs were a little the worse for wear. I can’t wait for the first meeting at the new facility.)

My initial impression of Al, who I insisted on calling “Mr. Doyle” at first despite his protestations, was that he was a little gruff. But then I realized that gruffness, that hoarseness of voice, was more to do with the treatments he’d been undergoing for lung cancer than anything else. He made me feel instantly welcome at that meeting, and all that followed.

My first Guilford meeting was fairly uneventful, but I learned the hard way that that wasn’t the norm. After a couple of “easy” ones, the town held a public forum on a proposed law which would do away with the municipality’s three-member board of assessors in favor of a sole, appointed assessor.

It was bedlam. Yet through the heated exchange and personal attacks, his composure and his convictions never wavered. No small feat, I assure you, as even as an outsider it was tough to take. It wasn’t until after the meeting, when he let his guard down slightly, that I could see how much the strife had truly bothered him and how deeply he cared about doing right by the community he had lead for so many years.

The next meeting, was no easier. I blogged about the exchange between the board and one resident later. (The blog title, Drunk and Disorderly, might give you a clue as to the events which transpired.)

It had been a crowded meeting, and Al hadn’t seen me come in. When then-Town Clerk Barb Strier pointed out that there were a couple of B-G high schoolers in the audience to satisfy a requirement for their government class, Al mistook me for one of those students.

He kept trying to apologize for that, although I assured him that he was entirely welcome to mistake me for a high school student any day. Although I did politely suggest he pay a visit to his eye doctor to have his prescription checked.

Earlier this year while the “other” Melissa (as Al sometimes referred to my co-worker Melissa deCordova) was out of town, I covered my first Board of Supervisors meeting. Ever the gentleman, he made sure all of the supervisors sitting in my vicinity introduced themselves to me and had a few choice words for someone who was sitting in on the meeting who had failed to take their hat off when they spoke to me. I had to chuckle at that.

Every once in awhile Al and I would touch base over the phone about various things happening in Guilford, usually to discuss the status of the building project. Speaking with him always brightened my day, and not just because he was always complimentary of my coverage of the town.

When I learned that he had taken ill again, I wrangled his address out of a friend and sent him a couple of cards, hoping to brighten his day as he had done mine so many times. I even included a copy of that blog, which he always joked about.

I knew from the reports of those who had been to see him that his condition was deteriorating, and I’m sorry that I didn’t have a chance to visit him in his last days.

I hope he knows how often he was in my thoughts, as I’m sure he was in the thoughts of many. Chenango County has lost a fine statesman and citizen with his passing.

Rest in peace, Al. I am so glad to have known you. You will be greatly missed.

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