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Paul Battaglia is a person who has affected so many people and whose life and personality have so many facets, that he cannot be described in just a few words. I will begin with the first time I remember seeing him, just because it is funny and it has stayed so vividly in my memory for about nine years now.
It was the fall of 1992, and I had just started my freshman year at Regis High School. One day, at lunchtime, I walked into the cafeteria and saw some people I knew who were in class 1C. I went over to them and sat down. There was a kid standing up, talking to the group. He had brown hair and glasses, and he was playing with the straps of his bookbag as he spoke. He was explaining to the group how to steal cable television. "You go to Radio Shack and get a splitter! Then you climb the telephone polemy grandpa does it! Its easy!" Those are the first words I remember Paul saying, in that distinctive voice of his. We laughed. And there were so many times after that when we laughed. He had a method and a manner such that you couldnt help laughing at his jokes. Suffice it to say that there are few people with a sense of humor like his.
Paul also had a way with people. You could call it charm or charisma, but I feel that would be understating it. Everyone knew himeveryone. Everyone knew at least his name and his face, and they probably also knew his voice. In high school it took only a short time for Paul to make himself a local celebrity of sorts, and I imagine it was similar in college. But Paul wasnt Mr. Popular or the coolest kid around; he was just Paul, a "fat computer-dork" as he once referred to himself. And that was the beauty of it. Theres an expression Ive been known to use when I meet someone who manages to set himself apart from everyone else, and its perfect for Paul: "They broke the mold when they made that guy."
I have many memories of Paul, and somehow all of them are happy. Id like to share a few, because the two of us always got a kick out of sitting around and talking about the stuff we did, and I know that its through these stories that hed like to be remembered.
My friendship with Paul began in our sophomore year of high school, when I approached him about writing a humor column for The Owl, which is the Regis newspaper. The title of the column was "Owl Droppings." Paul was the obvious choice for such a job; nearly everyone regarded him as the funniest kid in our class. Essentially, for the Owl Droppings column, Paul would make up ridiculous fake stories about faculty and students and pass it off as news or gossip.
Paul handed in his first Owl Droppings column, and he would later say that it wasnt his best work. At the time, though, we thought it was hilarious. Maybe you had to be a sophomore. Anyway, I gave it to our moderator Mr. Crowe, and he read it and gave it back. His comment was simply, "Paul is uncouth." Paul always thought that was a great criticism. If we could only remember what was in the column that was so objectionable.
I have a sample paragraph here from "Owl Droppings," dated October 1994. Try to imagine Paul reading it, and it will be even funnier.
"Fr. Kuntz, my pal and former headmaster, has been spotted around the building recently. Fr. Kuntz is not scheduled to leave for Nigeria until late October, but his journey may be delayed because of a rough summer over there. He has been seen pawing at the windows of Regis regularly. When he was invited inside the school, Fr. Kuntz darted right for his old office and started raving about little green moon men. A Jesuit source says Fr. Kuntz was removed and would be observed until his scheduled departure for Nigeria in late October. This writer, who only reports true and accurate stories, found out that Fr. Kuntz will be observed in a 4 by 4-foot cell in the basement of the Jesuit residence. It was also discovered that Fr. Bender has been taunting Fr. Kuntz with food for his own sick amusement."
So through The Owl, our friendship grew. By the end of junior year we were running the paper together, and we let Dave Russo and Tom Noone and Carlos Capell·n help out here and there. In his graduation speech, Dan Habib referred to "The Owl, with Paul Battaglias wit and BJ Mannings wisdom." I liked the idea that you had to take the two of us together. We were a team; we played the foil to one another and everything balanced out.
Paul never ceased to impress me, and it was always on so many levels. He had such an enviable relationship with his family; to watch him with anyone in his family, especially his mother Elaine, or his brother Eric, or his grandfather Jerry, was to witness love, and it was never short of amazing. At Binghamton, his leadership at WHRW was unprecedented; his ideas for the station ingenious; his enthusiasm incomparable. There were a number of Sunday evenings in college when I would be sitting home reading and the phone would ring. Id answer, and Id hear Paul say, "Beej, youre on the air. Dont curse!"
There were two things that Paul did recently that impressed me tremendously. The first was something that Paul wrote about in his application for business school, which he recently completed. He said that after working for about fifteen years in the business world, he planned to retire and begin a second career, most likely as a high school teacher. It was not something Id ever heard him talk about, but it did not surprise me at all. It actually made a lot of sense. I saw it as a mark of his character. Paul always wanted to give back, and what better way than that.
The second thing was that for the past few months, he and Aline have been working for New York Cares on Saturday mornings, volunteering at different places around the city. This did surprise me a little; most of the volunteer work that Paul had done before this was probably more in the extracurricular vein of, for example, the Binghamton radio station. It had always been work where he could take a leadership role. Giving up Saturday mornings to work for New York Cares was something different. It was another form of Pauls desire to give back to his city, and its proof that Paul had such a big heart.
I have been looking at the pictures that Seth put on the website, and you can see how happy Paul always was. He is smiling in every picture. He truly loved life, and it had such a positive effect on those around him. I found something he wrote on the old version of his website that I thought captured much of his personality. It has his great self-deprecating humor, and he writes about himself in the third person. These are his own words, mind you:
"During his Jesuit education, Paul realized how much more efficiently the world would run if he were in charge of it. While he tried to conquer the entire world, he failed, managing only to attract a small group of friends who overlooked his Napoleonic tendencies and saw deep inside him, to the little Yuppie crying to be freed. With the help of these friends, he was able to encourage the worlds embracing of preppies. Through the schools newspaper, The Owl, Paul preached to the masses, made fun of those different from him, and changed the way Regis looked at the world. The necessary parallel to draw is that Regis was, in many respects, a microcosm. Paul changed Regis and is now preparing to change the entire world. You keep watching. Itll happen. My high school friends are probably the best friends a guy could have, Battaglia added, I dont know why they dont kill me. I love you guys. See, he has a heart."
Now, Paul is both right and wrong here. Hes right because he definitely has a heart, reluctant as he is to admit it, and his heart was always growing. Hes wrong because he already did change the world. Everyone sitting here is a testament to that.
In closing, I want to say something to Paul on behalf of everyone here. Paul, you are our brother, son, grandson, cousin, nephew, lover, leader, writer, disc jockey, WHRW general manager, features editor, class fund chairman, computer dork, e-business consultant, wise ass, and friend. You made us laugh and smile, and your departure makes us cry. Im sure you know this, but Ill remind you anyway: we miss you terribly, and well never forget the difference you made in all of our lives.
Brian J. Manning
October 6, 2001
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