Warning: This is not meant to be amusing.
As a student at Pleasantville (N.Y.) High School in the sixties, I was lucky enough to get to know Anthony Sabella, sometimes known to students as Tough Tony. He was the assistant principal, which meant he was the school's main disciplinarian, which meant I had plenty of interaction with him. But despite the fact that on more than one occasion I was genuinely concerned that he might -- as he threatened -- pick me up by my neck and drop me out of a third-floor window, we actually became sort of friends, or as friendly as a school disciplinarian and a total wiseass can be.
In addition to being assistant principal, Mr. Sabella was a much-respected high-school-sports official. He also taught American History. I was in his class one year, and it was one of the best classes I ever took, high school or college. Mr. Sabella was very knowledgeable and had strong opinions, but it never bothered him if you disagreed. He liked the give-and-take, which was not always the case with my teachers. By the end of my senior year, I really liked running into him, and I think he liked running into me, even though these run-ins still sometimes ended with my getting detention. For example, I once led a large lunch-hour sit-in demonstration (this was the era of sit-in demonstrations) in favor of absolutely nothing. We just sat around the floor shouting random slogans of protest. When Mr. Sabella showed up, he was directed to me, as the ringleader, and I explained that we had no actual cause; we were just sitting in. He kept a straight face, but I could tell he found this amusing. He still gave me detention.
Over the years I occasionally mentioned Mr. Sabella in columns, and was always delighted to hear from him, and his family. Recently, however, I heard he was not doing well. Today I learned that he died. So I'm sad about that. But it heartens me to think that if there is an afterlife, and if the afterlife has a dress code, it will henceforth be strictly enforced.
Update: So many great comments, from people who knew and loved Anthony Sabella, or were lucky enough to have teachers like him. Just got this email from Pleasantville grad Skip Mulch:
Mr. Sabella – alias “Tough Tony” alias “Ali oop” …. I was his paper boy (reporter dispatch) as well as on the receiving end of a record number of detentions LOL. Before high school was over though thanks in part to him I began writing a sports column in the in the Pleasantville Journal.
After graduation I went right to Air Force boot camp. The discipline that he imparted to me made that and many other of life’s challenges much more bearable. Now as a father and grandfather, the things I learned from him I would call “tough love” I have used them well and we could use much more of it in the world today.
SO here is to Anthony Sabella. He made the world a much better place because he was here and that is a fact! We will all miss him, but his legacy lives on in all of us that knew him. In fact his legacy is present in many of our everyday actions. Life is good when you are proud of what you do.
Thanks Mr. Sabella