In Loving Memory of Neil Reilly

My Dad has 31 first cousins. Yes, you read that right – 31.

One of these awesome human beings is Neil Reilly.

Neil was the nicest, coolest guy you could ever meet. He had a way about him that just made you feel comfortable – he was a laid back, kind and just all around solid person.

Neil was the youngest of 5 boys. He earned the nickname “The Pooch” and was known for calling his parents every day to check on them.

He would always say to his Mom, my Aunt Helen, “Mom, # 5 checking in.”

Neil always took the time to check on those who mattered to him most.

He and his wife Louette were frequent guests in our home in Southern California growing up. I always remember him smiling and saying hello to me in such a genuine way.

He was the kind of guy who just oozed authenticity.

Even as an insecure teenager going through awkward phases, I remember feeling good about myself when Neil and Louette were in town.

He was always so nice to me. He asked me how I was doing, how softball was going, what I was up to.

Through a simple conversation and a genuine smile, he made me –  a quirky 14-year old –  feel like I mattered.

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One of my favorite things about Neil Reilly was the way he used to bust my Dad’s chops.

My Dad, Kevin Cooley, likes to playfully dish it out with his friends and family. It’s pretty hilarious.

But Neil could always give it right back.

My brother Sean and I loved how he would give my Dad a hard time, which usually resulted in my Dad smiling and shaking his head, trying to desperately think of a comeback.

It was all in good fun – and we loved it.

Unfortunately, Neil was diagnosed with stomach cancer 1 year ago. It was a devastating blow.

But Neil remained positive in the face of overwhelming adversity.

He didn’t play the victim.

He didn’t complain and ask “why me?”

He remained the same cool-headed, kind and funny Neil. The Neil that everyone knew and loved.

Neil and I exchanged a few emails this summer before his passing. I was struck by his positive attitude in the face of such difficult circumstances.

Hope to get to the west coast sometime this fall.  Hope to see you if I get out your way. Hello to Ryan.

Love Neil 

It felt amazing to connect with him during this difficult time. The fact that he had a few minutes to talk to me, despite the extreme physical pain he was in brought me to tears.

Neil showed his sense of humor and ability to find the silver lining even in the last few weeks before his passing.

When I heard what Neil said to his brother Duke, I couldn’t help but smile and laugh.

“I kicked Kevin Cooley’s butt in golf – now I can die a happy man.”

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Neil lost his fight with cancer on October 7, 2014.

But he will never, ever be forgotten. All of the Cardina Clan will miss him dearly.

Neil’s dear friend, Spike McIntosh, wrote a beautiful eulogy that captured the essence of who Neil was.

“For those of you who may not know me, my name is Spike McIntosh. I was one of the fortunate merchant marines who had the pleasure and honor of sailing with Neil over the last few years of his career.

There are so many wonderful stories and impressive adjectives that come to mind when I think of Neil, that it’s difficult to narrow the field.

However, I will start with what I know best and where Neil spent half of his life….on a ship… in the middle of the ocean.

To get a snapshot of Neil’s job, envision an 800-foot ship, where there are literally a millions moving parts…. many of which have been exposed to salt water, neglected or degraded for decades.

Now, try to get all those moving parts to move in unison for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, while keeping the ship on such a tight schedule that you can almost set your watch upon it’s arrival at the next port.

Throw in sleep deprivation, stress, skipped meals, unbearable heat and unpleasant working conditions and you start to get a feel for the environment.

It’s an exhausting and stressful environment that demanded the utmost from engineers.

And it’s one where Neil excelled and earned respect from colleagues throughout his long career.

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Neil, not being one to run from a challenge, dug in and did what he did best. He worked…and worked hard.

It wasn’t long until the naysayers were quieted. And it wasn’t too long after that they saw that Neil not only could work circles around most, but that he possessed a self-less leadership style that separated him from his peers.

You see, for men who are sea bound for months at a time, there is one thing they crave more than anything else…and that is sleep.

But at the end of a long day, if Neil were to encounter an overtired engineer, he would be more apt to tell his subordinate to go get some rest while he (the boss) would stay on watch, even as he was beyond exhaustion and barely able to stand.

Neil was a caring boss who was concerned about his workers.  And his compassionate leadership quickly gained respect and loyalty from his coworkers.

In the few years that I have worked with Neil, I have come to respect him enormously for his technical expertise and his generous leadership.

But more than that, he was all about people!  He truly cared about the people he worked with.

And despite all the constraints of a difficult environment, he managed to make his personal relationships a top priority.

Neil was my respected mentor and dear friend who spent half of his life at sea. But Neil should not be defined by his work, but by the compassion, generosity, dedication and humility that he so frequently showed his loved ones and friends.”

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Words from Pete Ciotta – Neil’s best Buffalo friend

Neil began life at 152 Sterling Avenue… as Helen and Wayne’s “No.5”; and as “Pooch” to his brothers Dennis, Duke, Patrick and Emmett. He was a proud member of the Cardina/Reilly Clan.

No matter where around the world he traveled, he always absolutely delighted in returning home to his Buffalo roots. Family relationships, honor, respect and loyalty meant everything to him. Neil loved having coffee with his Mother – Helen and the Golden Girls – Aunt Dorothy & Ann Marie.

He couldn’t wait to get up before sunrise to visit his father Wayne each and every day Wayne was in the VA Hospital.

Like clockwork, the texts would arrive: “5:45 AM… Having coffee with Wayne. All’s well. Your Bro Neil.”

Neil went in new directions, and we were all drawn to him … and followed… to Shoshone Park… and the school yard at Public School No. 66… to Nichols School… St. Joe’s … and to 1180 Delaware, the home of the Canisius High School Crusaders.

Murph, T-Bone, Chief and I followed him piled into a pick-up truck for a ride to Florida… and once in a while, we even followed him to places called the Park Meadow, Checkers, Slombas… and a few others.

While the places changed, we always marveled at his sense of independence and his quiet, but always fiercely confident ability to go his own way.

Who would have ever known that all those glorious summer days spent riding the Comet, then always swimming, fishing and water skiing in Crystal Beach’s waters.

Or exploring Stinky Beach; or helping Wayne pull the dock out of the muck at Prospect Point Road would one day see Neil go on to dedicate his life to the open seas.

Neil was no ordinary seaman. He rose to the very top of his profession as a Chief Engineer and was sought after by the world’s largest shipping companies to ensure their multi-million dollar cargos arrived safely and on time.

As Neil’s fellow Merchant Mariners well know – with all due respect to above deck officers – the Captain wearing “Whites” is for show…. the Chief Engineer brought home the dough!

Neil’s dear friend and shipmate Roy – I believe – said it best when he simply told me,

“Neil is our leader.”

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