Andy Pace. The quiet force behind the Torrington Varsity Alumni Club.
TORRINGTON: We lost a giant of a gentlemen on Monday night.
A man who for the better parts of three quarters of a century put the student/athletes needs at Torrington High School above everything else.
A man who kept his role somewhat behind the scenes but was comfortable out in front as well.
That man was Andy Pace, who passed away on Monday night and leaves one of the strongest institutions for giving in Torrington, the Varsity Alumni Club with just two remaining original members.
It was just three weeks ago that the gathered group of athletes, family, friends and VAC committee members sat with this pillar of a man as he helped celebrate seven outstanding Raiders, each of whom left with a $1000 dollar check.
Mr. Pace graced us with 88 years on this earth and hundreds upon hundreds are better off for having met him.
I first met Mr. Pace and the other members of the VAC in the early stages of my career, freelancing for the Torrington Register Citizen when I was asked to cover one of their banquets.
This particular year, it was help in Riverton at the prestigious Riverton Inn and from the moment I walked in, I knew I was in the midst of some of the best people I would be fortunate enough to call friends as time went on.
Each member welcomed the new face to this tradition with class, dignity and I have a say, a little bit of intimidation.
By no means did any of the fine folks mean to project that sentiment but you couldn’t help but be both impressed and a bit intimidated in their presence.
I was asked to sit at the head table, next to Mr. Pace and his friend of so many decades, Frankie Russo.
It’s tradition that at each of these dinners, members of the committee ask the student/athletes who are being honored a few questions that they have to put considerable thought into before standing in front of a packed room and giving their answers.
Trust me, these were not easy questions. War, politics and personal views were challenged by Russo in particular, who would have some fun with the students with his remarkable story telling and sense of humor.
You did though, have to be ready to defend your answer.
I was asked to say a few words to the group and in one of my first ever public speaking opportunities, let’s just say it wasn’t long and wasn’t inspiring.
Pace and Russo. Russo and Pace.
They were as much the faces of the VAC as any of the illustrious members.
Russo was the guy who reached out to his numerous contacts around the region to organize tremendous events like the School Boy Invitational which became bigger than any league or AAU program out there to this day.
Torrington was the place to play and while Russo made sure things ran correctly, Pace made sure the finances were in perfect order.
Creating a system that allowed the funds the VAC collected from different events was Pace’s expertise and nobody was better at making sure the coffers remained full for future generations of Raiders moving on to the respective careers.
I spoke to four gentleman who are helping to carry on the tradition that the founders of the VAC started back in the 1940’s and asked their thoughts about a man who made such an impression on their life’s, even if they didn’t always look for the spotlight.
“I’m not sure a lot of people knew who Andy was,” VAC Treasurer Paul Denza said. “The things the Varsity Alumni Club did was behind the scenes. You know, they were there providing money and people to do things for athletics and athletes in Torrington but people didn’t necessarily know it. When people come to the dinners and hear about what the VAC has done over the years, they’re kind of surprised by it.”
Pace made an impression on just about everybody he was in contact with and many joined the ranks of the VAC because of the efforts of the founders.
“I was first introduced to Andy Pace when I was 10 years old,” Torrington girls soccer coach Mario Longobucco said. “He was my Little League coach. He was so respected in the community and was just a wizard at raising money. He was way ahead of his time. It’s difficult to duplicate the investment efforts that he did in those days with today’s economics.”
Longobucco remembers when basketball was king because of the efforts of these fine gentlemen.
“If you never experienced the School Boy Invitational it was something,” Longobucco said. “It was like every McDonalds All-American you might see on an AAU court but it happened right here in Torrington. Every big time college coach would come to visit.”
“He (Pace) and the guys really did it,” Longobucco said. “We are trying to carry the torches now. His legacy in Torrington is one of commitment, giving and leadership. He pulled those guys through. You know it’s not easy to lead a team through a season or 10 but when you go through seven decades it’s pretty impressive.”
A great friend, Tony Turina, was one of the first recipients of the VAC Scholarship and remembers the man known by so many for his kindness.
“Just a wonderful guy,” Turina said. “Just committed to doing the right things, always. I’ve known Andy since back when I was in high school and I’ve been a part of the Varsity Alumni. He and Frankie and a couple of the other guys had a vision and they stuck to it for all these years. He was just an honest, wonderful person.”
Over the past few year, another gentlemen who does great work for the Torrington athletes, stepped up be the Master of Ceremonies at the dinners and he understood the role Pace played throughout his time with the VAC.
“He really was the glue that held that club together,” Paul O’Heron said. “He was the guy that we could all go to for direction and what not. Just a great guy with great principals.”
Pace was married to the love of his life, Carmelina for 59 years and has reunited with his soul mate who was such a strong force behind the scenes for the efforts of the VAC.
He leaves behind his four child children, Drew, David, Tammy and Karen and their families.
Torrington will most assuredly come out in great force both tonight for his wake which runs from 5-8 at the Cook Funeral Home followed by a mass at St Peter Church on East Main Street on Saturday at 11 a.m.
Thanks for your efforts, Mr. Pace. It was an honor and a privilege.