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A Tribute to John E

 A Tribute to John E. (Ned) Mahoney

Sunday, July 29th, at two o'clock family, friends, and neighbors gathered at Grace United Methodist Church, Valley Stream, for a memorial service for Ned Mahoney, who had died just a few weeks short of his 101st birthday on August 16th.  It was a fitting salute to a grand, loving, and accomplished soul.  Grandchildren, son-in-law, daughter, and pastors spoke in praise of Ned.  Music, of course, of course, was prominent: Kim Neri played the violin; George Simmons played the organ and the piano (a baby grand donated to the church in loving honor of Anne and Ned Mahoney by their children and their families, "Widmung" (Dedication) by Robert Schumann, arr. Franz Liszt; a trumpeter, Mark Bennett, played Adams's "The Holy City"; and the antiphonal organ trumpets staccatoed on the hymn "God of the Ages." A reception, prepared and presented by Grace Church women, followed the service, in the Education Building gym.

The proceedings, which would have been mostly a celebration of the completion of a long, good, and faithful life, were shadowed with the news received just days earlier of the sudden and unexpected death of the Mahoney's son's widow, Lydia Buttafuoco, in her home in Florida. 

Herewith, interspersed with several photos, is the tribute I offered to Ned:

More than a few years ago when the men of Grace Church finally organized a United Methodist Men’s Club (what Bill Korcak wanted to name the George Circle) a Palm Sunday breakfast was scheduled.  I was asked to offer a message, a brief one.  I figured that this would be the time, as good as any, to address the issue of true manhood.  Which I did, of course, with references, a lot of them, to Jesus.  In the front of my mind, if not named, were examples of those men I knew who reflected the manliness of Jesus in all of its rich compassion, goodness, and courage.

Guess who my unspoken chief local model was.  One in the midst of us then and there. 

Ned never thought of himself that way.  Model of manliness?  I remember his comment on returning from his 50th high school reunion in The Soo.  He was surprised that he had outlived the star athletes in his class, those who seemed at age eighteen to have the world at their command, not like the fellow who had earlier raised his hand tentatively when the school band director was looking for a volunteer to play the cornet.

Yet this modest child of the Upper Peninsula went on to fame few, if any, of his classmates could claim, earning the encouragement of John Philip Sousa during a brief meeting with the great bandmaster when Ned was a young teen; then years as a member of a renowned cornet trio with the Goldman Band in New York City.  The cornet was Ned’s advantage in other ways, providing him with a bride from the Williams School of Music in Brooklyn; and providing him and his family with a music business after age and embouchure made solo cornet no longer an option.

Anne and Ned settled in on Foster Avenue, Valley Stream.  Three children arrived.  Work among the Long Island schools’ music programs prospered.  As did their involvement in this church.  Ned was on the Pastor Parish Relations Committee in 1973 when I was selected as pastor.  Although it should be noted that Ned was not present for the vote nor earlier for my sermonic audition in Brooklyn; and had he been there, with his good judgment, Bob Howard might not be here this afternoon.  Only teasing.

Ned was my Lay Leader.  Then he persuaded Anne, a reluctant leader early on, that she too could serve in that capacity.  And she did.  The two of them brought to that office a personnel skill set not often enough available or encouraged: they continually reached out beyond their circle of church friends to greet and converse with others, wanting, as any pastor should, always to include and extend the family of faith.  Talk about being like Jesus… as in that stained glass window to your far left, windows which, not so incidentally, Ned and Anne captured in a photographic essay fifteen years ago.  I can almost hear Jesus and the Mahoneys after him saying, “Come to me, all…”.

Or the music.  Music and faith go hand in hand, heart to heart.  Let George Simmons say “Amen!” I made a mental inventory of the contributions Ned and Anne have made to Grace Church; and, I suspect, I’ve missed half of them: four pianos, two of them in this space; a set of percussion instruments; and a major gift for the new electronic organ whose antiphonal trumpet section in the nave balcony on hymns like “Heralds of Christ,” never failed to elicit from Ned a big smile and a comment to me at the door on a Sunday morning. 

Ned, and Anne, lived by the red letter words that “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”  Generosity, expected or not, is another name for “grace.”  Not just music and money: my late friend Joe Bergen, with whom I spent a couple of days around Thanksgiving each year delivering turkeys and the fixin’s to families in hard times, regularly voiced his opinion about the Mahoneys who supplied bags of potatoes and onions to the cause, what good people they are.  No wonder I felt it only right to provide that couple on Foster Avenue with Italian stuffed clams for their Thanksgiving holiday.

Ned and Anne were not spared cruel circumstance.  Dear David, their middle child, was stricken with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in the prime of his life.  I remember the day Anne came to my study to tell me the sad news.  And I remember what we concluded: that David would set the tone for dealing with this God-awful disease.  He did, with courage and good humor (the apples never fall far from the tree) until that moment I shall never forget, at Nassau Community Hospital, when he breathed his last in the company of his loving family.  He is remembered in this room with flowers every September and in this room now with a namesake, maybe two. 

Bearing the cross, the prime symbol of Jesus, bearing it with grace and courage belongs to those who manifest the true humanity of Jesus, for whom that symbol, rises in every corner of this room, and is engraved on many a heart.  Ned lifted it, was strengthened by it, and added glory to it.


We know not what the future hath

Of marvel or surprise,

Assured alone that life and death,

God’s mercy underlies.

So John Greenleaf Whittier famously frames our hope in eternal life.  My father-in-law, Lewis Davis, a Long Island sailor, also to be counted among the manliest of men, memorized the entire poem, a fit epitaph for another Long Island sailor, once from the Soo.

And so beside the silent sea

I wait the muffled oar;

No harm can come to me

On ocean or on shore.


I know not where His islands lift

Their fronded palms in air;

I only know I cannot drift

Beyond His love and care.


God and loving father of us all, who cherishes each of us as if the only one, we thank you this afternoon for one whom it is easy for you and us to love, for Ned, dear husband, beloved Dad, doting grandfather and great-grandfather, the best of friends, the goodliest of good neighbors.  You gave him a surplus of years and he made the most of them, using them to make beautiful music, not only with a cornet but with the quality of his life.  With you Ned found purpose for his days, courage to master them when they turned hard, and songs to sing when the days were filled with sunshine.  You prospered him.  You set him within a circle of love, family, friends, and neighbors.  You put within his heart a love of your dear name and a desire to serve you and the world.  You provided him with a loyal and loving helpmate for seventy years, and blessed them with children no less dear and loving now than when once they depended on Mom and Dad for their care and nurture.  You blessed him with a full measure of success in whatever he put his hands and heart (and lips!) to doing.  And in these last few years of frailty you surrounded him with the loving ministrations of many people, daughters and sons-in-law, grandchildren, professional help, and the one who was always the apple of his eye, the soul and center of his affection, his Anne.  We thank you on his behalf for your love for him in his living and dying.  Hold him ever close in your everlasting arms.  Set him a place, a special place at the great banquet feast of heaven.  In the more stately mansions of your eternal home, grant, we pray, that he may be among the first to greet us when at last we arrive.  We ask all these things in the name of one whom Ned followed in life and in death, his savior, his Lord, his friend, ours too, Jesus.  Amen.

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