Goodbye my friend: Tony Verna – author, director, inventor

My friend is gone. I didn’t see it coming; he was only 81 years-old.

Author, director, inventor Tony Verna 2014

Author, director, inventor Tony Verna (died January 2015)

Author, director, and inventor Tony Verna died late last week, after battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia (according to ABC News). Although I spoke with him earlier this month, he never said a word. Well, other than a modest, “feeling under the weather” in an email he sent me January 13.

I’m shocked and deeply saddened by Tony’s death. Hell, I thought he’d outlive me. He never seemed “old,” you know? He always sounded the same on the phone: a gravelly baritone mixture of Jersey wise guy and Hollywood pizzazz, his voice energized by a ready wit and boundless creativity.

“Hey, Jim, Tony Verna…” was the greeting I heard time and again over the years. I could feel him smiling, see the mischievous twinkle in his eyes. “I had an idea the other day…” (almost but not quite idear ) was the next phrase I knew I would hear, right after “how ya doin’?”.

Tony worried about me that way. When he asked how I was doing, he was sincerely interested. (I’ve had a couple two-week bouts with the flu.) I should have been worried about Tony. I guess I really did think he’d live forever.

Tony had the curiosity of a 10-year-old, with the brains to run with his ideas. He had, after all, invented sports TV’s Instant Replay over 50 years ago. In the years that followed he produced or directed five Super Bowls, the Kentucky Derby, the Olympics, and numerous special events.

I can picture him in the control booth, eyes flashing everywhere at once, calling out camera numbers and choosing the shots to broadcast. I wish I could have been there to watch him in action, but that was long before I met him.

Even after he “retired,” Tony remained a whirlwind of fresh ideas, pursuing patents and projects and inventions. He knew all about “apps” and so much more. He saw possibilities all around him, in all sorts of media.

But I knew Tony as a writer first, then learned more about his myriad accomplishments over time as we worked together. He first approached me in 2008 with a proposal to serialize his novel Beyond the Blue and the Gray on (now off-line).

In the six years since, we worked together to publish his only full-length novel as a digital ebook, as a physical printed book, and even as an audiobook (to be released later this year). I probably have over two hundred email conversations archived in various “Tony Verna” folders. His messages were short and direct, filled with new ideas and suggested resources.

It’s hard to believe I won’t get any more of Tony’s emails, or see his name pop up on Caller ID again. I certainly never considered that “under the weather” meant anything ominous. How stupid of me.

You see, I took our friendship for granted. I could call him tomorrow, or next week — when I wasn’t “busy.” Wait ’til the weekend to answer his latest inquiry. He asked me to come visit, enjoy his sunny world in West Palm Desert. “You should come out here, Jim. You’d love it,” he insisted more than once.

Maybe in a few months, I’d think to myself. Or next year. When I had time.


Did I think there was an unlimited supply of Time?

Tony was only 75 when I first met him. A young 75-year-old whose attitudes and insights seemed more suited to 35. He was ageless to me, and always treated me as an equal despite our age difference.

I never thought of him as being 80 years-old, or anywhere near the end of his adventurous life.

The last time we talked by phone, he was excited about a new project he was working on. “Keep it between you and me, Jim,” he asked me. And we went on to discuss his concept for another 20 minutes or more. No need to break his confidence here, but let me assure you his newest idea was as current as this morning’s tech headlines.

He said he’d send me what he had so far, so I could give him my perspective. That was only about two weeks ago. I had wondered, vaguely, why he hadn’t followed up. Even thought about giving him a call, but didn’t want to “bother” him — as if he would ever have considered my call a bother.

I should have called, and I shouldn’t have taken our friendship for granted.

We hear lyrical lines like “The sun’ll come out tomorrow” and “There’s always tomorrow…” and foolishly take them as assurances. But they aren’t assurances; they are cautionary reminders not to squander today.

I allowed Tony’s enthusiasm and youthful approach to life lull me into a foolish complacency. And now he’s gone. Time’s up.

I’m so glad I knew him, glad that he invited me into his sun-filled world and shared his creative genius with me. I hope I gave enough back to him in encouragement and helping him bring his imagination to a broader audience. Of course I wish I’d done more.

I thought I had plenty of time to “do more” for Tony.

What a silly assumption. Whether my friend was 81 or 18, I was still wrong.

He could have died from an unexpected disaster at any time — and so could I. I could have been hit by a cement truck on the way to the shop any morning. We all know this, somewhere down deep; we just hate like hell to think about it.

I’ll miss Tony. I’ll hear his voice in my head and smile wistfully. Make some time to look through the messages he sent over the years. (I kept them all.) And try a lot harder to share his book with readers who won’t ever get to know him like I did. That’s the least I can do for my friend.

My heart goes out to Tony’s wife, Carol, and to his children and grandkids. I’m sure he brought plenty of sunshine into their lives. Doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

Goodbye, my friend. You will be missed, but certainly not forgotten.

– ~*~-


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  1. How sad! I know how hard you worked on his book with him. Remember me as Jancy? Wow, a life time ago. 81 was a good long life and he lived it well. God bless him, his family andfriendswho will miss him gravely.

    • I remember you fondly as Jancy, Glory!
      I wish we could have worked out the tech details on that one. Your help was crucial along the way.
      Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Beautiful words and sentiment, Jim, my friend. So well said. Thoughtful, thorough, poignant, and straight from the heart. I’m guessing Tony is up there smiling.
    Your deep friendship with and loss of Tony reminds me of the loss of my friend, the late John Carter who as you know was a writer and a geologist. He was a genius, a wonderful friend, and always had something brilliant to share with me. Even two years later, Ihave hundreds of his emails about different projects, and I miss him too. Again, well said, Jim –my friend. ~R

    • Thank you, Raymond.
      I remember John, too, of course. It’s tough to lose a friend and collaborator, someone who’s put their trust in you like that.
      Your friendship means the world to me, too, my friend.

      • Same to you, Jim –words are too often left unspoken. Your friendship is treasured bud. I’m guessing you know that. “:) Thank you.

  3. http://Petra%20Newman says

    Oh Jim; I am so sorry for your loss. Your heart-felt words we’re so profound and loving for your close friend, it made me think of my losses over the years also. Time doesn’t stand still and unfortunately we all have an expiry date. Your reflections on Tony hit home for me. Many times I was invited for coffee, or to go shopping with my best friend, my childhood friend. Everyday she’d call me on the phone, just to talk. she always started the conversation with, “So what are you up to today?” I was always busy raising a family, hospital stays with my daughter, building a house, etc. In other words life in general. I tried to be upbeat when she got breast cancer at 39 yrs.old. She’d be in remission on and off for 7 years. Then the day came when I had to say goodbye. She passed away twenty-one years ago. I still miss her and her phone calls. I wish I hadn’t taken her for granted also. I always thought one day we’d have that coffee.
    I didn’t know about Tony until I saw your link. I believe you are both blessed to have known each other. It sounds like he felt as deeply for you as you did for him. Although it doesn’t feel like it; the sun will come shine again. You are much loved by all your friends and family, who are here to support you in your time of sorrow. May God bless you, Tony and his family.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful words, Petra.
      You’ve been through so much. You know these feelings all too intimately. I’m sorry for your losses.
      It’s wonderful to hear from you. Take the best care.

  4. http://Eva%20P.%20Scott says

    Good reminder. Sorry about the loss of your friend. His book is a really original one, I’m sure like he was.

  5. Jim,
    You have paid a great friend a great tribute, here. To say that Jim Bessey admired and appreciated anyone, adds to my estimation of him. To have felt that lovely, casual comfortableness with such a Renaissance man tells anyone who reads it: We missed out on knowing a great person.
    And your deep regrets spur us all on to tend to our own great friends, our own small friends, our own families, even our own neighbors–all the “someday” people in our lives.
    Thanks for your openness.
    Praying your grief will come also with a blam of comforts for your heart.

    • Thanks very much, Katharine.
      I’m much richer for having known Tony. He led a full and fascinating life, was an example to all of us who label ourselves “creative.” I will continue to find ways to properly appreciate and honor the friendship he shared with me.

  6. Talk about timing, I’m sitting here reading Beyond the Blue & the Gray (about 80% of the way through currently) for that review I promised you, when this article comes through in my email. It’s nice to learn a little more about the man behind the book, and it’s sad to hear of his battle with cancer. My prayers go out to his family and all those who will feel his loss so personally. I’m all the more eager to finish the book and write my review, Jim, in hopes of helping you share his book with others per your comments in this article. Take care, kind friend. I’ll be in touch soon to let you know when my review goes live.

  7. You’ve always spoken so highly of him that it made me feel like I knew him. I am sorry for your loss and the loss to his family but even more than that, the loss of a bright man who made the world around him bright too.

    • I love your point about people who brighten the world, Ann.
      There’s a special aura around those who find excitement and adventure in the most ordinary days and situations. It’s so much more fun to hang out with people like that, rather than wallowing with the habitual whiners, isn’t it?

  8. Great job Jim on this post. I’m glad you used your talent for the written word to share Tony with everyone. I certainly got to know him better through your eyes and the extra skip in your step after you would get off the phone with him. He handed YOU the torch my love; run with it.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing. It made me realise how many friends I take for granted. Life is so busy, we always think they will understand and be around later when we have time.

    I am sorry for your loss. You have wonderful memories of your friend. I need to make time to make some wonderful memories with mine. Best wishes.

    • It all comes down to that whole “time” thing, doesn’t it, Ann?
      Tony’s death has made me realize how many other friends I’ve neglected recently, too. Time to make time, for sure.
      Thanks for reading, and for your thoughts.

  10. What a beautiful tribute, Jim. He sounds like quite a character. I’m so very sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine what a shock this must have been.

    • You’re right, Melinda — it was a shock; and that’s the part that made me feel rather foolish.
      Thanks so much for your kind words.

  11. Hi Jim,
    I never knew the man like you did, but he sounds a joy. So sorry for your loss, and my condolences to his family and friends. I am afraid that we all do it, take friendship for granted. We think they are always going to be there a bit selfish of us I think. But we are all human and do these selfish things. We always think “There’s always tomorrow”. But sometimes there isn’t, when we think of contacting a friend or loved one we must learn to do it straight away, because you never know. So sorry to you for the loss of your good friend. Veronica.

    • Thank you for your kindness and condolences, Veronica.
      It is indeed amazing how we typically deceive ourselves about the nature of time and mortality. I believe it’s time for me to watch “Dead Poets’ Society” once again. Lessons too-often forgotten in that movie, directly related to Tony’s death.

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