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Gary Horton: Farewell to Phil Rizzo, a dear friend

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: November 16, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Dear Signal Readers –

On Oct. 2, 2007, I wrote the following words for the Signal’s “Full Speed to Port” commentary:

“I’d like to introduce you to a new collaborator to the Wednesday ‘Full Speed To Port’ column. Phil Rizzo is a long-time SCV Resident and equally long-time Signal reader.

I first met Phil in person when he visited my home during our fundraiser for Maria Gutzeit. I visited with him again when he, Tim Myers and I shared a wonderful lunch with fellow columnist Willy Gutman. After two short meetings, Phil plainly stood out as an especially caring person and wonderfully insightful thinker.

Phil is an old-timer — long on years, experience and wisdom. He’s been around and has observed much more than most of us ever will. He shares a unique view on our society as he is a practicing member of the Religious Society of Friends — or Quakers, as they are commonly known. Yes, Phil is a dedicated pacifist, and his writing displays this.”

That first meeting was four years ago, and since then, Phil has dutifully submitted columns for “Full Speed to Port” just about once every month, forwarding his last column just two weeks ago.

This past Monday, Phil’s wife, Suzie, wrote to inform me that, after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease, Phil passed away Nov. 12.

Phil was well up in age. He’d seen a wide and colorful life, having served in WWII, built his own successful printing business and, later, in retirement, giving back to society as a docent at the Nature Center and volunteering in a myriad of civic settings. Phil liked to stay active, and Phil liked giving back to society. It was the “giving” that made Phil the man he was.

Phil had been declining over the past three years. Parkinson’s had taken hold, and Phil worked and battled through an assortment of treatments to make the very most of his remaining time and ability.

Writing became a key focus, and Phil honed an outlook and style that provided many of us that pause to consider the things that are really important.

In his 80s, he had already done most of what life has to offer. While the rest of us are still learning from our mistakes, Phil’s soft, profound wisdom provided us lessons to enlightenment that are often costly when learned the hard way.

A few contributions back, he waxed humorous about his ongoing wrestling match with aging. In honor of my good friend Phil, and in recognition of his abiding good humor and character, I’ll conclude this notice of Phil’s passing with a few of his lighthearted observations on growing old and passing on. I think Phil would like that.

Selections from “Getting old and dying” by Phil Rizzo:

“If there’s anything that we do not like to think or talk about, it’s old age and dying. Don’t ask anyone over 60 how they are, as they may tell you. Some seniors enjoy explaining the intricacies of their condition in detail. I’m sure it’s therapeutic to them, but not to those listening — unless they have a better story to tell.

You’d better have a lively sense of humor if you plan on growing old. And it helps to have good health. I had real good health until I hit my early 80s. Then I woke up one day, and I knew I was actually old. It isn’t like I hadn’t been looking in the mirror.

Some time ago, I got up the courage to do that. But that one particular morning, it was like my feet took longer to hit the floor. I never thought getting out of bed would be such a big deal.

Yes, getting out of bed can be a big deal. You may not trust my political views, but trust me on this.

There are, however, some perks of growing old. One perk is being hard of hearing. Sometimes, what you think you hear is more interesting than what’s actually been said.

And, of course, there’s memory, at least when there’s a little left, one hopes. Oldies with moderate memory loss get to watch the same movies over and over because they can’t remember seeing them in the first place.

There are more advantages to being old. Let me think. Humm. There must be something.

Oh! Some of us command respect from our demeanor. I’ve been the receiver of occasional kindness. People honor me for my service in WWll. No, I don’t wear a badge. They just assume from my age that I must be a veteran of something.

Fortunately, no one tries to help me cross the street. I’m still not ready for that one, sonny.

There is a certain amount of wisdom that accumulates through the years. But you have to have the capacity to know what it is, and if you do, you’re probably wrong anyway.

Few will be spared the fact that we will be tested along the way as we age, and many may find old age is not for sissies. … The best thing to learn of old age is that we are to live to the fullest of our capabilities until life’s ending.”

My friends, Phil Rizzo was indeed tested by old age and passed those tests with A-pluses — giving back to our community with his service, insight and humor to the last days of his life that blessed all of us.
Phil, we will sorely miss you, your emails and your clever, insightful writing.
Go in peace, brother,
— Gary Horton

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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