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Suffolk needed a friend like Andy

For a man who loved telling stories about his life — and a man who had so many incredible ones to share — what made Andy Damiani so special to me and so many others was the interest he shared in my own life.

Rare was the meeting we had, whether scheduled or a chance encounter on the street, in which Andy did not ask me about my family. And rare was the conversation we had when he did not take the time to tell me about something he liked from a recent edition of the Suffolk News-Herald.

When I got the first message at 7 p.m. last Saturday that he had passed, I felt as if I had been punched. This was a far more personal loss than any I have experienced in Suffolk, perhaps, since the death of my father in 1999. Writing the story about Andy that appeared in Sunday’s edition, I experienced a first in my long career in journalism — I was brought to tears.

Such is the emotional damage that comes with the loss of a friend. And Mr. Downtown may have been many things to many people, but to me — even above the roles he occupied as a former mayor, a political player, a businessman, a downtown cheerleader and others — he was, indeed, a friend.

What has struck me in the days since the news came of Andy’s passing, however, is just how many others in Suffolk thought of him exactly the same way. Even when he was demanding, even when he seemed bent on some agenda that didn’t necessarily fit with our particular view of things, he was always gracious and thoughtful — he was always a friend.

Just a couple of years after I took the editor’s position at the Suffolk News-Herald, Andy called and asked me to stop by his office to talk about something. I had learned much earlier not to inquire too closely about the subject of such meetings, and I had learned not to schedule anything too soon afterward.

Andy would take whatever time he needed to make his pitch, and I would leave whenever it was over having learned more about Suffolk, more about him and more about myself than I had known before.

That particular meeting was for Andy to propose that we begin producing a regular newscast to be aired on the city’s cable television network. I told him that it would be a daunting undertaking for which I was wholly unprepared and for which our staff was ill equipped. To his last day, he was disappointed that we hadn’t pursued his suggestion, but I still appreciate the confidence in us that he demonstrated by even making it.

To me, the exchange still exemplifies Andy’s graciousness, his idealism and his desire to see Suffolk fight above its weight class.

It seemed Andy always gave me more credit than I deserved. Everybody needs a friend like that. Main Street needed a friend like that. Suffolk needed a friend like that, and for decades, Andy Damiani was just that friend to us all.

I will surely miss you, Andy.