Francis G. Noonan
23 November 1958 – 24 September 2020
29 September 2020
St. Raphael Church, Medford, Massachusetts
By John Oppedisano
Lorrie, Sean, Sammy. Michael, Patty, and Judy, other members of Jerry’s family, colleagues, friends and acquaintances:
Thank you all for coming, and as is the norm today, for watching. Your presence here today reminds us of the scripture’s counsel, “…that those who mourn are blessed for they shall be comforted;” and we are comforted by the knowledge that, somewhere up above, God is getting an earful of trumpet solos and double C’s.
How do you honor a legend? Let’s start with the basics.
Francis Gerard Noonan was born on 23 November 1958, to Francis and Elizabeth Noonan of Somerville, Massachusetts, the last child of four children that included brother Michael, and two sisters, Patti and Judy.
He attended Matignon High School in Cambridge before he matriculated to Berklee School of Music where he earned a degree in composition. It was here during his playing audition to gain acceptance, that a professor, after just two notes stopped him and said, “Are you a drum corps guy?” to which Jerry nodded. “I thought so,” came the reply, “All you guys have iron chops.”
And a drum corps guy he was. Royalty in fact. He was a member of the Annunciators Drum and Bugle corps of Somerville, MA, and then, on the counsel of his mentor and life-long friend, Rick Connor, joined the Beverly Cardinals where his talent began to blossom and folks started to notice. And when they merged with several organizations to form the nationally competitive NorthStar, he excelled as a soloist, garnering international recognition and fame. Before he aged out, he was teaching as well and later he taught with the Boston Crusaders while writing and consulting for dozens of corps and bands around the world. He has been inducted into three Hall of Fame organizations: The Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps, the Massachusetts Drum Corps Hall of Fame, and the Buglers Hall of Fame. And his name is always on the short list when discussions emerge about who was the greatest soloist in DCI history.
He lived his entire life in the greater Boston area, and worked a long and successful career in print media sales and service. He was an avid sports fan to all teams Boston, a devoted golfer, and a very fine dart player, I should add – something to which I can personally attest having lost more than my share of wagered pints at the Seven’s Ale House over on Beacon Hill. He loved fast cars and being well dressed and was mercilessly tough on his shoes for years until a keen-eyed salesman suggested he get measured and he found out he had been buying shoes two sizes too small for years. Every year thereafter, I was sardonically reminded by him to get my feet measured, and it always brought us a laugh.
He enjoyed as almost a religious ritual a good Irish whiskey, with which on rare “special” occasions – usually the result of a bad decision borne of our youthful and mischievous minds– he would insist we christen to ensure the luck of the Irish bless the unholy event. He loved the beach and the trips to Maine every summer; and he was as skilled at transposing a Miles Davis Solo off a scratchy old LP as he was at cutting clean miter joints or repairing faulty plumbing.
And of course, he married the perfect mate in Lorrie Fahey and cherished his good fortune when he became a stepdad to Sean Doherty and cried elated tears of joy and pride when he told me he had become a father to Samantha.
These are some of the facts of his life, but they do not tell you who he was.
For Jerry was indeed a legend, and the very best kind of legend. He was a man of the people, the star who felt less comfortable on the stage he commanded than he did off it – surrounded by those with whom he performed, proud to be part of the ensemble, believing that everyone’s part was no less important than his. If you marched with him, or performed with him, you know what I am talking about.
While his role was often to perform some of the most demanding and riskiest solos ever put on the drum corps stage, he could make the rookie third baritone feel as if he or she were the most important person in the corps. It is the greatness of this man, that when asked to be a star he did it not out of any desire for self promotion, but because the corps needed him to do it. And so he did, and as we know, did it phenomenally.
Jerry was fond of this Teddy Roosevelt quote:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, and whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, if he wins, knows the thrills of high achievement, and if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
But Jerry said it more much more succinctly:
“How you react shows your strength.”
It’s this that we honor in Jerry, this high achievement that we celebrate in his life, for this is the essence of what he celebrated in his personal creed, what he showed to us.
You see this in the decisions of his life. After all, why would a man so deeply talented as a musician, put the horn down, and then never play again? Why would a man, who as a teacher influenced thousands of students, walk away from a vocation for which he seemed destined?
It is because deep in his heart, Jerry showed that he celebrated the family, and the love and comfort one finds and gives as its function. It was borne in his own loving family of his parents and siblings, Michael, Patti and Judy; it grew exponentially in his drum corps family — composed of thousands of people across the globe and generations — and most importantly of all; it ripened and blossomed in his own nuclear family of Lorrie, Sean, and Sammy.
I have been his friend for fifty years, and I can say without reservation that what made this man the most happy, the most content, the most satisfied in his life, was to be in the company of Lorrie, Sean and Sammy. He spoke of them with pride, constantly. Of Lorrie he often told me how she kept him honest, and then gush about how much he loved her, and how much he felt loved. Of Sean, he would always start it with “you’re not going to believe what this kid is doing…,” and then go on to talk about another challenge Sean had taken on and scaled; And of course, Sammy, he loved as only a father can love a daughter, deeply, passionately and hopefully, that he can give her the world in the palm of her hand. This was how he chose to react to life, to put together this family, and in so doing revealed his strength, and it was immense.
We all know he was blessed with the wings of Icarus, but he reacted by never being tempted by the sun. For him, he knew at a young age, that the selfless state found in the unity of family was itself, its own reward.
In today’s divided world, of polarized and segregated emotions and creeds, Jerry was a beacon of unity and family. And yes, I struggle like you asking why Heaven, which has so much, now has so much more? And we here on earth, who need so much, now have so much less?
And I cannot answer it. But I find strength when I think of this man, our friend, who unites us all today, from how he treated people, how he cared for everyone, how he loved. And this gives me hope. And from this hope I cherish the fact in knowing that Sammy has tattooed on her inner wrist her father’s words to remind her of this throughout her life. This is what makes me look to life without him, knowing his ideals are eternal, and his actions, viable, his memory, ever present. I hope how I react, shows his strength and its gift to us all.
I am saddened at his passing, but I marvel at his strength, his unyielding spirit not to give in and admire in amazement how he did it. And I think back and see it in every phase of his life, and this warms my heart and comforts me. He was indeed “…a good and simple man…” given an ordinary life which he lived with extraordinary grace.
And so, if we are to honor such a man — and honor we must — we should do so beyond these simple words, and do as he, and react with strength. We must live our lives as would he, ever cognizant that how we react will show our strength, and when you do, think of your friend Jerry being at your side, silent, supportive, loving. Just as he did in life.
So, with God Speed, we all say fare thee well, sir. Yours was the best of lives, and we all thank you for it and the many gifts you gave us along the way.
With hopeful expectations, we will look to see you again; with familial pride we will cherish and spread the lessons you’ve taught us; and with love, we will keep dear the memory of your spirit.
May you forever rest in peace.