Laughter and tears filled the main ballroom at the Venus de Milo in Swansea Sunday afternoon as nearly 300 family members and friends gathered to help celebrate Bristol icon Edmund P. “Hector” Massa’s 90th birthday. It was a celebration for the ages … literally.
Actually, Hector’s birthday was Dec. 28, but thanks to his wife, Shirley, this gala celebration and roast was pushed to the nearest weekend at a venue where many people could be accommodated comfortably.
“I couldn’t believe the number of people who came here for me today,” said Hector, his eyes filling with tears. Mr. Massa is long remembered for his dedication to the youth of Bristol, first as athletic director at the old YMCA on Hope Street (where he helped create the never-to-be-forgotten Camp Hess Day Camp on Hog Island), and later, as champion of student-athletes as athletic director at Roger Williams University.
As someone was heard saying at the conclusion of the event, “That room was filled with a ‘real’ look at what has made Bristol such a unique community. It almost felt like the marking of an era that will likely never be duplicated.”
A number of Hector’s old friends and family members marched one by one to the podium to echo their personal feelings of a man whose values to children and dedication to his community has never been in doubt. Colt Memorial High School classmate and fellow athlete Frank Murgo talked about the “good old days,” when family values were at a premium and playing ball on the Town Common with Hector was part of an everyday routine.
“I’ve known Frank for more than 70 years, and we graduated together in 1942,” said Hector. “I was so happy he was able to share this special day with me.”
Also chiming in were a number of celebration “roasters,” who, at times, had the audience roaring with laughter, including former Camp Hess counselor Mickey Securo; longtime friend and YMCA guru Manny Pasqual; former college and high school basketball official Ken Walker; and retired CCRI athletic director and Hall of Fame basketball coach Vin Cullen.
In addition, two of Hector’s closest friends at Roger Williams were on hand to join in the fun. They included one-time star guard and former RWU athletic director Dwight Datcher, who arrived in town from Washington, D.C., and former head basketball coach, Vic Collucci.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” said Mr. Datcher, who helped Roger Williams advance to the NAIA National Basketball Tournament in Kansas City in 1974. “Hector was special to all of us during our years as student-athletes at Roger Williams. “He was like a second father to many of us.”
Vic Collucci, who starred at Providence College under the late Joe Mullaney and Dave Gavitt in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, coached at Roger Williams in the 1970s and compiled a 74-21 record. He said Hector was very instrumental in him coming to the Bristol campus.
“Hector had a way about him that was infectious,” he noted. “You had to love him. I’d do anything for him. When I came here to coach, that was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Tom Drennan, the former RWU athletic director who got Hector to become his assistant, was also present at Sunday’s festivities, and said his successor was truly a man of vision and someone everyone at the university loved and respected.
Also offering their remarks was former YMCA Day Camp counselor and good friend Ed Castro; longtime friend Dick “The Stick” Medeiros; Hector’s daughter, Teresa “Terri” Massa, and her son, Dennis; former RWU star athlete Greg Gwaltney; Hector’s youngest son, Alan Massa; and Hector’s granddaughter, Kendra Rickwall, who came to the podium holding her six-month old baby, Felice.
Terri Massa reminisced about her Camp Hess days and even offered some trivia questions while leading in the singing of the official camp song. It was nostalgia at its finest.
Hector also received a special citation on behalf of the Town of Bristol from former Bristol Town Councilman and former Camp Hess counselor David E. Barboza; and a proclamation from the Town of Bristol, presented by Town Administrator Antonio A. “Tony” Teixeira and Town Council chairwoman Mary A. Parella.
A highlight of the day was a surprise presentation by the Bristol Athletic Hall of Fame Committee, of a framed oil painting of Hector marking his days as a RI Interscholastic Baseball League umpire.
The entire day’s speaking program was professionally video-taped by award-winning documentary producers Joanne “JoJo” LaRiccia of Somerville, Ma., and Bristol native Mary Lou Palumbo. Invocation was given by the Rev. Henry P. Zinno Jr., pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church; and the celebratory toast was given by Hector’s good friend, Richard J. Travers, past chairman of the Bristol Athletic Hall of Fame Committee.
“I don’t know how to thank you people enough,” Hector said at the conclusion of the day’s program. “You all mean so much to me. This has been a day I’ll never forget.”