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Bill Tierney

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On Greatness and Goodness: An Appreciation

Barry’s father, Joe Weiss, died last month, and I wanted to spend a moment writing about him. Joe died at the age of 96. For all but the two years he spent fighting in Europe during World II was in Pittsburgh. He was born in a Hungarian Jewish community outside of Pittsburgh and died a stone’s throw from the small home where he raised Barry and his brother Allen.

Joe was a meat cutter for A+P for 20 years and then worked for a local grocery store until he retired at 70; he continued to work part-time, especially deer hunting season, until he was 80. He supported unions because he was a working man and knew how they had been exploited. He was married to Esther, Barry and Allen’s mom, for over 50 years. The final years of her life she had Alzheimer’s and had to be placed in a home. He went to the home every day, and after Esther died he continued to volunteer at the home well into his 80s. The year after Esther died he was bereft and I remember thinking that however sad I felt for him, that I hoped that others—that I—felt such loss after losing one’s partner. He eventually found a piano bar where he would go three nights a week and sing. Joe had a beautiful voice (that his son did not inherit!).

When Barry and I came out as gay to our parents we were both nervous. Joe and Esther, it turned out, simply wanted their son to be happy. For the first few years after they had met us Joe introduced me to others as “Barry’s very, very, very good friend.” It was not long after we met that when we spoke on the phone Joe ended the call by saying, “Okay, bye now. I love you son.”  He said that to me every time I spoke with him on the phone. When he was 92 he came for our wedding and we had him sing for the crowd; he stole the show.

We frequently exhort people to be great. But it has been noted that great people may not be good people. Lance Armstrong was a great athlete, but he was not a good man. Many of our politicians are great people for what they have accomplished but they are not good people.

Joe was not a great man. Joe was a good man. He lived a simple life. He loved talking with people and rarely said a bad word about anyone. He didn’t divide people into good or bad, and simply enjoyed you because of who you were. All of us who knew him are just that much better because of it.

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