I lost a big brother this summer.
No, not a sibling. In the Ackerman family, I’m the big brother. But Bob Luchetti was a brother nonetheless.
Bobby died on July 18, 50 years almost to the day of our first meeting in the summer of 1967.
I had been working at the local Sunday newspaper for just a couple of weeks at the time. I was only a month out of high school and just 17 years old, but had been hired as a part-time sports writer. Up to then, I had mostly taken baseball scores over the phone from Little League and Teeners League coaches.
But as this particular Saturday approached, I was told to be prepared because I was “going for bear.” That’s an old-timer’s term for going out on a big story. They were mostly teasing me. It’s not like I was about to cover the Cuban Missile Crisis. Still, when it comes to community journalism, this was pretty big. And they were entrusting it to me, the “kid” on the staff.
The Wyoming/West Wyoming Little League all star team was playing for the district championship in Tunkhannock. The photographer assigned to the story would be driving. His name was Bobby Luchetti.
I had never heard the term “moonlighting” before but Bobby explained that’s what he did as a photographer. His day job was loan officer at First National Bank. He shot photos, he said, for two reasons. One, with a young family, he needed the extra money. And two, he loved it.
I could see that at the game. The local team won and Bobby jumped up on top of the third base dugout, gathered the players in front of him and told them to go crazy. They call these things jubilation shots and that’s exactly what this one was. The editor put it on page one.
Bobby was 10 years older than I but we became instant friends. This was just the first of dozens of assignments together.
We met one evening in the parking lot of the newspaper to head out to a high school football game. Again, Bobby was driving. I got into the passenger seat but before we pulled out he said he wanted to tell me something. He had met my girlfriend, who I had been dating a few months, and said he thought she was lovely.
“There’s a beautiful gift a girl can offer a young man she’s in love with,” he began, “and your relationship might get to that point. But it’s up to her to offer that gift. You can never take it without it being offered.”
I was smart enough to know what Bobby was talking about and I thought it was beautiful. We were a lot more innocent at 17 than kids are these days and my girlfriend and I were a long, long way from the “offering” of such a “gift.” But I took Bobby’s advice to heart and held it there throughout my life. He taught me to be a gentleman.
As I looked back on that moment through the years, I became more and more impressed that Bobby took the initiative to broach such a sensitive topic with a young guy he cared about and that he did so without an ounce of awkwardness or embarrassment. It didn’t take courage to do what Bobby did that evening. It took love.
I looked up to Bobby from that time on and never stopped. He was a big, strong man physically. He could stand his ground if he needed to. But he also had a gentle way about him. The harshest rebuke he ever gave his daughters Laurie and Mary Kay, when they did something wrong, they said, was to shake his head and softly say, “That’s not right.”
“Then he’d get this thin-lipped look on his face and we knew we better fix what we did and never do it again,” Mary Kay said.
Bob’s job at the bank was to write loans. That’s how banks make money. Bobby wrote hundreds if not thousands of them. Many were mortgages. And many Bobby approved not because the numbers added up but because Bobby saw something in a customer’s eyes that told him this was a person of integrity who’d make his payments. Then he had to convince the board of directors to go along with him. In this he was somewhat of a real-life George Bailey.
But Bobby occasionally talked people out of loans too. At least he did me.
“I know why you want a new car,” he told me one time in his office. “We all want a new car. But the smart thing is to drive the car you have for another year. Then come see me.”
He was right, of course. And I listened to him.
There were a lot of men in uniform at Bobby’s funeral: Knights of Columbus — he was a Past Grand Knight; the AMVETS Honor Guard — he was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force; firefighters and emergency responders — he had been assistant fire chief of the Hughestown Hose Company.
Bobby’s community service came together with his banking expertise when the Pittston YMCA burned to the ground in the early 1980s. He fought the fire, helping to save the surrounding buildings, and then put together a multi-bank effort to fund the construction of a new YMCA. He had a strong belief in the YMCA and later served on its board of directors.
Listening to Kay Luchetti, Bobby’s wife of 54 years, and his daughters talk about his courageous battle with a multitude of health issues over the past 10 years or more inspired me to say to them, “It seems Bobby squeezed every ounce out of his time on earth.”
That’s for sure, they agreed. At one point, he was placed in hospice care but wasn’t ready to leave the world. They brought him back home and he lived for two more years.
His favorite saying, they said, was “Take care of business.” Bobby allowed himself to close his eyes for the last time only when he knew all of his own business had been taken care of. That meant making sure his family would be OK without him. Only then could the banker close his books.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.