Niagara Gazette

December 1, 2012

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: Saying goodbye to the ‘Bro’

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Mourners — It was our Holly who broke the news to us, the night after Thanksgiving, in her living room mid-state. “Oh, Dad,” she said, shaken by what she had just learned in the midst of a joyful holiday romp through Facebook. “Brother Augustine died.” Black Friday, indeed.

Not really. “Bro” had been ill, really ill, although in a performance worthy of a Tony Award, he twice played host to us in his Philadelphia convalesence with cheerful and creative enthusiasm, allowing one of us — Doug, actually — to dreadfully overstay his welcome last March. Doug suspected “Bro” tolerated him only as a pathway to Polly, of whom he was enormously fond.

We last spoke to him about five weeks ago, purposely calling at the moment the head nurse passed his bedside, 10 a.m., and she handed him the phone. Timing is everything, Bro knew.

We met in 1972, both beginning new careers, Doug as entertainment editor at the Courier-Express, “Bro” slapping life into a nascent theater department at Niagara U, a cardboard box full of scripts and resumes standing in for the cradle. A co-ed (that term was OK then) with an eager but professional demeanor called asking if we’d like to review “Guys & Dolls,” which opened our eyes to the joys of collegiate theater.

Later, he would invite our Holly, then 12, to perform as a “no-neck monster” in his cast of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Now, four decades later, she would reminisce on his kind indulgence but mostly, how much the experience had turned her on to theater, even if she didn’t take it up as a profession. “Look at how many people he did that for,” she said, “and how many of them then passed it along themselves. How many lives did he affect for the better? Thousands, maybe.”

By that time, Facebook (all Greek to us) was a-buzz with Bro’s disciples, many trying to conjure a way to gather immediately to share the pain. Michele Ragusa (’84) had just landed in Oklahoma City for a concert, his wind beneath her wings. “He shaped who I am today both as a person and performer, a dear friend,” she would say. “He always had words of encouragement when I needed them. It’s hard to think of the world without him.”

Brother Augustine Towey, CM, was laid to rest in Princeton, N.J., Thursday, after services in New York. Meantime, NU, in a nearly-new theater for which he is almost wholly responsible, was opening a musical which we will delicately re-title “You’re In Town.” Odd choice, it seems, for a reverently Catholic institution, but it wouldn’t peeve Bro. His productions of “Chicago” never flinched at the humankind’s sordid side and we cherished posing this seeming dilemma to him, and hearing him note that, actually, neither did Jesus.

In 2006 we made a “duty call” to his own “Vincent in Heaven,” about the founder of his order. It was thoroughly entertaining as well as educational, and funny, too. Said actress Darleen Pickering-Hummert, who shared several shows with him, “‘Bro’ knew ‘funny’ better than anyone else.”

We could use a little “Bro” right now.

Come visit. We’ll talk. There’s no business like Bro business.

Polly and Doug E-mail