Thursday, July 15, 2010
Sheppard laid to rest on Long Island
By Kieran Darcy
BALDWIN, N.Y. -- The long and distinguished life of Bob Sheppard was celebrated Thursday morning at a funeral Mass in his hometown on Long Island.
Several hundred family, friends and fans gathered at St. Christopher's Church to honor and remember the longtime New York Yankees and New York Giants public address announcer, who died Sunday at the age of 99.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, Giants president and CEO John Mara and former St. John's men's basketball coach Lou Carnesecca were among those invited to speak about Sheppard.
Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani was also in attendance, and famed Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sang two hymns during the service.
"Today we pay tribute to a true legend in the sporting world and the city of New York," Mara said.
Sheppard was nicknamed "The Voice of God" for his deep and distinctive voice, and for his precise pronunciation of words and names. He was also highly regarded personally for his humility and grace.
He worked for the Giants from 1956 to 2005 before retiring from football, and for the Yankees from 1951 to 2007, until he became ill with a bronchial infection. He also taught speech at St. John's University.
"In an era in which too many public address announcers act like cheerleaders ... Bob Sheppard stood out as the most distinguished and dignified voice in all of sports," Mara said. "In one man's humble opinion, Bob deserves a place in both Cooperstown, N.Y., and in Canton, Ohio."
"He came to the stadium -- Yankee Stadium -- for 57 years, each and every day, focused on two things," Cashman said. "Doing his job to the absolute best of his ability, and treating everyone -- from George Steinbrenner to the press box attendant -- with warmth and kindness."
Sheppard's wife, Mary, was at the church, along with Sheppard's four children: sons Paul and Chris, and daughters Barbara and Mary. Paul also spoke during the service.
"Although Dad will most be remembered for being a Yankee and Giant announcer, his priorities were tied for first: the Catholic Church, and family," Paul said. "Second [was] teaching. And third, announcing."
Sheppard was a devout Catholic, who attended early-morning Mass daily for the past 50 years. He also served as a lector at St. Christopher's, and at Sunday Masses held at Yankee Stadium.
Fans gathered both in the church and outside it Thursday morning, to pay their respects to Sheppard. Some were dressed in dark suits -- others wore Yankees gear. Loudspeakers were set up outside, so those not in the church could still hear what was happening.
One fan -- Salvatore Candiano -- held a sign above his head. It read, simply:
"LONG LIVE THE VOICE."
As it turns out, Candiano is a huge Mets fan. But he lives in Baldwin, and was a neighbor of Sheppard's.
"Mr. Sheppard transcended team rivalries," Candiano said. "Bob Sheppard was a legend. I just wanted to say my piece."
When the hearse carrying Sheppard's coffin finally pulled away from St. Christopher's, the many people still mingling outside the church broke into a solemn yet stirring round of applause.
A very fitting end to an extremely well-lived life.
"I have a very strong feeling that the Lord has already recruited Dad," Sheppard's son Paul said in his closing remarks. "And if you and I are fortunate someday to reach the heavenly gates, we'll probably hear, 'Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman. Welcome to heaven.'"
Kieran Darcy is a staff writer for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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