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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2004-01-19

'Two days I will never forget'
Not your typical memorial service. Not your typical guy.

By Darrell Miho

Photo by Tom Hauck

Photo by Tom Hauck

The old 'Big A' scoreboard outside of Anaheim Stadium said it all on Friday afternoon.
It was a chilly Southern California evening in Dana Point, where 300 of VJ's family members and friends gathered together at the St. Edward Catholic Church to remember and celebrate the life of Victor James Lovero. It was a memorial service so fitting that there was even a 7th inning stretch, led by vocalist Debbi Ebert, with everyone singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." I was waiting for a vendor to walk down the aisle yelling "PEANUTS!"

This was not your typical memorial service. But then again, this was not your typical guy. This was for VJ.

Being in the company of photographers for over half of his life, there were many pictures to be shared. While Richard Abraham, a childhood friend of VJ's, played the piano, the pictures faded on and off the screen. Pictures of VJ with his family. Pictures of VJ at the ballpark. Pictures of VJ with his friends. A picture of VJ and Bob Binder "flexing". Pictures of Johnny Iacono and Scott Clarke kissing VJ on the cheek...and Scott's lips actually making contact. And of course, who could forget the group picture that showed Michael Zagaris in a speedo. The ladies may have liked it, but for some it may have been TMI!

But the most memorable part of the service were the many stories that were told. Stories of the loving husband and father. The photographer who didn't just take pictures, he 'made' pictures. The ever curious water polo fan with never ending questions. The amazing courage with which he fought.

Bob Mulvey, VJ's father in-law, stood at the podium and told us the story of how one year VJ got him a media pass for spring training and emphatically told him "don't abuse it". So he went to the games, morning, noon and night, talking to the players, asking them questions, sometimes very tabloid-ish like questions, to the point where one player finally asked him, "Where are you from?" To which he replied, "Stubenville, Ohio." The player then asked "We have fans in Stubenville? Do you get games on cable?" "No." he said. At which time he said he made something up and made a quick exit.

There was a nervous 16 year old boy named Jacob "Jake" Silverman dressed in a suit. He was John's classmate and teammate, who happened to love baseball. He thought there was no one in the world that loved baseball more than he did. Then he met VJ. He read from his notes as quickly as he could, and told us how he would go over to the Lovero's house to play with John, and after they were done, he would end up sitting on the couch talking about baseball with VJ.

Former Angel and Hall of Famer Rod Carew was there. He's also a camera buff. He told us how he would call VJ whenever he bought a new camera so he can learn how to use it cause he didn't want to read the instruction manual. One time VJ told him that the instruction manual was written in English and Spanish so he could read either one. But of course, VJ always ended up going to the ballpark early to show Carew how to use his new toy.

And guess what? Carew reads Sportsshooter.com. He told us how the past few days he had been going to the site religiously to see the latest messages regarding VJ. He was reading all the stories that Brad Mangin compiled and it was just too much. He couldn't finish reading them. The stories were so touching, he said he cried for half an hour.

After Carew stepped down, Steve Fine, Director of Photography at Sports Illustrated, stepped up and paused for a moment, then as if VJ were standing right next to him he said, "Hey Veej, it doesn't get any better than this. I get to bat behind Rod Carew." He went on to tell us how he assisted VJ at the infamous Tyson - Holyfield fight where Tyson bit off a portion of Holyfield's ear. In the mayhem that followed, they ducked behind Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning in order to get out of the arena and according to Steve, it was the first time Ewing set a pick.

Photo by Karen Warren

Photo by Karen Warren

John McDonough, left, chimps with Bob Binder, middle, and Gerry Thomas at the Red Fox on Thursday night after the memorial service.
As they were driving away, VJ gets a phone call from Trish. Their son Jay was being rushed to the hospital with a severe earache. And despite the severity of the situation, VJ turns to Steve and says, "I guess it's a bad night for ears."

Scott Clarke, fellow photographer and long time friend of VJ, apologized to the guests first because he didn't have a prepared speech and wasn't exactly sure what he was going to say. But what he did say was perhaps the most revealing story of who VJ was. As he nervously tapped the podium with his fingers, he told us how throughout the past four years that VJ was battling cancer, VJ never once complained of his condition nor uttered the words "why me?" He was always more concerned about those around him. Always upbeat. Always positive. He didn't want others to worry about him. He was going to be fine. He was going to beat this.

Bob Binder ("Bobbo" to VJ), VJ's friend since high school and right hand man for many years, told us about the day they met. They were two scrawny little kids trying out for the water polo team. On the first day of practice the water was cold and they were freezing their butts off to the point where the coach pulled them out of the pool, wrapped them in towels and sat them in his office with a space heater to thaw out. While they sat in that office talking, a magical bond formed that would never be broken.

After the memorial service, many of the photographers and photo editors gathered for a drink or two (or three or four...) at the Red Fox, a small dive bar located in San Clemente, a few exits south of Dana Point. Everybody was laughing and having a good time. Sharing stories and making new friends. Digital cameras flashing away. John McDonough doing the artsy fartsy, slow shutter and move the camera trick. Other photographers holding their cameras overhead doing the hail mary group shots.

We stayed there for hours and closed the place down. It was just the way VJ would have wanted it.

Saying Goodbye

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Robert Beck, left, Maureen Grise and Scott Clarke celebrate V.J. at the Red Fox after the memorial service.
The following day was a lot more somber. There was no 7th inning stretch to lighten the mood. Today was the day we said good bye.

The funeral service started with Ebert singing a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace, as a standing room only crowd of over 800 people continued to trickle in to the Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, Calif. There were scripture readings by Bob Binder and Brad Smith. Holy Communion and angelic hymns. Mark McGwire stood in the back as Father Robert spoke about Trish's courage and how she and VJ grew closer together through the adversity.

Scott Clarke spoke about VJ's strength and courage and thanked those who were there for VJ in his final days - Brad Smith, Brad Mangin, Robert Beck, Deb Robinson, Bob Binder, John Cordes, John McDonough and Maureen Grise (Mo). His hope was that his own children would find as good of a friend as VJ was to him.

As the funeral service came to an end, we stood for the final time and VJ passed before us down the center aisle as he was led out by a young boy dressed in a white robe carrying a cross. Trish, John and Jay followed right behind and the rest of the family and congregation slowly filed in behind. Pew by pew and 2 by 2, we all exited the cathedral with tears in our eyes and sadness in our hearts.

The procession of cars heading to the burial site was unlike any I had ever seen before. I was toward the front and I could not see the front, nor could I see the end of the line in my rear view mirror. It probably stretched for a mile. Oh what a traffic jam we caused. I could see the cross traffic starting to really back up - and I was near the front.

Along the way we passed an elementary school where 30 or 40 kids lined up on the sidewalk waving to us. It was as if they were little angels that VJ sent to brighten our day and let us know that everything will be all right.

Photo by Albert Dickson / Sporting News

Photo by Albert Dickson / Sporting News

Mark McGwire, seen here shaking V.J.'s hand in St. Louis a few years ago, attended V.J.'s funeral on Friday in Orange, Calif.
A harpist played as we arrived at the burial site. We all stood quietly as pallbearers Bob Binder, Rod Carew, Scott Clarke, John Cordes, Phil Ellsworth, Willie Fraser, Steve Fine and Tim Mead, carried the beautifully polished wooden casket draped in white roses and white lilies over to VJ's final resting place. The ceremony was short and sweet.

After many of the guests had made their way to their cars and headed toward the reception at the Big 'A' (Anaheim Stadium), the SI family gathered around VJ one last time. While each of us solemnly stood around VJ touching his casket, we said our final farewells. Bob Rosato and Al Tielemans each pulled a roll of film out of their pocket and gently placed it on the casket.

Right after, the SI family again gathered in a circle off to the side from where VJ lay peacefully. Our arms wrapped around each other, supporting each other while tears of sadness rolled down our faces. We were thankful that he was and always will be our friend. We are honored that he touched our lives in so many different ways. Steve and Mo both said "There will never be another one like VJ."

Shelly Castellano and I each placed a red rose from the floral wreath on behalf of all the Sportsshooter members who were unable to attend.

Robert Beck and Brad Mangin were the last two at the burial site when Beck asked "Hey Brad, wanna play catch?" Mangin hesitated and said "sure." So Beck went to his truck and retrieved some gloves and a ball and the two started playing catch. Mitch Haddad and Jon Soohoo were driving by but stopped to join in. They tossed the ball around for about 20 minutes and decided it was time to say good bye and head over to the reception. And as they left, they each took a handful of dirt and tossed it in where VJ lay.

Trish, a pillar of strength, stood at the entrance to the Diamond Club and greeted every single person who came and thanked them for their love and support. What an inspiration to us all.

There were pictures of VJ on easels and pins galore. Pins with a picture of VJ donning a white hockey helmet, a stick on his shoulder and what John McDonough said was "the most creative use of black gaffers tape" as VJ appeared to be missing his two front teeth. There were many of VJ's covers that he shot for SI mounted and placed on the tables.

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Momentos from two very special days included this prayer card and button of V.J.
On all the monitors in the club there was a video loop playing that good friend Kirk McCaskill created, some of which came from a longer video shown at VJ's 40th birthday party. Clips of VJ and his friends goofing off and having fun. Mimicking pre-game football introductions as they ran up to the camera lens and yelled their name and where they were from. And what video montage of VJ would be complete without a clip of him clad only in red butt-huggers, white tube socks and a glove, pitching an imaginary ball in slooooow moooootion! I just about died laughing, but again, TMI!

At the end of the reception, the tables were cleaned, the beer taps were dry and the lights were turned off, but there were still 40 or so die-hards who still had not left. We stayed as long as we could until they finally had to kick us out. And so we said our farewells and wondered when we would see each other next.

Unforgettable

Those two days spent remembering VJ are two days I will never forget. The countless stories of his love for his family and friends, his love of baseball and photography and the kindness he gave freely to everyone he met. The strength of Trish, John and Jay. The love and support from the SI family and the photo community. The gathering of friends. The flowers. The tributes. Grown men hugging and weeping. Scott Clarke wearing VJ's championship ring. Drinks at the Red Fox.

VJ lives on within each and every one of us. His love and kindness has spread to all of us through his infectious smile and contagious spirit. The many life lessons he taught us will be passed on to the lives of the people that we touch. And the memories we have within our hearts will ensure that his legacy will never be forgotten.

Even in his passing, VJ was still working wonders. An event of Olympic proportions couldn't bring all of those people together again. They came from New York, Florida, Arizona, Texas, Canada and countless points in between. People dropped what they were doing to be there. Mo arrived at 1 in the morning to be by his side with a bathing suit under her clothes because she was in St. Thomas when she heard the news that VJ wasn't doing well.

All this for one man. Victor James Lovero. One very special man.

Related Links:
V.J. Lovero: 1959 - 2004
A tribute to V.J.

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