By Jim Coughlin
Polar Park on Madison Street, just outside of Kelly Square, on Tuesday, July 2, was the scene of a fundraiser for the family of the late Worcester Police Officer Emanuel “Manny” Familia who tragically died on June 4th after unsuccessfully trying to save a young man from Virginia, Troy Love, from drowning. But he also drowned at Green Hill Park.
The event featured a line-up of some national, New England and Boston comics, along with Cambridge comedian Lenny Clark who served as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening.
The event was billed as “A Night of Comedy for Familia.” Besides Clark, other comedians who performed at the fundraiser were Boston comedian Tony Viveiros whose stage name is “Tony V,”Dave Russo, Frank Santorrellia and Christine Hurley of Plymouth who was introduced to the 2,000 spectators at the event as the “Queen of Comedy.”
Tickets were mostly sold on line for line, starting at $30.
The event was organized by retired Massachusetts State Trooper John Fraioli who is a member of the security staff for the Worcester Red Sox at Polar Park. The fundraiser began with a singer, Todd Angell of Lynnfield, who sings at the opening of hockey games for the Boston Bruins at the TD Center in Boston. He brought the entire crowd to a rousing standing ovation after he completed the National Anthem. Angilly, whose day job is as the Assistant Super indent of Re-entry for Essex County Sheriff Kevin Carpenter in an interview said, “It was an honor to be here to join with the Worcester Police Department who just lost a brother.”
In referring to the police, Angell said, “These are the people who keep us safe.”
Manny Familia’s wife, Jennifer, as well as his 7 year-old daughter and 13 year old son were in attendance at the event. Off duty members of the Worcester Police Department, wearing blue tee shirts with the logo “Comedy Staff” on the back and the police department’s logo on the front served as advance people for the comedians going onto the stage and helped provide security for the event as the comedians came and left the stage.
The range of humor was about ordinary every day things such as marriage, relationships with members of your family, and there were even some comic lines about the legendary traffic problems at Kelly Square.
Those in attendance were a combination of present and former members of the Worcester Police Department and their families. Among those in the audience was a policewoman from the Holden Police Department who only identified herself as “Janet.” She is an 18 year veteran of the Department and said she worked with Manny as a member of the Oakham Police Department prior to his becoming a member of the Worcester Police Department. Janet saluted her fallen brother as “an awesome police officer who always had a joke.”
Also attending was Alex Owen of Worcester who did not know Manny personally, but she said she “has friends who knew him.” She described herself as a 2008 graduate of Holy Name High School in Worcester and called the fallen police officer as “an incredibly nice man, an amazing police officer and an excellent father.”
“People only have nice things to say about him,” she said.
Another attendee was Shawn Grimes of Sterling who said he came because he read the story in the newspaper and friends of his told him they were going to attend the fundraiser, so he decided to come, also. Perhaps the one interview that I had after the event that best summed up the event for the fallen police officer was the one I had with Ralph Capaldi, a resident of Auburn who called the fundraiser, “a great show of love.”
I guess that was what the event at Polar Park was all about, in the final analysis. As a reporter who covered Familia’s wake and funeral Mass at St. John’s Church on June 10, I can personally attest to the greatness and the emotional strength and stamina exhibited by the members of the Worcester Police Department, both individually and collectively, as they came either alone or with their spouses to say goodbye to their fallen comrade who unquestionably was loved very much by his colleagues in the department.
Worcester has had a number of tragedies and traumas over the years: the 1953 tornado, the 1996 Worcester Cold Storage Fire that claimed the lives of six members of the Worcester Fire Department, and there was the tragic death of Worcester Firefighter Jason Menard shortly after that, and of course the latest of these tragedies was the death of Manny Familia. But Worcester is a great city and we, as a community, will overcome the loss of Manny.
The members of the Worcester Police Department need to know that the small minority who unfairly criticize the entire department do NOT speak for the entire community, although they may somehow think that they do. The police need to be called their proper title, and I just don’t mean properly addressing them as “officer” as a simple matter of showing some modicum of respect to them as law enforcement officers. But rather what the Worcester Police need to be recognized for is what they truly are and that is “Blue Angels.” As the singer for the fundraiser very appropriately said about the police, “they are the ones keeping us safe.”
For those whose battle cry is “defund the police, I have one question: when someone is shot in your neighborhood or your home is burglarized, who are you going to call: the critics of the police? I don’t think so.
The pain of the loss of Manny Familia is still fresh in the hearts of the women and men in blue who keep us safe. In the wake of Manny’s tragic death, one wish for our city could be that we be spared any more tragedies like the one that took police Manny Familia from us, far too soon. Undoubtedly, the death of Manny has been a difficult one – not only for his fellow police officers but for the entire City of Worcester. …
Rest in Peace, Blue Angel.