I can’t recall a day in my life where I laughed so hard and cried so much, all in the same day, as I did last Friday. I also can’t recall ever seeing so much joy and so much good come of something so unspeakably evil.
As anyone who resides in the Maryland suburbs knows, a brutal murder took place a week ago today in Rockville. Dick and Jody Vilardo had their lives taken from them in their home. As I awoke this morning, a suspect is in custody and, if found guilty, I hope he’s prosecuted and punished in the manner owing to such a horrible act. But that’s not the story I want to write. The media will cover that amply, I’m sure.
I knew Dick, but not well. I don’t believe I ever met Jody. Dick was a member at my golf club and I played golf with him a few times in the last five years. His business partner, Steve, is one of my closest friends. On Friday, I attended Dick and Jody’s funeral and the reception Steve hosted at the club. I was there out of respect for Dick and Jody, but I was mainly there for Stevie. I’m so glad I was.
Dick and Jody’s son, Andy, delivered the eulogy at the church service. There’s no harder speech to deliver, but Andy delivered it with aplomb like I’ve never seen. He moved fluidly from the hauntingly sad to the gut bustingly funny without missing a beat and, amazingly, without losing his shit. I spoke at my dad’s funeral, who, like the Vilardos, died young and unexpectedly, though in not nearly the tragic manner, and I didn’t make it much past the first sentence. Andy was truly amazing.
After the service, we all went back to the club for a reception. All 500 or so of us. The food was great. The drink was, at least in the moment, soothing. I assumed that we’d all grab a bite and a few drinks and head out. I was wrong. Steve called everyone into the ballroom and made a toast to his friend and colleague, Dick Vilardo, known to both grandchildren and friends as “Grandpa Pizza.” This moniker had come out in Andy’s eulogy and I just assumed it was a cute name one of the grandkids had hung on him. Steve’s toast told a different story. Dick was a pizza fanatic. But, apparently, after a cardiac event (Dick’s word for it; Steve said others referred to it as a “heart attack”) a few years ago, Dick was put on a strict diet that allowed for pizza only once a month, always on the 15th. Stevie had noticed that Friday was the 15th and, thus, concluded his toast to Dick and Jody by having 50 pizzas suddenly emerge from the back of the ballroom to be served to the Vilardo’s friends and family. We laughed a lot and we cried a little.
Then came the parade of Dick and Jody’s friends, highlighted by Dr. Jan, one of Dick’s very colorful golfing buddies, all part of a group dubbed Golfarama. One of Dick’s buddies spoke of Dick’s habit of drinking certain cocktails on certain days of the week. It all happened so fast, I honestly don’t recall whether martinis were a Friday drink and Manhattans a Saturday drink, or the other way around. But, I do know I had a Bombay Sapphire gin martini on the rocks with olives last night and texted the picture to Stevie, who had already left town for his daughter’s college graduation in New Orleans. He replied, simply, “lighter fluid.” Pretty close to the truth and my head hurts a bit as I write this.
Dr. Jan stole the show with his anecdotes about Dick and Jody. The Vilardos were avid gardeners and Jody was a 25-year member of her gardening club. Dr. Jan, who stood about 6’4” and carried about 300 lbs recounted a story of arriving at the Vilardos in his new BMW 325i convertible, a look he said Dick described as a gorilla in a go-kart. When Dr. Jan arrived, Dick was cutting the beautifully manicured grass on his riding mower. Dr. Jan tooted the horn a few times, but Dick didn’t hear him. So, Dr. Jan drove his new BMW convertible onto the lawn and starting following Dick around on his mower. The sound of the mower prevented him from hearing the car until Dr. Jan leaned on the horn a few times. He chased Dr. Jan off the lawn and, after Dr. Jan went in the house, he looked out and saw Dick down on all fours smoothing out the tire tracks the BMW had left behind. We laughed a lot.
Next came Lewis, Dick and Jody’s grandson of about 4 years. Lew’s mom held him and handed him the microphone, along with the warning to those assembled that she had no idea what he was going to say. In his tiny little voice, Lew said, “Grandpa Pizza and Nana are in heaven now. They’re looking down on us and all the cars and taking care of us.” He then proceeded to go into heart-warming detail of how he would play with his toys, both inside and outside. The details didn’t matter; he had us. I was sitting at a table with Steve and 5 or 6 of my “guys’ guys” golfing buddies. Each table had a box of tissues in the center. During Lew’s speech, there was a scrum amongst my golfing buddies to get to the tissue box.
Finally, my dear friend Geoff spoke. Geoff and his wife, Gail, and the Vilardos have been fast friends for 30+ years. They lived on the same street and their kids are about the same age. Geoff told the story of when his first child was born. In the Jewish faith, you don’t prepare the baby’s nursery ahead of the birth, in case something happens. When Geoff and Gail came home with Rachel, they found that Dick and Jody had assembled Rachel’s crib, gotten the nursery ready, and put a big “Welcome home Rachel” sign on the front door. Geoff broke down and wept during his speech. There was another run on the tissue box on our table.
It has been so hard to make any sense out of this awful situation this week. When my father passed at 61 it was way too young. It felt so unfair because I had a lot more I wanted to do with him. But, we lost him because his body malfunctioned. That’s terribly sad, but at the same time natural. Our bodies don’t come with warranties and the older we get, the more clear that becomes. But, what happened to Dick and Jody didn’t have to happen. Why would anyone take the lives of two such beautiful people? It’s impossible to know and even more impossible to comprehend. But, out of that evil came something so wonderful on Friday, as we all got to listen to the stories of how they had touched so many people’s lives. I opened this piece by saying I didn’t really know the Vilardo’s all that well. I feel like I do now. And, I wish I had taken the time to get to know them better when they were with us in this world. God bless Dick and Jody Vilardo and their amazing family and friends.