During the course of my tenure as Yorktown councilman, I had the distinct honor of campaigning for election six times. On each occasion, I would spend months walking the entire town and knocking on doors as I reintroduced myself to thousands of constituents. Each time I especially looked forward to visiting the big white house on Barberry Road, the home of Nick and Phyllis Madonna and their four children.
The patriarch of the family, Nicholas, was born in Harlem and raised in Yonkers, the eldest of three sons. He is distantly related to Anne Bancroft. His father was a compensation attorney. While his wife’s family lost just about everything in the Depression, his family was able to weather the storm. He attended Fordham and later went to work in radio advertising, spending most of that time working for Gene Autry’s Golden West Broadcasters. Nick moved his family to Yorktown in 1956.
Nick’s gracious and remarkable wife, Phyllis, was raised in the Pelham section of the Bronx in a big Italian family. Although she only had one brother and one sister, she had a colossal number of cousins. Her father was a builder/engineer and later opened Mantovani & Lynch, an insurance brokerage and real estate office. She is also a third cousin of the famous orchestra conductor, Annunzio Mantovani. Phyllis dedicated her life to raising her four children: Susann, Joan, Rob and Will.
Visiting the Madonnas was more than just a campaign stop, largely because of my close friendship with their youngest son, Will. I met Will when he was a Bronx assistant district attorney in 1990 and we became fast friends. He was funny, brilliant, generous and dedicated. After he left the district attorney’s office in 1994 for private practice, he became a regular fixture in the Bronx courthouse, helping thousands of indigent clients over the years. I saw him on an almost daily basis and we would always find the time to spend at least a few moments talking about our lives or sports.
Having been raised in Yorktown, Will often described what it was like to grow up there in the 1960s. Our town had no hospital—the closest was in Mount Kisco. We did, however, have a train station! Everyone shopped at Mitchell Hardware and kids bought their baseball cards and toys at MacGregor’s. Witnessing a herd of cattle crossing a major road was not uncommon.
Growing up, William was a gifted athlete, enjoying basketball, baseball and football. He went to St. Patrick’s School for eight years and then continued his education at John F. Kennedy Catholic High School, graduating in 1979. His baseball skills were by then quite evident, although he was also captain of the wrestling team. After high school, he briefly considered pursuing a professional baseball career with the Detroit Tigers, who showed definite interest. The Gene Autry-owned Angels wanted to fly him out to California for a tryout. Instead, Will decided to abandon his boyhood dreams and pursue an education.
Will started his post-high school education at a community college. During these years, he stayed home and worked for his sister, Joan, at her cheese shop in New Rochelle. He spent a lot of time with Joan’s daughter, his first niece, Nicole. He was almost like a nanny to Nicole except he avoided changing her diapers at all costs. After community college, he finished his college education at Northeastern. During the summers of his college days, Will, his brother, Rob, and several of their friends worked for the Yorktown Highway Department. I am told by Rob that their greatest skill that summer was “goofing off.” Given that fact, it’s not surprising that this motley crew were also expert telephone pranksters. William’s best prank was convincing a man he had won a trip to Florida. You can well imagine the rest of that story.
William’s path to becoming the great lawyer he was destined to become wasn’t a straight line. After college, he drifted a bit. He spent time selling radio advertising and even door-to-door Electrolux vacuums, which he hated. He became a licensed private investigator in Boston. Acting in that capacity, he caught someone committing worker’s compensation fraud. Will, in a foreshadowing of his career as a prosecutor, testified in court, presented evidence and saw to it that the culprit was convicted. After that experience, it made perfect sense that William would soon enter and excel at New England Law School.
You may have guessed by now that Will’s story ended too soon. Just three weeks ago, without warning, my good friend, William Madonna, suffered a massive heart attack and died at the age of 55. All of us who really loved him are in shock and are desperately trying to cope with the aftermath of having such a magnificent person removed from our lives. Forever etched in my mind are our countless conversations, which always revealed Will’s overriding and profound love for his two sons, Mathew and Eric; his caring parents; and his siblings, Susann, Joan and Rob.
The sadness that we, Will’s friends, are experiencing over his passing can only pale when compared with what his family must be going through. William’s brother, Rob, put it best: “My parents are reaching deep within themselves to endure the death of their youngest child. They are drawing from great faith, inner strength, and depth of character—something that we aren’t seeing much of today.”
I am not campaigning anymore but I feel compelled to visit one more time that big white house on Barberry Road. Upon arriving, I would be sure to tell Nick and Phyllis that they are indeed the very best of Yorktown and that they and their son, Will, are forever in our prayers.
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