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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Losing a great friend in ''The Faa''

The text came over my cell phone a little after 12:30 today, from the beautiful and wonderful Anne Marie Costello, the single reason why my friend Ed "The Faa" Ford remained alive for the last two years or so.

"Faa's gone,'' was all the text said.

Gone where? I wondered. Gone? I just spoke with him in a typical Hague-Faa conversation, trying to scream over each other, covering a myriad of topics from the Final Four to Marquette vs. North Carolina to high school baseball to life, for the better part of 90 minutes Monday morning. It was refreshing to hear my friend speaking with such vigor and life. He had just written another column for the Jersey Journal, his first in about two months. He complained about how he had to dictate it to someone who didn't know the names, the faces of Hudson County. He was being ''The Faa'' as only ''The Faa'' could be.

Anne Marie then called me to say that my beloved friend for the last 35 years _ my colleague, my boss, my coach, my confidant, my adversary, my pain in the royal rectum _ was indeed gone for good.

The Faa died, apparently overnight, sitting in a chair in his trailer in the Jersey City Recreation facility in Caven Point, where he lived over the last decade or so, instead of residing in his real home on Fairview Avenue, an apartment he kept for over 40 years.

The news of his passing didn't come as a complete shock, because the man that I still called "Mr. Ford'' most of the time and only "Faa" when we were confrontational, which was definitely more often than not, was not in good health. He battled heart disease for the better part of the last decade and was in and out of the hospital several times for a series of procedures over the last two years or so.

And my beloved ''buddy'' as he called me didn't exactly take the best care of himself while he was alive. He was told to stay away from chewing tobacco, but he wouldn't listen to doctors. He constantly signed himself out of hospitals against medical advice, albeit drawing the ire of good friends like myself.

So his passing today at age 65, a few days shy of his 66th birthday, is not a stunner, even after speaking with him at length Monday.

But it still doesn't lessen the pain of the loss. Edward Ford was one of a kind, a true crumudgeon in the truest sense. He was called a Damon Runyan character once, but he really didn't know who Damon Runyon was. I called him a ''crumudgeon'' once and he wanted to know if that was good or bad.

But there's no denying the fact that he had one of the most interesting lives of anyone who ever lived in Jersey City.

Despite his lack of a formal education, Edward Ford was able to do things that not many others could do. He was a respected coach, eventually leading St. Mary's of Jersey City to their lone state baseball championship in 1973. He was a respected basketball referee on the high school and college levels.

He was a business man, owning at least three different taverns in Jersey City, the latest being Dohoney's in Jersey City, a neighborhood joint he owned for more than 20 years.

He was also a sports columnist, writing his words in the Hudson Dispatch, where he shared space with me, and the Jersey Journal, where he became a journalistic superstar.

But the true legacy of Edward Ford is his undying love for the game of baseball and the way he brought that game to thousands of kids in Jersey City and Hudson County over the last quarter century.

For many years, ''The Faa'' was a full-time baseball scout for several different major league organizations, like the California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers. Because of his affiliation with the big league baseball teams, he opened the door to professional baseball for countless of Hudson County and New Jersey ballplayers over the years.

And when his scouting days were done, Edward Ford turned his attention toward teaching the youngsters of the area about the game he loved most. With his overpacked pile of tobacco in his cheek, "The Faa" gave of his time constantly to take a bunch of kids to the bubble in Yanitelli Center at St. Peter's College in the winter or the batting cages at the YMCA to give them a chance to excel.

As the assistant director of recreation in Jersey City, he established youth baseball programs such as the Cobra and Diamond Dawgs, giving kids a chance to play baseball at a higher level with the proper instruction.

And he was always about helping kids. He thrived on helping others. He made it his life's calling and mission to make sure that kids had a chance to become better ballplayers.

Ever since I was a 14-year-old Babe Ruth baseball player, I've considered Mr. Ford to be a coach and a mentor. When I got older and became a writer, he was my writing colleague, constantly keeping each other on our toes, battling each other tooth and nail, first for the the same newspaper then as rivals. We had our ups and downs, like practically everyone else that the Faa knew, but one thing was always for sure. I was always there for him. He was always my friend first and foremost.

I thought he was dying in October of 2009. He was in the Jersey City Medical Center back then and not given much chance to come out. I went up to visit him on a Friday afternoon and he was all tubed up and incoherent. I was actually paying my last respects to him, because I thought he was on his way out.

I told him in his induced coma state that I loved him, but he never remembered me being there.

On that same day, a note appeared on Twitter. It was posted by Rutgers assistant basketball coach Jim Carr who wrote ''RIP, Ed ''The Faa'' Ford.''

About an hour later, I received phone calls from three of my sportswriting colleagues, namely Tom Luicci of the Star-Ledger, Tom Canavan of Associated Press and Steve Politi of the Ledger, who was actually writing the Faa's obituary. But I was just at the hospital and knew he wasn't dead.

I called Faa's long-time friend and Jersey City police detective Mike McNally
, who knew that I was up to see the Faa that day. I asked if Faa had passed. Mike drove up to the hospital and called me soon after to tell me that the rumor was not true.

Three days later, Faa was sitting up in his hospital bed, no tubes, bright smile. He was clamoring for sugar-free ice pops.

"I always knew that I'd write your f***ing obituary before you wrote mine," he said to me that day.

He didn't die that day in October, but he did in fact pass on today.

I can't even begin to express the emotions I'm feeling right now. I just got back from the Final Four in Houston, where I had about 30 people ask me how the Faa was doing.

In fact, over the last five years or so, I've had to answer that question about 1,000 or so times. "How's the Faa?" Like I was appointed the unofficial keeper of the Faa.

Someone asked me today how I would describe my relationship with the Faa. I honestly don't know. It was adversarial, confrontational and angry at times, yet respectful, loving, caring and close all rolled into one. The Faa had something called his ''Tombstone,'' where he put people's names that he wanted nothing to ever do with ever again on it. I made the Tombstone some 50 or so times over the years, only to come back to his good graces somehow.

We spoke Monday morning. Little did I know it was going to be the last time. But when the conversation ended, I told him that he could always call me and ask me to do anything and I'd be right there.

"Jimmy, you're always first on my list," he said.

I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me too. That's what I'll hold as a memory, the love and admiration that we held for each other through it all. It was always there, always strong, for the last 35 years. We were cut from the same cloth, Jersey City boys, Jersey City crumudgeons.

Jersey City lost a true legend, a one-of-a-kind legend Tuesday. I lost a good friend. Rest in peace, buddy. I'll surely miss you.


  1. Jim just beautifully put. I only knew Mr. Ford for the last 5 years or so and I feel blessed to have been one of the many whose life he touched. A part of my son was lost forever today, I'm sure as time goes by he will heal, but the man left a lasting positive impression on my son and my family as well that I will be left eternally grateful for. Thanx for your words and reflections Jim..

  2. Great tribute Jim. The Faa was a rare find and I'll always be grateful for the help, motivation and support he provided my family and I.
    At least he and Butch can throw back a cold one with Jeff and the 1000's of other friends they'll be amongst now. RIP faa.

  3. Jim,

    A wonderful read on a wonderful man. I had the honor of meeting him and getting to know him a bit when I was at St. John's and he was such a character. No one could forget The Faa if they met him. I was very saddened to read this news when I saw it this morning. My thoughts and prayers are with you and all those close to him.

    Mex Carey
    Georgetown SID