By Douglas Palermo
Good morning. Thank you for coming out for Bruce today. That alone would be enough of a tribute to the life of Bruce Hill, but I’ve had the pleasure of being at my mom’s side as her phone exploded with text message after text message, Facebook alert after Facebook alert, as she read all the beautiful testimonies of what Bruce meant to so many people. The outpouring of love and support showered on my family these past few very difficult days has been humbling, and I wanted to thank everybody for that. As I sat down to write this I couldn’t think of what more I could possibly say about Bruce Hill that hasn’t already been said. But I’ll try.
It’s very difficult trying to make sense of how somebody so good would be taken from us so soon, when he had so much more to experience, and give, and teach us. What I have been trying to tell myself to make sense of it is that Bruce didn’t die young, he graduated early. As a lifelong teacher coming from a family of teachers, I tend to see the whole world as just one big classroom. And if that is the case, then I can think of no better student of life than Bruce Hill.
Very early in his life Bruce was taught some very important lessons. If you would have asked him he would have credited growing up in the small town of Peapack-Gladstone for teaching him everything he needed to know, but I’m sure specifically it was his mom and his brothers that had the most influence over him. Either way, at some point early in his life, Bruce was taught three important lessons: Be a good person, work hard, and help others. And Bruce learned those lessons quickly and never swayed from them an inch his entire life. Be good. Work hard. Help others. He didn’t need to study at any prestigious university, read any self-help books, or sit at the feet of any gurus to figure out how to live his life. He already knew. Be good. Work hard. Help others.
But school unfortunately is not just about learning lessons, it’s also about being tested to ensure that you know what you’re supposed to know. And Bruce was truly tested by this world.
When his father died when Bruce was only three and he had to grow up never knowing or having any memories of his dad, he easily could have grown bitter and angry at the world. But he didn’t. He just remembered his lessons. Be good. Work hard. Help others.
When he was one step away from living his dream of pitching in the Major Leagues and his arm goes dead, he easily could have turned cold. Bars are populated with failed athletes living in the past unable to deal with broken dreams. But not Bruce. He just returned home and remembered his lessons. Be good. Work hard. Help others.
When he finally found the love of his life and his mom died mere months before she could dance with her youngest son at his wedding, Bruce just soldiered on and took all the love his mom gave him and showered in on his wife for the next thirty years. Be good. Work hard. Help others.
When his first dog, Max, whom he loved and cared for with every particle of his being, turned on him, biting the hand the fed him, and had to be put down too soon, Bruce could have soured on the idea of having another dog. But he didn’t just double down, he tripled down with three more dogs: Scout, Necco, and Zoe that brought so much joy in his life for years.
And when his body could no longer handle the daily toil of doing the job he loved for so long, being outside landscaping, he effortlessly pivoted into being a pet sitter, the career where Bruce could finally show that he wasn’t just a strong person on the outside, he was a deeply loving, caring, empathetic person on the inside. Be good. Work hard. Help others.
When his wife was diagnosed with renal cancer, he stood by her side like a rock as she dealt with having a kidney removed and went through the physically and emotionally taxing recovery that followed.
And when he received the most devasting diagnosis one can receive from a doctor: pancreatic cancer. He didn’t feel sorry from himself for a moment. He just immediately began preparing for what he knew would be the fight of his life. Be good. Work hard. Help others.
When he pretty much had his entire insides removed in a 12-hour Whipple Surgery, it was less than four months later that he completed a 5K through the steep hills of Hopatcong… not for himself or his disease… but for his hero, Dylan Flinchum, a young boy who Bruce continually credited for the source of his own massive strength and determination.
And when Maureen Schmidt, a truly dear friend to Bruce, my mom, and the whole family, tragically passed away the very same day Bruce was told that his cancer had returned, we all were ready to throw up our hands, wave the white flag, and give up to this cruel world. But not Bruce. He just turned his grief into the strength and courage necessary for the next stage of his battle. And we all had no choice but to follow his lead. Be good. Work hard. Help others.
Just this past year. When his wife’s cancer returned and had to face two major surgeries. When his daughter-in-law got diagnosed with breast cancer and had to face her own fight. When his own cancer was no longer responding to chemo and was beginning to grow and spread. Bruce remained strong. Bruce remained positive. Bruce remained an inspiration to all of us.
And these last couple weeks, when we had to witness Bruce endure more pain and discomfort than anybody should ever have to, yet we never saw him get any more agitated or grumpy than the average person before they had their first cup of coffee.
Right up to the end. When all his thoughts were on the people he was leaving behind and not a single one for himself. He didn’t wait until he was ready to leave, he waited for ALL OF US to be ready before he left. Be good. Work hard. Help others.
Bruce was once told that him having cancer was like taking one for the team… and he was always reassured by that idea. Bruce rarely talked openly about his faith, but he was a deeply spiritual person. His faith was just as simple, yet just as firm and deep-rooted as all the other pillars he stood on. He simply loved God and followed the Platinum Rule of loving others like God loves us all. And loving others like God loves us requires sacrifice, it requires us all to be willing to carry our own crosses. And that’s what Bruce did with his disease. He willingly took upon the cross of pancreatic cancer so that we all could learn from him, be inspired by him, and become better people because of him. And we did. We did learn from him. We were inspired by him. We are better people because of him.
So I say Thank You, Bruce. Thank you for all you did and all you sacrificed for all of us. We are all forever in your debt. I promise that I will not allow your death to be a tragedy, I will continue to carry on your legacy by embodying the lessons you learned so young and lived so effortlessly. I will be good. I will work hard. I will help others. And I know I’m not alone. Thank you.