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Hundreds gather to recall life of Nasuti

March 1, 2014

Members of the Woonsocket High School Select Chorus perform “I Carry Your Heart” during a celebration of the life of George Nasuti in the high school gymnasium Saturday. Nasuti’s favorite saying, ‘Give Respect, Get Respect,’ is on a poster in the foreground at lower right. (Photo by Ernest A. Brown)

WOONSOCKET – It was fitting that Carol Nasuti was the final speaker on an afternoon that saw many people flock to the high school’s Saravia Gymnasium to remember the life of her late husband, George T. Nasuti.

With her oldest son Chris standing by her side on a maroon-colored podium that was decorated with maroon and white balloons – on top of this neat arrangement were two balloons with the same quote on each: “Forever in our hearts” – Carol showed the audience the pages of notes she was prepared to read from. She then pointed out that there was a problem.

What Carol was planning on saying had already been mentioned or described during the course of the three-hour celebration of the man that touched so many during his 52 years. Holding back tears, Carol kiddingly stated that her job of trying to express what George’s life meant had been simplified. She still had some material and stories to share and was determined not to let her emotions sidetrack what was deemed “a celebration of life.”

“We come here with heavy hearts, but everything we do, we do with the utmost enthusiasm,” stated Carnell Henderson, vice principal at Woonsocket High and head football coach. He was also emcee for this special gathering that drew several hundred well wishers and took place in a location where George Nasuti spent many hours.

Saturday was a chance for the public to celebrate the love and devotion Nasuti had for the city of Woonsocket. He died on Feb. 11, four days after collapsing on a basketball court in Burrillville. At the time he was officiating a youth basketball game.

The crowd began filtering into the gym well before the scheduled 2 o’clock start. They were greeted by the current crop of Villa Novan student-athletes, all of whom were sporting their corresponding team jerseys. People were asked to wear Woonsocket High colors and just about everyone came appropriately dressed. Several youngsters were spotted with pins that featured Nasuti’s famous words to live by – “Have respect, Get respect.”

The phrase was repeatedly several times throughout the afternoon with Henderson bestowing one side with the responsibility of belting out “Have respect” while the other side was called to follow up with a strong rendition of “Get respect.”

Not shocking in the slightest bit, the side of the gym that was given “Get respect” received praise from Henderson. It was the side where the Woonsocket athletes sat after performing their duties as greeters and true ambassadors of why sports in this city were mightily important to one particular individual.

“Today is evident that he left his mark,” Henderson stated after urging the Novan athletes to stand on their feet and be recognized.

“That saying, he carried that every day,” said Chris Beauchamp, a City Council member and one of many speakers asked to provide reflections.

Echoed Rob Desrosiers, who perhaps was the best of the storytellers, “He practiced what he preached.”

Besides the moving and poignant speeches, the program featured a touching dance performance done by WHS alum Will Scurry and a wonderful rendition of the national anthem by Allison Pierel. Musical accompaniment was provided by the Woonsocket High band, which did their part in creating the kind of atmosphere that typically appears at Barry Field come select Saturdays in the fall.

Many items of note emerged from this touching tribute. Some may contend that the honor is long overdue, but Nasuti was inducted into the Woonsocket Athletic Hall of Fame Saturday. Outside of a select few, no one knew of this special honor until a program was handed to them. Ironically, Nasuti helped establish the Hall of Fame in 2005.

After Woonsocket football assistant coach Brian Bouley performed the customary task of reading what is inscribed on the plaque of each new Woonsocket HOF recipient, Henderson announced that no one would ever wear No. 24 in Novan football ever again. That’s the number Nasuti wore when he suited up his alma mater in the late 1970s.

“He was born to teach and lead Woonsocket athletics,” said Woonsocket Assistant Superintendent Dr. Patrick McGee.

Jody Sullivan, owner of The Gym, LLC, announced that the Novans Pride 5K Road Race would now be known as the George Nasuti Novans Pride 5K. The fundraiser is set for Monday, May 26. The recently created scholarship fund in Nasuti’s name has been received, according to Leo A. Savoie Elementary School Principal Donna Coderre, with a recent “dress up day” netting $4,100.

Such efforts bring justice to what Nasuti yearned to accomplish.

“George Nasuti has served us well. Now it’s our time to serve him well,” remarked Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt.

“You knew you were in good hands with George,” said Trisha Degnan, who was representing Kevin K. Coleman Elementary School, where Nasuti formerly served as principal. “Like everything he did, he worked hard at it.”

Three classmates of Nasuti’s at Springfield (Mass.) College – Mark Farnum, Mark Greenberg and Frank Farrell – invited Chris Nasuti to come up and recite the school’s fight song. Another touching scene was when Daniel Highcove Jr., Woonsocket Class of ’89, presented the family with the same catcher’s mitt that George Nasuti had once given to him.

Several members of the R.I. Red Sox, under the umbrella of the Rhode Island Senior Baseball League Nasuti participated in, took the occasion to announce that No. 19 was officially retired and that the “Spirit of the Game” award would bear his name.

Before Carol went on stage, she received hugs from the Woonsocket football players and cheerleaders. The entire scene was the youngster’s way of saying “thanks” to someone who always had a smile and bags of cookies to distribute after every Novan football game.

Of all the banners hanging on the lockers, the one done by Bernon Heights Elementary School distinguished itself from the rest. “George” and “Nasuti” were each spelled out with a special characteristic that summed up Nasuti’s many contributions following each letter.

“Every time I coach in maroon and white, I’ll be coaching from above,” stated Shawn Harris, a 2010 WHS graduate and current head girls’ basketball coach.

Those were poignant words on a day where many were used to describe a man who, judging by the size of the turnout, left an indelible mark on the city and community he believed deserved the very best.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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