As I stood in line waiting to purchase my season golf pass this weekend, I found it hard to believe I was doing it for the 21st time. In the past, picking up my pass would begin the countdown to opening day which continues to be a very exciting time for me. This year it will be bitter sweet. Next Saturday will be the first time Cazenovia Golf Course will be without its’ most beloved “Hall of Famer,” Mr.  Jim Hillery, on opening day. As I strolled into the clubhouse where Mr. Hillery had greeted me so many times before, I walked in on a classic Mr. Hillery story being told by a woman getting her pass, as well. I chuckled as she finished up and shook my head thinking I had heard that story before. The woman noticed my amusement and asked if I knew Mr. Hillery. I immediately responded, “Yes, but I called him Coach.” She smiled. She told me that he was her gym teacher and finished up by saying he was the classiest guy she ever knew. I agreed whole heartedly and was quick to point out that I only called him Coach at the golf course. In church, he was Mr. Hillery. She simply said, “Absolutely” as she made her way out the door. Class is the best word to describe a man that touched the lives of so many people in such a positive way. Mr. Hillery always had it and shared it with a smile.
His dedication to the South Buffalo community was only matched by his love for his family. Growing up down the street from his son, John, and his own family gave me an opportunity to see that first hand. He was a fixture at their house and could always be found in the crowd at Tosh or Caz Park watching one of his grand-kids games. And I mean always. He had nine kids and over thirty grandchildren. That’s a lot of trips to Caz Park and the ice rink. He was always there.. Again,  I mean always!  One of the coolest things he always did was showed respect and sincerity in every conversation he had. Mr. Hillery legitimately wanted to know how things were going. Once again, I mean always. “How’s your golf game?” “You still fouling out in the Ward?” “How’s Dunk?” Mr. Hillery never missed a beat and always had time to talk about the Bills, Sabres, and of course, St Bonaventure.  As a proud alumnus, he loved that St. Bona was a Catholic University dedicated to educational excellence in the Franciscan tradition. This was a tradition he learned long before he studied down in Olean. This was a tradition he learned at Bishop Timon High School.
 “Class of 51” he would say to me. Now, he may have graduated in 1951, but he never stopped giving back to the school he loved so dearly. I was fortunate enough to attend the Judge John D. Hillery Memorial Scholarship Foundation dinner back in October of this past year. Back in 1956, Mr. Hillery helped to create the foundation in honor of Judge Hillery who was his father. Without the support from  foundation Timon, may not be open today. That night, my uncle Pat Stanton (69) was honored at the event and gave a speech that was worth the price of admission. I had worked the Hillery Dinner as a Timon student many years ago and sat proudly with my brother Greg (95) and father, Paul Sr (72). As the evening came to an end Mr. Hillery said a few words and finished by simply saying, “I love Timon.” He will always be the school’s greatest ambassador, always. No one could ever do what he has done for the “Green and the Gold.”  Not only was he dedicated to the foundation, he also ran the Timon golf tournament and made it a great time, too. He worked every lawn fete and fish fry fundraiser the school had. Mr. Hillery was Timon. If you went there he knew it. If you didn’t, well, he would usually find a way to forgive you for it anyway.
Honestly, I can’t believe he was allowed to ref all of those Timon games.  As much as he loved the Tigers, he loved competition even more.  His love for sports was obvious. He knew who you liked usually just by looking at you. Mr. Hillery once told me during a basketball game that I should play golf.  I asked him why and he said with his classic smile, “Because in golf you can only get mad at yourself.” I listened to him and started focusing on learning how to play. Most of my friends played golf for years before I ever got into it. I wasn’t ready to try and compete with them, but I still loved to play. I would spend hours practicing and Mr. Hillery noticed. He always took a few minutes to teach me some of the little things you didn’t learn from your boys who were already shooting in the 70’s. So I kept practicing and Mr. Hillery had no problem helping me out. Coach taught me that golf is a game about 100 yards and in. I can’t tell you how many times I watched him hit driver, 3 wood, pitching wedge on the first and second green at Caz and make par. He reminded me time and time again that golf isn’t about your last shot it’s about your next one. He emphasized,  it all comes down to putting. He had all the sayings and I only wish I wrote some of them down.
I would usually get to the course around noon. That is right around the time Mr. Hillery and his group would be finishing their front nine. Now, the unknowing golfer who feels as though they don’t want to get stuck behind four older gentlemen usually let people skip them to avoid slow play. What the unknowing golfer didn’t know was that these gentlemen were only playing a “Mr. Hillery” 11. A Mr. Hillery 11 was commonly known to the younger golfers at Caz as a nine hole round, followed by only playing the first and second hole and then returning to the clubhouse for some refreshments. Everyone who regularly plays Caz has done it. Well, Mr. Hillery invented it and mastered it. Obviously, I was always happy to skip and follow his group every chance I could. It ensured me the opportunity to catch up with him while playing behind his group. Mr. Hillery spent a lot of time at the course and helped countless young people learn a game that isn’t easy to play or understand. The teacher in him shined everywhere he went, but I was blessed to have him show me the right way to play golf. I am going to miss that and I’m really going to miss him.
I want to thank John Hillery for allowing me to write a little bit about my favorite Irishman from South Buffalo. My thoughts and prayers go out to my old friends from Tamarack St, to the entire Hillery family, and especially, Mr. Hillery’s wife Kathleen. We were all lucky enough to share him with you as he will forever be remembered as South Buffalo’s favorite Coach.