Thinking more about the man

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Sunset over the Hudson seen from the West Side Highway. 8:00 PM. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021. Yesterday was another heavy hot one. The rain that was forecast showed briefly around midnight. After that dropped into the 70s.

Yesterday’s Diary about Johnny Galliher provoked several to write in about the man. One particular reader from out Chicago-way wrote in appreciation and provoked another “view” of the man for me.

“… today’s on John Galliher gave a good portrait of him and the life it was possible for him to lead. I’ve been reading NYSD for about 15 years and this afternoon was trying to think of any man you’ve written about in the last 10 years or so who came close to approximating his worldliness, charm, discretion, circle of friends, his ability to live well but quietly. No one came to mind.” 

DPC with John Galliher in 2000 for a book signing for Nan Kempner’s R.S.V.P.

Thinking more about the man. He rarely talked about himself. Although his style was not “gossip.” He refrained entirely from that if he even had a thought. Recalling this, I was reminded of a story he told me that occurred in his life around the Christmas holiday.

This was in the late 1970s around Christmastime. He’d got a phone call one weekday afternoon from a man who introduced himself as a “guest” at a “holiday” cocktail party that John had attended a couple of days before. The caller explained that he saw John there but never got to say hello. Hello.

The man then asked if they could meet for a drink the following day.

John was surprised, yet curious. He had a dinner date that evening called for 8 p.m. He told the man he was welcome to come by his apartment at 7 for a drink, but that he had to leave for his dinner at 7:30. He was curious to know who the man was because he remembered the evening well and knew almost all of the guests.

At the appointed hour, “the man” arrived. John had never seen him before.  And he didn’t look like anyone who would have been at that cocktail party. Almost immediately the man, a man probably in his mid- to late 30s, confessed that he wasn’t at the cocktail party he referred to over the phone: he had read about the party in Suzy’s column in the Daily Mirror featured a photo of John Galliher in attendance.

The man was from the Bronx where he grew up and still lived with his family. He was also a construction worker, and for the past few months, he’d been working on a building site just around the corner from John’s apartment on 69th Street between Madison and Park. It was from that site, he first caught glimpses of Mr. Galliher going or coming; looking smart and stylish, erect in height and direct in gait, always perfectly turned out for the occasion. It made a deep impression.

John, who was 25 or 30 years the man’s senior, was flattered and impressed by his “interest.” Their meeting that evening was brief, as there was a real dinner party waiting. But they made a date to meet at John’s apartment during the days around Christmas which they did. They evidently had a very “pleasant” time. John had made a friend. Because after that they met once in early summer and then once again during the holidays every year for the rest of John’s life.

In retrospect, I can’t remember the occasion that led him to tell me this story, although I knew he was telling me for a reason. Was it that he knew I might one day write about it? He was always very amused by the man’s interest and loyalty.

Johnny Galliher’s life ended when he contracted cancer. The profile photo I took of him was a dinner at Swifty’s where he was a guest. No one at the table knew that he indeed was already suffering.

I was never in his company again after that dinner at Swifty’s. I was unaware that anything was wrong. One day a couple of months later I learned of his passing from the Death Notices in the New York Times. I was shocked. It stated that “he died peacefully in his sleep.” It was then that I learned from another friend of his that John had cancer. I could see that he wrote the notice with directions to his executor to publish it. It was clear that he had had enough of the pain.

His friend, the construction worker who used to see Mr. Galliher walking by the site, was among the 35 friends to whom he left a tax-free gift of $25,000.

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