On Pi Day, 11 years ago

One anecdote that didn’t fit in the shortened Kindle Single version of God’s Nobodies occurred one week after John Ginocchetti’s death in March 2002. I write in the book of the massive outpouring of love and concern for the families of the Manlius firefighters who died in the line of duty in that terrible incident. Tensions emerged between the firefighters and the Ginocchettis’ church over the minister’s strict limits on the crowds and firefighter-brotherhood pageantry he would tolerate at John’s funeral. New York’s governor at the time, George Pataki, attended the much larger funeral for T.J. Lynch and missed Ginocchetti’s more private service. So, on March 14, the family and friends of 16-year-old Tim Ginocchetti arranged for him to meet the governor at the State Fairgrounds, where Pataki was making an appearance.

Tim said little of the encounter in his journal at the time, noting only that one of his uncles and his father’s firefighter friend, Bill Nickal, brought him to the meet-up. “What an honor!” Tim summed up succinctly. Nickal and his wife Lisa described the scene to me in more vivid terms.

The 6-foot-5 rail-thin governor loomed over 5-foot-6 Tim, “this meek little scrawny kid,” Nickal recalled. But the politician knew just how to connect with a young man who lost his dad so recently — in a way that a true math nerd could appreciate. “We were over to the side,” Lisa Nickal recalled, “and they had a long conversation about different things.” The governor asked him what he wanted to do with his life. Tim likely mentioned architecture, engineering, and math. Then, Lisa said, “somebody brought up that it was Pi Day.” The conversation grew more animated. The Nickals had never seen Tim so talkative. He and Pataki matched wits on how far they could carry out pi. “They were rattling it off” while everyone else stood back and watched Tim enjoy a rare moment of distraction and pleasure in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy that would end up dragging down him and his mother in the years to come.

The Nickals were touched by Pataki’s humanity. “He took time out of his day to meet with that young man,” Bill marveled. In a prison interview, Tim was more forthcoming than he’d been in his journal. He said he’d always wanted to meet the governor and was disappointed he couldn’t at the funeral. When he discovered he and Pataki shared a love for the mysteries of pi, Tim lost himself in the moment. Years later, sitting in a prison meeting room, Tim remembered everything about his time with Pataki. “He actually knows the number pi to 50 places.”

One thought on “On Pi Day, 11 years ago”

  1. This was truly a moment of joy in the midst of such tragedy that was still vivid in everyone’s mind. Pam at the moment showed so much pride and love for her son Timothy. The community showed so much love and pride for the family. Who would know deep inside there was so much trouble and despair brewing in such a brilliant young man. The loss of John opened the door to what would add to this family already stricken with grief. I now only dream of what it could of been?

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