This perfect eulogy was given by my friend of many years Joe Spinelli who was a great friend of Mario Cuomo. Spinelli spoke movingly and passionately about his fellow lawman John Pritchard on October 12, 2018.
Joseph Anthony Spinelli was part of a legendary three-man FBI squad with Pritchard and Louis Freeh (Spinelli became New York State’s Inspector General under Mario Cuomo, Louis Freeh became a Federal Judge and Director of the FBI). John Pritchard was not only a Special Agent in the Bureau, he also served as Inspector General of the MTA and Police Commissioner in Mount Vernon, NY during an illustrious career in law enforcement.
My name is Joe Spinelli, and I’ve known John for over 40 years and had the privilege to be John’s partner in the FBI for almost 7 years.
Normally when I address a group in any forum I like to speak extemporaneously, but not today. I wrote my thoughts down today, because I did not want to omit anything.
When Anne requested I speak today I was honored. And yet I knew this would be difficult, because grief affects us all and does not discriminate.
I have never considered John to be just a friend. To do so would be an insult to both of us. John will always be my brother, and I loved and respected him as my brother. He was a gentle man and a true gentleman. He earned every accolade bestowed on him, and he gave all he had to be the best at what he did. And he achieved success despite the bias and prejudices he often faced as an African-American. He did so by the simple eloquence of his example.
John visited me a few months ago in New York and we had dinner. He told me he wanted to say goodbye in person and we told each other how much we loved each other, and I’m thankful I got the chance to tell him how blessed I was to have him in my life.
John told me to please speak at his Memorial Service, but was quick to admonish me to only speak about stories and events in which the Statute of Limitations has expired. Unfortunately, after over 40 years together, I could only come up with three such stories that met that criteria.
In 1976, John was assigned as a new Agent to our Criminal Squad that dealt with fugitives and organized crime. The first time John and I worked together, I had to serve a subpoena on an organized crime member in the meat packing district of New York City. Now this should have been a routine deal. We located the organized crime figure who was not happy to see us, and the next thing that happened- we found ourselves surrounded by six individuals all holding meat hooks! I looked at John and he smiled and said, “I’m not going anywhere.” After I removed the barrel of my B57 from the bad guy’s mouth, and all the meat hooks hit the floor … we successfully served our subpoena. From that day forward, John and I were partners.
In 1979, while riding in a Bureau car in New York City, over the radio came a call “91 new” which meant a bank robbery was in progress. We were two blocks away from the bank and responded. When we arrived at the bank, three African American men came running out of the bank. John and I immediately began pursuing them on foot. Before we got half a block, three white males came out of the bank and opened fire on us. They were the actual bank robbers. And as we took cover John looked at me and with that vintage Pritchard grin said, “You have to stop always blaming the black guys.” We laughed out loud and then were fortunate to apprehend all three of the bank robbers.
Finally, while I was N.Y. State Inspector General I began the Adopt-a-School Anti-Drug Program in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I would invite various individuals to present on Career Day to the entire school at assembly. John came and totally mesmerized these youngsters. While addressing them he grabbed my right hand and placed it next to his and asked them: “What is the difference between his hand and mine?” Immediately in unison, the students responded your hand is black and his is white. John shook his head no and said: “There is no difference. You see … Joe and I are brothers.” I will never forget that moment and the reaction and message sent to those youngsters. I also will never forget how proud I was when John asked me to be Joe’s godfather.
Thomas Paine once wrote: “Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and Angels know of us. The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”
When I remember John, and I will for the rest of my life, I will remember his leadership, integrity, valor and impeccable character. He always possessed the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make difficult decisions, and the empathy and compassion to be sensitive to all people. He never feared to choose right over wrong and truth over popularity. He taught me that there is never a wrong time to do what is right. And what you say and do in life defines who you are. And who you are … you are forever.
Each of us loved John because of this. So tonight when your knees hit the floor … please ask God to love him.
A wise man once wrote that the greatest of all journeys are those journeys that take you home. John is home now, at peace and waiting to one day be reunited with his beloved Anne and his children.
Rest in peace my Brother.
October 12, 2018