I want to thank everyone in our loving community for being here to help me celebrate Rich’s life today on his birthday. (I hope you all had a chance to see the 2 poster boards of photos)
Rich was born in Jamestown, New York. His parents immigrated here from Italy so he called himself an “FBI” — “full-blooded Italian”. Before we met, he owned an Italian restaurant, “Foti‘s House of Fine Italian Food”. It was in the late 1960s and his mother worked in the kitchen and made their own family recipe of Italian sauce with meatballs. The menu included “Foti’s Special for 2” included Wine, Spaghetti with Meatballs, Tossed Salad and Warm Fresh Bread for $6.50. A 20 oz. Porterhouse Steak was $7.25 and the New York Strip Steak was $6.75. Coffee, Tea and —who remembers Sanka??? — were only 25 cents a cup!
Rich was also a barber. He owned a barber school, “The Academy of Professional Barbers” in Wheaton, Maryland where he taught students for 20 years.
In the 16 years he and I were together, we had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Our first weekend together, we visited my parents because Rich always wanted to see Hershey Pennsylvania. During our stay, he unfortunately collapsed at my parents’ home and was taken to the hospital. It was determined that he would need quadruple bypass surgery for the second time in his life as well as a replacement defibrillator and pacemaker. Needless to say in our first week together, I learned quite a bit about how the heart functions. With a lot of prayers and the intercession of Saint Jude, Rich was able to be transported by helicopter to Salisbury Maryland where he received 2 successful surgeries.
He loved my parents and my parents loved him. My parents enjoyed taking us on vacations with them – we traveled many times with them to Camelback Inn in Scottsdale Arizona, The Greenbrier in West Virginia, the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island and here at the Don Cesar on Saint Pete Beach. My Dad and Rich always enjoyed sharing Martinis and Manhattans together.
So how did we meet? In 2002, I started a tap dance group of 4 ladies. We performed twice a year in the local Lewes Men’s Chorus concerts. We decided it would be great to perform for senior living facilities in our area but with our 5 costume changes, we needed someone to sing between our numbers. At the suggestion of the Lewes Men’s Chorus director, I asked Rich if he would be interested in being our MC and singing some songs between our dance numbers. He said he thought he would enjoy doing that, but he wasn’t real excited when I told him that he not only had to play his own “cassettes” but we also needed him to play our music. We named our group “The Tapsations and Rich Foti” and we booked our first “gig” at a senior center. I told Rich he could sing whatever songs he wanted to sing and maybe tell a few jokes. He said he had some really good songs and jokes so I didn’t think anymore about it. Little did I know — not only would he struggle with his songs — but the jokes that he had selected did not go over very well. He had taken some of Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might be a redneck” jokes and substituted our local county in them saying things like “You might be from Sussex County if you use your ironing board for a dining room table” and “You might be from Sussex County if you use Cool Whip containers for salad bowls.” The people were not amused and the director was standing in the back of the room waving her arms. Rich thought that she wanted him to do more jokes but she was trying to tell him to stop.
Rich was never very good at keeping a calendar— he always just tried to keep dates in his head. Many times he would call me and say that we had to move a show date after it was booked because he didn’t realize he already had a conflict. So one day, I jokingly mentioned that it would be easier if we were a couple and that way I would know when he was available. I guess the rest is history because after those first 2 years, our friendship turned into love. Josie and Joyce were very supportive and it worked well because I was able to help Rich with his songs and we could create the show themes and music together.
Joyce Fitch, one of our dancers, asked me to share these memories . . . “When I heard the news that Rich had passed, I was so sad. For 15 years, I was with him, Sharon and Josie several times every week as we practiced and performed. Rich was what is known as a “real gentleman “. He never gave me a cross word or any other kind of conflict as often happens when people work closely together for a long time. I don’t think I know of any other man who was simply this kind. He was the same towards Josie. He adored Sharon and was truly her companion, help mate and lover. And, he treated her mother with such respect and compassion. He had his own special talents, such as cooking and cutting hair, but he did so well as our master of ceremonies and singer. His voice and confidence improved so much through the years and he had many fans among the audiences where we performed.”
In 2002, I was searching for piano music of songs from the 20s 30s & 40s. I found a website where a man from Australia was selling CDs that he had recorded of his friend, entertainer John Sidney, playing piano, so I placed an order. This chance meeting became a blessing of a wonderful friendship for Rich and I. His name is Graeme Pope. He is a retired Qantas airline pilot and his passion is to get this type of music into the elder care homes in Australia. So we all had a common goal — to share the joy of music and to improve quality of life for the elderly. Graeme believed in us and he generously established an amazing website for us www.tapstations.com And, whenever we needed a song tempo edited faster or slower or to change the pitch for a song for Rich, Graeme would revise the song for us, email it to me and I would download it. Graeme said “I feel sad I never got to meet Rich in person, yet I felt like he was a friend for life. We enjoyed many phone conversations and I felt like I knew him so well that if we did meet in person, it would be more like catching up with an old friend than meeting someone for the first time. He was a wonderful man who contributed to the joy and happiness of others through his involvement with the Tapsations.”
“The Tapsations and Rich Foti” performed for 18 years throughout the state of Delaware. We were fortunate to be asked to perform at Retirement Communities, the Elks, the American Legion, AARP, church functions, senior centers, private parties and on the bandstands in Rehoboth Beach & Bethany Beach. There were some years that we performed over 100 shows, changing our show themes out every 8 weeks to new songs, dances, costumes and props. So there were many weeks that we were practicing and performing almost every day of the week. And, as an added special blessing, Rich and I continued to perform together here in Florida for the past 2 years.
Rich was a great sport and we dragged him along to our choreographers’ dance studios. He even performed with us in a few children’s dance recitals. One recital was a rock ‘n’ roll themed “Grease.” There were hundreds of little girls and the 3 of us ladies dressed in 50s costumes. And everybody loved that the only 2 male performers in the show were a little 5-year-old boy and Rich — both dressed in the same style black leather greaser jackets.
One of Rich’s favorite songs to dedicate to me was “The Wonder of You.” The way the music was recorded, there was a little Interlude in the middle and the instructions said to sing “La-La, La-La, La-La, La-La, La”. At one of our shows, Rich was singing this and a lady sitting in the front row leaned over to the lady sitting beside her and loudly proclaimed, “He forgot the words.”
One time, we were performing with Rich to “Come Fly With Me”. We were dressed as stewardesses with rolling suitcases. There was a problem with the music and so Rich was standing alone on the stage dressed in a pilot costume waiting for the music to start. He finally turned on the microphone and said “ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We are having some technical difficulties, so just sit back and relax and we’ll be ready to go in a few minutes.”
Rich loved performing Country songs, Rat-Pack songs and sing-alongs. Of all the themes we did, Rich’s favorite was our Patriotic show. He performed a portion of it in our clubhouse at our unit’s 2018 July 4th celebration. He always did a special salute to the Armed Forces, singing each song and changing his hat to that branch of the service. He loved singing “God Bless the USA”, and “God Bless America”. And, we always ended every one of our shows for 18 years with all of us singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
Rich was very community minded. He was an active member of both the Elks and the Knights of Columbus where he cooked many wonderful dinners for the members. He loved to make hotdogs with his famous New York style hot dog sauce and always dreamed of owning his own hot dog stand.
Rich continued to work part-time as a barber in Delaware. He dressed up in a long-sleeve white shirt with cuff links, vest & tie. He owned a 100-year old barber chair and, in addition to cutting hair, he gave relaxing hot-lather shaves while playing Rat Pack background music for his customers. He and I had fun decorating his shop with framed vinyl record covers of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett and Perry Como (who Rich always reminded everyone was both a singer and a barber).
Once after one of our dance shows, the girls and I were packing up our costumes and Rich was packing up the sound equipment. He heard a man named Melvin tell another resident that he did not have any money left over at the end of each month and he couldn’t afford to get a haircut. Rich looked at him and said “Melvin, do you know I am a barber” and of course Melvin said no. So Rich said, “I’ll come over to cut your hair every month”. Melvin and Rich really looked forward to those special visits together.
After my dad passed 5 years ago, my mom grew even closer to Rich. Since Rich’s passing, she looks for him every day. And, whenever she hears Frank Sinatra singing, she looks at me and asks “Is that Richie singing?” — I’m sure Rich would feel so honored!
Rich was so positive and full of hope. He always brought out the best in me because I worry and he was calm and optimistic. Throughout the years, we were always there to support one another. I was his rock and he was mine.
I thank God for the special times that Rich and I spent together and for making our paths cross. Our connection changed my life.
I saw a quote the other day that said “Being someone’s first love is sweet, but being someone’s last love is amazing.”
I know there will be a time when I will be able to look back at our lifetime of memories together and smile. Until then, I would love for you to share your memories of Rich today.
So, I’d like to close with a few lines from one of Rich’s favorite songs that he performed . . .
I've lived a life that's full
I've travelled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my - MY WAY!
Prosecco Wine Toast:
“There's no people like show people -
they smile when they are low - “
Rich - I hope you’re dancing in the sky -
and singing with the angels!