Stories

Steve P. at US Tsubaki

Shared by Charles Monty on January 26, 2020
15 November 2019  

All,

This past Friday we put on a ‘Retirement’ party for employee Stephen Perniciaro.  Steve had been with US Tsubaki for less than 4 years, but had reached what some might call retirement age.  He didn’t want to stop working, but his physical health drove him to it.

 
Steve came to US Tsubaki Roller Chain Division as Manufacturing Engineering Manager to fill a vacancy.  He did a bang up job even though his original education was Liberal Arts at Amherst College.  He had enlisted in the Army upon college graduation in 1976, was an Artillery Officer in Germany for four years, and then studied engineering texts and the EIT/PE exam books to achieve his Professional Engineering license.  He had worked in various Engineering capacities other places prior, of course.  Steve was a conscientious, smart, professional, hard-working, all around straight-shooter.

Steve was not a run of the mill engineer, nor person.  For example, he was in ROTC during his college years.  But about a year before graduation the Vietnam war ended and the mandatory Draft ended.  Almost all of his ROTC mates quit.  But Steve was one of a few who enlisted in the Army anyway upon Graduation (4 years in Army, plus 4 years in the Reserves).  Steve almost never ate lunch at work.  He wore the same outfit EVERY day of his time at our workplace, including when traveling on business.  The ONE exception was when he famously wore a Calvary outfit for the Costume contest portion of Fruitcake Follies Day one holiday season.  EVERY day he drove 28 miles in to work, but then parked about 2 miles away from the facility and walked the rest of the way in (rain or shine, snow, sleet, whatever).  Of course he walked back out at end of the day as well.  Each year he went on a survival back-to-nature outing.  He’d go into the woods, usually by himself, with only a knife (and clothes) for a week.  Sometimes winter too.  He told many stories of catching and eating bugs, moths, squirrel, etc. in the woods for sustenance.

He could be stern, demanding, detailed, and no-nonsense; but also kind, helpful, humble (carried coffee cup refills from storage room to the coffee space regularly), and with quite a sense of humor.  He was always confident and incredibly candid.  His clear stance on things and ability to speak them even if others disagreed could lead one to think he was self-centered.  But nothing could farther from the truth, as you will see.  Steve was quite a pianist (preferring classical content), having played for almost 60 years.  He was a Black Belt in Karate.  He had a passion for firearms, owned many, and had a concealed carry license in multiple states.  And he had a very odd ‘Sci-Fi’, or ghost-like, ringtone on his mobile phone which always went off during meetings.

So, Steve’s Farewell Party was planned and put into place for Friday, but we didn’t hold it.  Here’s the story.

Several years ago, well before he joined US Tsubaki, Steve was found to have Prostate cancer.  [Note – I can share all of this because Steve was incredibly open, and he gave permission to do so.]  So Steve was treated for the prostate cancer, including surgery, and was cleared.  Fast forward to his time at UST.  About 3 years ago Cancer was discovered to have returned.  Steve turned to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.  However, the cancer was found to be throughout his body, especially in his bones.  At that time Steve was given something like 2 years or less to live.  Steve told us at work all about it.  It became clear that Steve had a remarkable pain tolerance, and this perhaps led to his cancer being so advanced before it was found. 

When Steve told his Management and coworkers about his condition, the first thing he said was, “I want to continue to work.  I want to work until I can’t anymore.  Or until I am told that I am no longer effective.”  And so he did.  He said he felt little to nothing regarding discomfort from his condition.  His energy level was high (he was a nonstop kinetic machine!).  He continued to walk that last mile or two in to work, and back home.  He went on a business trip to Japan, and on a couple of supplier trips to the Midwest.  Steve pushed forward like nothing had changed.  He told me that he and his wife had no ‘bucket list’.  No driving desire to travel the world, make that one last pilgrimage to wherever, or to build that ship in a bottle.  He just wanted to live.  And for him, working was living.  Contributing was life-fulfilling.  He wanted to take care of his responsibilities - to ‘Stand his Post’.  And as you’ll also see, he did to the end.

Perhaps most notable was what Steve did regarding his health condition.  His prognosis was worse than grim.  Nevertheless, he volunteered to participate in Cancer drug/treatment trial(s).  Working with the team from Dana-Farber, Steve ‘raised his hand’ and essentially signed up to be used as a guinea pig.  He said to me, “It’s likely not going to help me, but if they learn anything from these trials then hopefully it will help the next guy.”  Those were his words – “to help the next guy.”  As many of us know, or imagine, taking a known or unknown experimental drug can have difficult or problematic direct, or side effects.  Horrible nausea, terrible pain, or other health impacts.  During the course of his second drug trial participation, Steve got terribly ill and landed in the hospital and “almost died” he said.  Only with rapid communication between his local hospital and Dana-Farber were they able to reverse his acute condition.  In spite of that, Steve persevered – both in the Dana-Farber Cancer experiment(s), and coming back to work.  He chose to subject himself to those trials and whatever the side effects were, and the related assessment tests.  Mostly the diagnostic focus was on the progression of the disease in his bones (all throughout his body - skull, legs, hips, and especially his spine and ribs).  Most of the time you’d never know what he was going though.  And he’d show up for work, even if he couldn’t make it a full day near the end.  Steve signed up for successive trials when a current one was abandoned by the medical team.  He did this not once, or twice, or three times.  Steve volunteered to put himself through that drug trial ordeal SEVEN (7) times!  Seven times he volunteered as a ‘subject’ to “hopefully help the next guy.”  He stopped just recently only because his medical team said “No more.”

Three weeks ago his doctor told him he had 3-6 months to live.  The cancer was just too prevalent throughout his body, especially his bones.  So Steve needed to bring things to close at work, but again insisted on setting a future date for his ‘retirement party’ so he could settle his work responsibilities.  We set November 8 as that date, and the day we would hold a party in his honor.  The room was arranged and decorated, and special food catered in.  Gifts and presentations prepared.  Everyone aligned to join for the Luncheon.  That morning Steve’s wife called to say Steve couldn’t make it in.  He was just too sick, too nauseous.  But she insisted that Steve demanded he return to close a couple of work things, pick up his belongings, and try to attend some sort of alternate event (‘Party 2.0’).  We said “Okay, whenever – you tell us”.  The following Monday Steve made it in with his wife and we held the party.  It was an abbreviated affair due to his extreme pain and weakened condition.  He took it all in.  He laughed.  And cried a little.  Some people cried a lot.  But everyone was appreciative to be able to say Farewell.

The event included some good natured ribbing, some gag gifts, a few sincere gifts, and some accolades.  I played Mozart piano sonatas for the ‘dinner music’ since he said he liked Mozart.  At the end of my presentation (let’s call it ‘The Wonderful Mystery of Steve Perniciaro’) I was able to close with some notes of sincerity, and especially highlighting his incredible sacrifice for the good of cancer treatment research.  I was honored to read a brief letter which US Tsubaki received recognizing our support of the Perniciaro endeavors as well.  But really, I know that Steve facilitated that letter, and that the basic intention was for Steve, through Dana-Faber, to thank his coworkers at US Tsubaki for their support of him during his cancer/trials work.  I was also able to announce a gift his coworkers made.  A collection was organized, voluntarily of course, and 38 employees, with company match, donated $3,530 in Steve’s name.  The donation was to Dana-Faber for Cancer Research in honor of Stephen Perniciaro.

Believe it or not, Steve had already formally entered Hospice Care before his last day of regular work.  On the day of his Party 2.0 he told me that Hospice had already upped his dosage of morphine, and that he had to force himself up that morning to get in the car (wife drove) to ‘come to work.’  He pushed himself that close to the end.

And finally, it may not now surprise you to learn that Steve took things even another step further.  Steve has already made plans for his body to be donated for medical use.  He said he hopes it goes to Tufts Medical School or Harvard Medical School.  Half-joking he said, “Wherever I can get in.”
Shared by Thomas Langevin on January 17, 2020
Steve was an extraordinary person. He was probably the most courageous person I have ever met. I am truly sorry that he has past.  I will not forget him. 

Please accept my sincerest condolences on your loss. 

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