Pat Ahern

April 21, 2014

Patrick Daniel Ahern, 68, of the Westside of Syracuse, passed away peacefully Monday, April 21, 2014 surrounded by his loving family. He was born May 3, 1945. He graduated from St. Lucy's and the Syracuse Police Academy. He worked at the Syracuse Police Department for 20 years and retired with numerous accommodations and civic awards. He was a member of the Police Benevolent Association for over 45 years. He was a 60 year member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians servicing in various roles including President. He voted Democrat early and often and served the Syracuse Open House Inc. for over 30 years. He was a proud member of the Notre Dame Club of Central New York.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 46 years, Carol (Rubacha); four children, Patrick (Susyn) Ahern, Heather (Paul) Silvia, Bridget (Sgt. David) Gilbertsen and Kerry (Paul) Johnson; seven grandchildren: Meghan, Ryan, Brady, Isabelle, Teresa, Haley and Tatum; dozens of nieces, nephews, and family members; his brother, Fr. John Ahern; and sister, Doreen Drury (John); his in-laws, Catherine and Gail Ahern and John Lyons.

He was predeceased by his parents, Doris (McGraw) and John born in County Kerry Ireland; his siblings; Timothy, Thomas, Mary (Lynch) and Daniel.

Calling hours will be Thursday, April 24, 2014 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Holy Cross Church, East Genesee St., DeWitt. Funeral Mass will be Friday at 10 a.m. at Holy Cross Church. Burial will be at the St. Mary's in DeWitt immediately thereafter.

Contributions may be made in Patrick's memory to Syracuse Open House Inc., PO Box 325, Syracuse, NY 13209.

Story Below published in the Syracuse Newspapers
May 4, 2014 by Reprter Sean Kirst

The Legacy of Pat Ahern

Recovery, lives changed and
the 'ripple effect'

Ricky's life changed as a passenger in a big tan Buick. He doesn't recall exactly why the conversation began, only that he was at a point that seemed about as bleak and pointless as it gets. He was drinking so hard he'd embarrass himself at night, then feel sick and "broken" in the morning.

This was years ago. Pat Ahern was driving. They'd met through mutual friends who had faith Pat could understand this young guy and his struggle. In the car, Pat brought no judgment. He simply told Ricky his story.

Ricky, in recent days, has been thinking of the moment. Last month, Pat died of complications from a stroke, just before his 69th birthday. His brother John, a Catholic priest, gave the sermon during the funeral at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt. The brothers grew up in a crowded house on the Near West Side, and the service was rich with the Irish culture they revered.

The pews were filled with those who knew Pat from the Ancient Order of Hibernians or from such events as the Syracuse St. Patrick's Parade, where Pat -- a decade ago - served as grand marshal on what he called one of the great days of his life.

At the service, a niece held an iPhone to a microphone and offered a recording of Pat, on tin whistle, playing "Come By the Hills," a beautiful Irish melody. Once it ended, there was a collective gasp of laughter, sorrow and longing when everyone heard Pat's familiar voice, captured on tape.

As always, he offered his thanks. The sentiment was familiar to so many in the pews, men and women linked by clear eyes and an understanding:

They were, like Ricky, among those Pat once helped.

Several spoke with me, on one condition: Their names could not appear. They agreed to anonymity when they embraced the 12-step program that transformed their lives. Honoring the friend who helped them cross that bridge also meant adhering to the code.

They are recovering alcoholics, as was Pat. One guy -- George is as good a name as any -- chose Pat as a sponsor, the guide who'd introduce him to sobriety. George realized quickly that Pat sponsored so many women and men in Syracuse he'd sometimes lose track of their names. Pat would see one of them on the street or in a coffee shop and he'd welcome them with. arms wide, calling out, "Me darling!'"

He loved them. They knew it. That was enough.

"What I remember about Pat is how we would laugh and laugh," George said. "I had thought the world without alcohol would be a very humorless place, and he taught me the exact opposite. I had been a very cynical guy when I was drinking, and I never laughed as long or hard as I did with Pat Ahern."

The same went for Ricky, once beaten so savagely while he was drunk that he ended up hospitalized, his life at risk. He was thrown out of college. He was all too familiar with the police. His relationship with his family -- as his drinking spiraled downward -- turned to ash.

"I was just a hollowed shell of a dude," he said. "I was destined to be a punk kid from Syracuse, leading a mediocre life, if I didn't get sober. I drank to connect, and I drank because I wanted intimacy, and I drank because I wanted to be interesting, and instead it took it all away."

He spoke of all the nights when he should have been arrested for driving drunk, and wasn't. He spoke of all the wrong and hurtful things he said when he was loaded, and the people who loved him who were scarred by his drinking. He spoke of all the hangovers, the endless nauseous struggle on so many mornings, and the sense there was no choice except to do it all again.

Through friends he met Pat, a retired Syracuse police officer who'd walk into a room and take it over without trying. He was selfless, and warm, and people were drawn to him. What Pat became, by being sober, is what Ricky had wanted to achieve by getting drunk.

That friendship, that absolutely accepting presence, reinforced Ricky's choice to stop drinking.

"He was going to love you," Ricky said, "until you loved yourself."

Another guy -- call him Marty -- said he was introduced to Pat "when I'd been really beaten up by booze." In the early days of recovery, when Marty was broke, Pat would hire him to do odd jobs. For two years, Marty made it without a drink, but he couldn't overcome his own growing despair. Alone, sometimes, he'd contemplate suicide.

One day, over a sandwich, Pat said:

"You're not looking so good."

Marty poured out the truth: He'd assumed quitting drinking would resolve his problems, but there was something else, this utter darkness. The moment, he says now, was his "second surrender." He was clinically depressed, an illness that can often go hand-in-hand with heavy drinking. Pat got him to a doctor, got him the right help.

"A rogue, a gent, the John F. Kennedy of Syracuse," Marty said. "Everyone he touched, it was a ripple effect."

As for Ricky, that night in the Buick was a pivot. Plenty of adults had tried to tell him what to do, but no one had ever talked to him like this: Pat spoke of a day when his own drinking brought him to such a place of shame and grief that he pulled over in his patrol car -- physically nauseous, emotionally spent -- and took his police handgun from its holster, ready to kill himself.

When Pat told the tale, he'd demonstrate exactly how high he'd lifted the gun when his hand stopped.

He thought of his wife Carol, of his children, and he dropped his hand.

"The grace of God," Pat always said.

That was more than 30 years ago. He stepped from the car, breathed the air, chose to fall in love with life. He made his way to "the program," where he said he became a better husband, a better father -- and the Irishman he wanted to be. To Ricky, it was as if Pat always remained amazed at his own sobriety, at his good fortune, at the wife and children who stuck by him.

He'd found joy. He didn't keep it to himself.

"I feel like I was lucky, privileged, just to live in Syracuse in the time when he was here," said one man, recalling how - years after he'd stopped drinking - his own recovery was always strengthened by the depth of love and pride he'd feel from Pat, whenever they'd happen upon each other at the store or on the street.

Ricky is now a company executive in Chicago. Marty has a job he loves, and a wonderful family, in Central New York. George is a successful Realtor, in New England.

Take their stories, they say, and multiply them by the hundreds. Multiply them again by all the children who now wake up to sober, clear-eyed parents. Think of the thousands in coming generations who won't even know they were saved from lingering family damage by this retired cop who helped a grandparent or great-grandparent turn away from drink.

Think of that, and you'll understand why so many wept -- even as they laughed -- for Patrick Daniel Ahern.

"He was a guy," Ricky said, "who always had that light."