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This is a brief biography of Allie Colombo, who was the subject of a huge celebration in Brockton Saturday, February 20, 2010.
A TRIBUTE TO A TRUE HOMETOWN HERO: ALLIE COLOMBO By: Rich Bergeron Alisay Colombo never boasted too loud or took too much credit, but he may very well be the Cus D’Amato to Rocky Marciano’s Mike Tyson. Rocky himself admitted in an interview after Allie’s death, “I’d never have gotten where I did without him.” But, to define a man like Allie Colombo based only on his exploits in boxing and only in terms of his influence on Rocky Marciano would be to leave out so much more that made him one of Brockton’s most beloved sons. Allie Colombo was much, much more than just a trainer to the heavyweight champion of the world and a few other promising professional pugilists. Allie was a husband, a father, a cousin, an uncle, a friend, a soldier, an Italian, a Ward 2 original, and a “class act” according to friends like Nick Sylvester. Aging photographs of Allie spending time with his family and the classy Grossinger’s crowd bring back his charm and allure in an instant. More than 40 years gone now, these snapshots are all that’s left of Allie other than the concrete memories those who knew him still have to share. Allie’s ghost jumps off the glossy old paper and makes you smile. Even in the images left behind, this jovial and driven man forces you to truly appreciate and recognize his tremendous impact on his community, his race, his friends, and his family. Looking through the snapshots of such a man’s life, you can’t help but experience deep fascination and complete admiration for a man who could have so much influence over so many, even long after his death. Allie Colombo is the man who officially introduced Rocky Marciano to the man who would be his professional promoter, and Colombo trained Marciano throughout the undefeated champ’s career. Yet, Colombo’s pugilistic legacy does not end there. In addition to guiding Rocky, he molded Pro Boxers Mike Pusateri, Juan Botta, Ronnie DeCost, Pat Stapleton, Sammy Giuliani, Arnie Brower, Bobby Jasmin, Ray Lessard, and Billy Ryan. These fighters alone, without including Rocky’s statistics, had a combined record of 169-74-13, with 111 knockouts. Colombo also developed into quite a family man after Rocky’s retirement. His daughter Cindy recently recalled how Allie would take his daughters to “church” every Sunday and rarely actually go to the service. Instead he would drive Cindy and Jean around to the houses of their grandmother and aunts and uncles and have one meal after another before coming home. Allie’s Wife Lilly didn’t even know her daughters skipped all those church sessions until decades after Allie’s untimely death. Cindy’s Sister Jean was quick to point out recently that they didn’t miss church “every Sunday.” Jean described her father as a great prankster, always joking. “He was so funny,” she said. “Everybody loved him. He had a lot of friends.” During the holiday season one year, Colombo made an audio tape as if he were a million miles from home in a spaceship. “It was hysterical,” Jean recalled. She explained that it was not at all uncommon for her father’s friends to plant a tape recorder out of sight just to get some of Allie’s legendary antics preserved for history and future amusement. Allie took his daughters with him to the gym with some of his fighters, taught them how to throw their own punches, and left them richer for having known him, although their time with him would be so fleeting. Cindy will always remember how her father would always drive her everywhere, no matter how tired he might have been from his intense work schedule. He would just get up and go, always happy to oblige. Jean smiles remembering how her Dad would have his work trousers over the railing outside his room every night, the pockets fat with change. Both girls would often raid the coin stash, and even though they didn’t always ask, their father never scolded them for taking too much. Jean always felt a strong bond with her father and enjoyed just sitting on his lap and being “Daddy’s little girl.” It’s clear both sisters still have the fondest memories of their father and his unique and unpredictable ability to entertain and accommodate those he loved and appreciated most. Aside from trips to see the rest of the family, Allie took his daughters to the old Paragon Park on his days off and to see the Red Sox play, too. Allie always seemed to get the last laugh in life, and even in death his sense of humor shines through. For instance, Allie’s wife Lilly and daughter Cindy swear Allie was not fond of swimming and would have no part of going in the water. “He wouldn’t even put his toe in the water,” Lilly reported in a recent interview. In that context, his yearbook photo saying he “also swims” seems like another setup for a joke Allie’s telling more than 41 years after he passed away. Mentioning swimming to Allie’s Daughter Jean gets a laugh for another reason. She doesn’t remember her Dad swimming, but she does point out he had a really funny habit of tying a towel around his head at the beach. He’d wear it like a turban, and as funny as it looked, it was actually a trick Allie picked up to keep cool in hot temperatures while stationed in India during his time in the service, she said. So there was apparently a method to his madness. Eddie Colombo, Jr., Allie’s nephew, remembers with a chuckle how Allie used to smoke cigars when he visited his brother. Allie’s brother Eddie’s house, one of those old familiar Sunday stops, had a huge stove in the kitchen little Eddie could hide behind. Eddie Junior said Allie would give him his cigar and tell him to go behind the stove and smoke it, then he would take off and let Eddie’s parents find him coughing his guts out with nobody around to blame for it. This was just Allie being Allie, the ham of the family. Eddie Colombo senior was a close brother to Allie who had a great passion for sports and would go with the kids to many of the Red Sox home games. Any sporting event brought the brothers closer together, and if they weren’t watching games together they were on the phone to each other sharing their opinions of the performances of their favorite or most hated players. Eddie Junior said the two brothers would purposely get front row seats in the bleachers at Sox games. This was so they could be within earshot of the players to rip into someone for a bad play or give an “atta boy” for a good catch in the outfield. It was baseball that brought lots of Brocktonians together in Allie’s younger days, and it was baseball that united the youth of his neighborhood in one common goal: to make it to the big leagues someday. Allie was a nearly lifelong close friend to Rocky Marciano. They grew up next door to each other, right near the neighborhood ballpark at James Edgar Playground. Allie was almost five years older than Rocky, and though he played sports himself he always assumed more of the manager’s role. Everett M. Skehan’s book Undefeated explains, “Allie was the one who got the teams together and planned the games. He was the spark that always kept the spirits high in the little Ward 2 neighborhood.” Rocky’s baseball dreams dissolved due to his slow speed on the base paths and his insufficient catcher’s throw to second base. Prior to his spring of 1947 tryout with the Chicago Cubs farm team, Rocky had been in his share of amateur boxing matches already. Even trying to make the team he got in a scrap with a fellow player and split his nose open. Allie was ready when Rocky came back from the trip to help get Rocky going as a pro boxer. The Brockton YMCA became Rocky’s earliest training camp where Allie Colombo helped mold and shape him into a fighter a professional manager would be interested in. From the Golden Gloves to the heavyweight championship of the world, Allie was there right behind Rocky every step of the way. Colombo was also a gracious host to his fellow trainer, Charlie Goldman, who camped out at the Colombo house back in Rocky’s hey day and cooked up a storm in their kitchen. Mike Pusateri recalled recently how proud Allie was to tell stories of working with Rocky and their youth together. “He was extremely sincere and honest,” said Pusateri about Colombo. One of the most touching tributes to Colombo after his tragic death came from Pusateri as well. “Iron Mike” was one of Allie’s prized boxing pupils as Colombo constantly worked to produce another world champion after Rocky’s retirement. “Allie did more for me than any man on earth,” Pusateri told a friend at Allie’s wake. Brockton Enterprise Sports Reporter Pete Farley quoted Pusateri adding this tribute to his trainer, “I’ve never known a better guy in the whole world. He was like a big brother to me.” Farley’s tribute piece praised the trainer for his devotion and selflessness. “Allie was a special breed, as fight trainers go,” he wrote. “When Allie consented to throw a towel over his shoulder and climb between the ring ropes with a fighter, the last thing he asked was ‘What’s in it for me?’” Marciano himself gave Colombo a world of credit for his championship career when reached for comment following Allie’s accidental death in January of 1969. “It was Allie’s contention that I could make it very big in the professional ranks, so we talked it over and together decided to give it a try,” Rocky recalled. It was Allie who drafted the letter to Al Weill that led to Rocky’s invitation to New York to meet the promoter who would help take him to the heavyweight championship of the world. Soon both men realized just how crafty and demanding this big-city manager could be. Allie always provided the comic relief to alleviate Rocky’s frustrations with Weill or anything else that bothered his friend and took his focus off the fight game. If Marciano was ever down in training camp, Colombo would do his best Al Weill impersonation to crack him up. After Allie’s death, Rocky told the Brockton Enterprise: “Allie was a real buddy. He kept my interest in boxing alive through all the difficult moments. Prize Fighting is a very serious business, but Allie was very witty and when we got too serious he’d use his sense of humor to relax the atmosphere.” Marciano graciously provided multiple reporters with his gratitude following Colombo’s accidental death. Another news account from almost a decade before Colombo’s death featured Rocky describing how Allie first convinced him of his potential as a pugilist. Even when Rocky seemed to be a hopeless fit for the sport, it was Colombo who convinced him he had something special. The Travelers Sports piece from February 3, 1959 is perhaps the best news report available explaining how Marciano and Colombo became involved in boxing together. While Rocky was on furlough from the service in 1946, Allie got to see Rocky battle Henry Lester, an established Golden Gloves champion at the time. Rocky had only been boxing for weekend passes and to get out of undesirable work details at Fort Lewis before taking the amateur bout on a whim. Allie was stationed at Westover Air Force Base in Springfield, MA at the time where he knew a pro boxer who had connections to a promoter in Holyoke, the place that would eventually host Rocky’s very first pro fight less than a year later. Arthur Siegel quoted Marciano in that Traveler Sports article over a half-century ago: “Allie was in the Army. He already had been in the Army eight years and he was going to make a career out of it. He saw me fight one night. Everybody was laughing at me because I was awkward and crude. But Allie didn’t. He came to me and said, ‘I think I see something that will make you a champion.’ That encouraged me and I asked him to be my manager. He wouldn’t.” Allie was smart enough to know he’d need someone with better boxing connections to get Rocky on track. Colombo had $1,800 in the bank and pledged to help Rocky get established as a fighter with that nest egg until Marciano could pay him back with fight purses. “He gave up security because he believed in me,” Rocky said about Colombo’s sacrifice. “He never told anybody, and I haven’t either.” The first trip to see Al Weill didn’t end as well as planned, and the promoter told Allie his friend would need more experience to impress him. The two had to hitch hike just to get there. They munched on homemade sandwiches Allie brought and barely had enough money to bed down for a night at the YMCA in New York City. Still, Allie said, "It was worth every sacrifice...it opened all the doors Rocky had to have open. I learned real quick you weren't going anywhere unless you fought in New York, where they had some Boxing Managers Guild. I studied up on managers and Al Weill and Charley Goldman (trainer) kinda hit me. So I wrote to him and he says bring the guy to New York. We work out for Weill at the CYO gym on 17th Street and he's interested but won't put out any money until he wins more fights. I made a deal with Weill, part of it that I share a corner with Goldman and that is how we got started.” “Allie was one of the most beautiful men I have ever known. In all the years I knew him I never once heard him say a bad thing about anyone,” said Rocky’s younger brother Peter Marciano. “That in itself is a wonderful attribute. I have always believed that without Allie as Rocky’s friend and trainer he would not have made it to the heavyweight championship of the world.” Rocky’s retirement long after reaching that pinnacle left Allie looking to fill the void with another world champion, but it also provided him plenty of time to become a true family man. In his later life he still trained fighters at the VA Hospital recreation center, taking his daughters along in tow to the gym or to talk to sports reporters and fight professionals about whatever particular fighter he was trying to promote at the time. The VA Recreation Supervisor, Mike Matondi, recalled upon Colombo’s death, “Not only has boxing lost one of its greatest individuals, but the world has lost a person that can’t be equaled. Allie was a fight trainer that didn’t exploit his boxers, his heart and soul went into the welfare of every guy he worked with.” Cindy, who would try to keep busy shooting hoops many times when her father took her to the gym, still remembers how loyal he was to his boxing trainees. “Dad was absolutely devoted to boxing and the men he trained until the day he died,” she said. His passion for the sport of boxing was so central to Allie’s life that some in his family had every reason to resent the sport for keeping Allie away from them for so long. Allie’s wife Lilly didn’t care at all for the sport, but she knew Allie loved it, and she loved him. Their bond was so close and potent that even years after his death Lilly still caught herself calling her next husband “Allie.” Knowing how important he was to his new wife, Allie’s successor didn’t even correct her most times. Lilly often had to share her husband with Rocky, and while she didn’t really like the fight game she did enjoy being around the famous entourage Rocky generated in his prime. Before Allie’s daughters came along, his wife and best friend were the most important people in his life. Allie and Lilly first met at a dance. The follow up line for Lilly after Allie asked her to dance was something like, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” It turned out she did know his brother Richie Colombo. She soon fell in love with Allie’s wit and charm. “We were lucky to have each other,” said Lilly in a recent interview. “He was a hot ticket and a joy to be around.” Allie’s family soon realized the best way to be close to Allie late in life was to share his love for boxing. “The coffee table always had Ring Magazines on it,” said Cindy. “Saturdays were spent with dad at the VA gym while boxers were training. At Christmas we were the only little girls who got an inflatable, stand-up Bozo punching bag whose nose squeaked when you landed a jab or hook. We were the only girls who knew how to practice and land a jab, jab hook on our dad's open palms.” All the Sundays spent skipping mass and bringing donuts to their aunts, cousins and grandparents with Dad are still fresh in the minds of Allie’s beloved daughters. They were his pride and joy. “We could always get what we wanted,” said Cindy. “He took us everywhere. Sometimes when Rocky was in town we would meet him at a coffee shop or next door to our Grandma's house at Rocky's Aunt Lena's and Uncle Dominic's. We were his two special little girls. We always knew he was special, too.” Even Allie’s last lucid moments with his wife were spent fretting about what she needed to deal with her flu before he went off to work in the snow. She remembers he asked her if she needed chicken soup or anything he could go out and get for her. Then he kissed his wife goodbye for what would be the last time and left for the Stop & Shop warehouse where he would be killed by a truck just a few hours later in a freak accident. The loss of Allie devastated his family and friends, and the community he loved so dearly gave him a heartfelt sendoff. He was feted graciously in the press, and there was an overwhelming public response to his passing. Grown men and women cried, carried on, and moped like little children at the wake, overcome by intense grief and sadness. The one man who could have made them all laugh was in a casket, never to rib them playfully or laugh with them ever again. “It was the worst day of my entire life,” said Allie’s Daughter Jean about the day she heard the news about her father’s horrible accident. “It was the most traumatic thing you could ever experience. It leaves a huge hole in your heart.” Jean had been sleeping when the commotion began the night of her father’s death. She will never forget the awful scream from her Aunt Pat that came with the news that Allie had died in surgery. The Pica funeral home where the wake was held never had a more well-attended ceremony. Jean remembers her rugged Uncle Eddie crying and recalled that seeing how many people who loved her Dad so much was “very impressive.” She was surprised to see so many young people and old timers wailing in agony. “You don’t see that anymore,” she said. News of Colombo’s death traveled far and wide. The Las Vegas Sun even had a piece about the tragedy: More than 40 long years after Allie’s death, we celebrate his legacy tonight in many special ways and for many reasons, but most of all because this man was a true hero. It’s easy to picture what he’d do if he were still with us. He’d be sitting in the back, waving off the adulation and cracking jokes at his own expense. He’d enjoy the festivities and keep everyone in stitches, always trying to focus on the good deeds of his pupils and loved ones more than his own accomplishments. We’ve learned from his example that the human spirit endures long after death, and a man’s impact is not always only felt in his living years. We’ve also learned that, like Former Secretary of State George C. Marshall once said, “There’s no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Allie’s humble, happy spirit lives on, and we will never forget his faith in his fighters and his intense love for his heritage, his family, and the city of Brockton.
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