My father, Clarence Wills, was a dyed in the wool firefighter. Although he’s been dead for thirty years, some firefighters that he worked with in Manhattan have reached out to me and read the book. Check out what they have to say about “Die Free” (unedited and reprinted with their approval).
“You are a very gifted writer. I found it hard to put the book down, once I started. This is not usual for me. My wife is now reading the book and I will make it mandatory reading for each of my daughters.
“It was a sad, hopeful and loving story. Clearly, the three main ladies in the story: your grandmother, mother and you are responsible for holding the family together. Unfortunately, this is the way life is for many families -women are the heart and soul -that will never change.
What I keyed in on most was the father -son and father -daughter relationship. At some level many families have these problems, including my own. Like you, I came to peace with this, as it relates to my father. If this type of story could be communicated to people when the were very young, I believe it would be a guide of what not to do and what is really important.
I learned a lot of your dad’s life that I never knew. He was one of the few people in my life that I feel I connected to their soul. I can’t explain how it works, but it does happen, as it did with my relationship with Victor Tarasuk, in the article I sent you. In the more than two years that I knew Clarence, I knew nothing of his musical ability or involvement in the church. I knew that he had three children at the time. At the time I worked with him I was single and then newly married, with no children. Possibly, that could be the reason family didn’t come up. However, if I remember, he never talked about himself. Unlike most men, I ask a lot of questions, of someone I am interested in and I have an excellent memory for that type of thing. I never knew where he came from, or that he had lived in Astoria, where I came from. What I could read in Clarence was an insecurity. I guess it takes one to know one. Reading the father- son relationship it becomes clear, even though it haunts me to this day. Regardless, of what he accomplished, which should never be important to a friend, or didn’t, I will always love him the way he was. My life is better for knowing him. As his little girl, I know you feel the same.”
~MICHAEL GIOVINAZZO, RETIRED FIREFIGHTER WHO WORKED CLOSELY WITH MY DAD IN THE EARLY 70S
“Just finished ready your book, A sad but happy ending to an American family’s dynasty.
As I was reading the last chapter a weird omen took place in my living room. A large mirror hanging above a sofa in which I was sitting on fell. Luckily the direction was straight down and pivoted once the mirror made contact with the top of the sofa. The right corner finally made contact to the right side of my head, causing a laceration and a contusion. A little ice and pressure was enough first aid to sooth the injury.
I remember Clarence’s brother Van stopping by the Firehouse on more than one occasion. He drove a yellow taxi cab. From what I recall he did not smile much and was not as jovial as Clarences demeaner.
Cheryl, you should be very proud of your accomplishments in life. And I am sure your Great Great Great Grandfather Sandy is rejoicing with the rest of the Wills family in heaven.
When I was growing up in Brooklyn my father always said treat the man who is begging in the street for a dime, with the same respect you would treat that person wearing a five thousand dollar suit.
I am a strong believer what goes around comes around.”
~JOE BERRY, RETIRED FIRE LIEUTENANT
“Many thanks for the copy of Die Free, which you so kindly sent to my husband, Michael Giovinazzo. I have just finished reading it, and believe me, I am no “speed reader”, yet devoured it in only two days time.
I never had the privilege of meeting your Dad, yet I well knew of him. Michael has spoken of him to me often, and I have also overheard your Dad mentioned frequently over the years, in Michael’s conversations with his fellow Firefighters. These discussions were, always and only, filled with admiration and fondness for your Dad.
In addition to your capacity to write so well, I especially admire your ability to forgive the many injustices that came your way. Without a doubt, you are all the better for that.
As you well know, there is a common thread that binds all the FDNY members. Michael has been enjoying more numerous phone calls with Joe Berry, since their recent communications with you. I think this connection has “resparked” pleasant memories from their younger days together – always a good feeling! I know they are greatly anticipating their pending luncheon date with you, and I hope to be able to meet you as well, at some future date. Until then, I hope you and your family stay well. You are a wonderful tribute to your Dad.”
~Mary Ann Giovinazzo
Dear Ms. Wills:
I took Die Free with me on vacation and have just finished reading it. The book is both well written and very informative. I truly enjoyed reading every page. I am astonished at the amount of information you were able to obtain regarding Sandy and Emma Wills. Your father would have been extremely proud of all your accomplishments.
In the not too distant future, on my next visit to Calverton Cemetery, I will visit Clarence’s grave and say a prayer or two.
Once again, thank you very much.