Friends and Family Remember Coach Ralph Silva
The Stevens High School football team stands outside the Stringer Funeral Home in Claremont, N.H., on Oct. 25, 2013, after the funeral for Ralph Silva, longtime coach at Stevens. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
At Pine Crest Cemetery in Charlestown, N.H., on Oct. 25, 2013, family members stand beside the grave of Ralph Silva, longtime coach at Claremont's Stevens High School. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
Claremont — The lone car, its driver from Washington, D.C., sat in the parking lot of the Stringer Funeral Home an hour before the funeral for Ralph Silva.
Karen Johnson had made the long trip out of respect for her uncle.
“I just had to come,” she said quietly. “He was such a wonderful man. Every summer, he would have these family reunions at his house, and they were so nice.”
Love, respect and honor were the themes of the day on Friday, as the community remembered Silva, 82, who died last week after serving decades as a teacher, coach and friend to so many in the area.
John Bly fought back tears Friday as he talked about Silva. Bly wasn’t able to play baseball, but Silva came to his house one day and asked him to stay with the team as manager.
“He was a true inspiration to me, and a remarkable human being,” Bly said. “I remember going to his house after my grandfather died and talking to him about how much I loved my grandfather and how much I was going to miss him. Ralph kept telling me that it will be tough, but that I will get through it.
“My gosh what a wonderful man he was. I’m going to miss him. Whatever I have accomplished in life is because of Ralph. He was like a father to me. Always there for me.”
At Friday’s service, scores of former players, coaching peers and relatives bade farewell to the man who spent 37 years molding youngsters as a coach, first in Charlestown, then at Langdon’s Fall Mountain Regional High School and finally at Stevens High in Claremont.
“I don’t know how to say good-bye, so I’m not going to say, it ” Silva’s granddaughter, Ashley Gould, said as she recalled the man whom she said was more than a grandfather. “My father was never around, so he was my dad. He was a wonderful man and I’m going to miss him.”
While Silva’s most prominent legacy may be as the coach in Charlestown to a young Carlton Fisk, who went on to be a Hall of Fame catcher for the Red Sox, he impacted countless other student-athletes, and many more people who were simply friends in need.
And he did so without ever demanding the limelight. In fact, for Silva, the farther out of the spotlight, the better
“He touched so many lives,” said Chris Rasmussen, of Plymouth, N.H.
Rasmussen, now 51, grew up in Charlestown and played for Silva in Little League, Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball.
“(Silva) was intense, but fair, and just loved baseball,” said Rasmussen.
Tim Griffin, who played on back-to-back state championship teams at Fall Mountain in the late ‘70s, recalled a time just after his father died, and his family had no money.
“Next thing I knew, Fred Legere, who sold sporting goods, showed up and gave me a pair of baseball shoes,” Griffin said. “I don’t know if Ralph paid for those shoes or not, but he saw to it that I had baseball shoes.”
While coaching always comes to mind first when Silva’s name is mentioned, he was a pretty good ballplayer in his own right.
He was a state champion quarterback at his high school in Gloucester, Mass., and played minor league baseball in the Washington Senators organizations.
In his 37 years of coaching baseball, his teams won three state championships and 363 games.
He also coached the Stevens football team in a surprise run to the state championship game in 2005 and was inducted in the NHIAA Hall of Fame in 2006.
It also is rarely mentioned, but he was a cancer survivor as well.
“You know, I never saw him mad,” said Gary Bigelow, a 1974 Fall Mountain graduate and a centerfielder for Silva. “He took me to my first Red Sox game. When he left Fall Mountain to take the Stevens job, it was one of the worst days of my life.”
Brad Weeks, a 1966 Charlestown High School graduate, recalls the time Silva told him that he wanted to make a catcher out of him.
“What he didn’t tell me was that Pudge Fisk was going to be the pitcher,” Weeks recalled. “Pudge could throw hard.”