OWLS HEAD — The “golden boy” would have been easy to hate if he wasn’t so damn funny.
Andrew J. “Pete” Coffey, who died suddenly Monday night at 45, could do anything, with the exception of hitting a softball. He was a skilled athlete who played varsity baseball and football at Rockland District High School and learned to ski in a single afternoon.
He was a skilled musician and furniture maker but was born to work in newspapers.
He started his newspaper career at The Courier-Gazette in Rockland while still in high school. He worked there as a reporter and photographer through his college years at the University of Maine.
When he graduated in 1977, he worked on the sports desk of the Bangor Daily News before he moved on to the Biddeford Journal Tribune, the Portland Press Herald, then the Providence Journal, where he was art director.
He died while riding in the car of one of his oldest friends, Press Herald reporter Ted Cohen. Coffey’s sense of humor was so bizarre that Cohen thought Coffey was kidding when he fell unconscious. Cohen still isn’t sure.
He was so handsome that I once sat through an argument between two very attractive women friends who argued whether he looked more like Robert Redford or Paul Newman. They never did decide. He always claimed he was related to the Kennedys.
He was also a gifted musician who played at school assemblies, first at Owls Head Central School, then at the high school. Once he graduated from college, he wanted to rent a waterfront cottage for the winter in Owls Head. The landlady took one look at the twinkle in Coffey’s eye and decided she did not want raucous parties at her perfect little cottage. Preternaturally confident, some said arrogant, Coffey looked around the room, toward the piano, where he saw several Scott Joplin songbooks.
“Do you like Joplin?” Coffey asked. Before she could answer, he was at the piano, pounding out a few Joplin tunes. Coffey got the cottage for the winter.
He lived and died with the Boston Red Sox.
In a highly informal softball league, Coffey was a standout center fielder who had the speed and ability to race to a spot and wait for the ball to drop. When the ball arrived he would snatch it from the air in his best “hot dog” fashion. He had a perfect swing reminiscent of Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, fast and flat. The problem was that he could never hit the ball out of the infield. He wore a Rockland baseball hat. When he ended still another inning with a weak grounder to second, we told him the R on his cap stood for “rally killer.”
But he was as cursed as he was blessed.
He had a deadly serious case of diabetes complicated by his own personal demons. He ended up working for a credit-card company, a shocking development in a career that the rest of us assumed would end up at The Washington Post or The New York Times.
Communication since then had been limited to a series of rude, insulting e-mails, back and forth. I would like to have a few of them back.
Besides his parents, Andrew E. and Claire Brickley Coffey of Owls Head, Coffey is survived by his brother, Richard A. Coffey of Yarmouth, and several nephews and cousins.
Visiting hours will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Burpee Strong Funeral Home, 110 Limerock St., Rockland. A celebration of life will be held at the funeral home at 11 a.m. Friday. Those who wish may make donations in his name to the American Diabetes Association, 10 Bangor St., Suite F, Augusta 04330, or the Rockland Public Library, 80 Union St., Rockland 04841.
His friends can’t understand why anyone dies at age 45, diabetes or not. But they do know if the hereafter has a softball team, they now have a hell of a center fielder — just as long as they don’t expect him to hit it out of the infield.