I recently attended one of the most beautiful funeral services I have ever had the honor to attend. It was for my brother-in-law Romey Secco, and it was a fitting send-off for a person who brought so much joy to countless people through the gift of his singing and guitar playing. He was a self-taught musician who loved jamming with his friends, singing his favorite country and Gospel songs. So, his musician friends showed up for him one last time and played and sang their hearts out as the beautiful strains of the steel guitar echoed throughout the church.
At the age of thirteen, Romey picked up a guitar that his brother had mail-ordered but had lost interest in, and began strumming chords and learning a few songs. He could not read music, but he knew when the notes sounded right. He would listen to songs over and over to learn the words and the melody, then he would work on playing the right chords and putting it all together. Whenever he had time, he was off by himself learning new songs.
In the early 1970’s Romey started a band and they called themselves “The Nashville Collection.” They began practicing regularly in each other’s garage or basement, and soon they were playing at church festivals, weddings, county fairs and private parties. I remember that they played at the Elk County Fair when it was first held behind the Community Building in Kersey during the mid 1970’s. There was an also an annual summer party in my neighborhood where anyone who played an instrument or sang was encouraged to show up and perform as a guest of the band. Everyone brought food to share and the party went on for hours. Romey loved to get others involved in the singing and sharing in the fun. He and his band were also regular performers at the annual Labor Day festivities in Weedville. Over the years, some band members moved away and others took their place, but a few of the original members always remained.
After they retired, Romey and his wife Florence started spending winters in North Carolina. They rented a house near where one of their daughters lived, and it wasn’t long before Romey was invited to entertain at the local Senior Center. Word spread, and soon he was playing and singing at the Lion’s Club, the YMCA and the Moose, all the while donating his time and talent doing what he loved. He also spent lots of time on the golf course and made many new friends who always spread the word when they learned that Romey was headed south.
He continued teaching himself new songs by obtaining a cassette tape of the song, playing it repeatedly, pausing it to write down the words so he could memorize them, and matching the chords that he was hearing. He performed all his songs from memory, never using cheat sheets with the words written down.
For many years, I had the privilege of singing with him in our church choir. One year, our choir director told Romey that she had a song she wanted him to sing as a solo at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. She practiced the southern spiritual “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” with him and he performed that song with the reverence of a prayer. His pure voice made the listener think that he was holding the Christ Child and singing directly to Him. Most of the church lights were turned off and there was silence as he sang his tribute to the infant Jesus. It never failed to bring tears to my eyes. By popular demand, he performed that song in our church every Christmas Eve for more than 30 years, and my son always said that it wasn’t really Christmas until he traveled home and heard Uncle Romey singing it.
After our choir director retired, a folk group was formed and we met every Sunday evening to practice the music for the next Sunday’s liturgy. After the practice was finished, Romey would start the fun by playing and singing a country song, then he would go around the circle of choir members trying to get everyone to take a turn singing too. This would go on for hours, until someone remembered that we all had to get up to go to work early in the morning!
As his health declined in later years, Romey worked his way back to singing after a number of serious setbacks. His passion for singing gave him an incentive to keep fighting until he couldn’t fight any more. Through it all, Florence, his wife of 67 years, was his rock, his strength. He told many people that if it weren’t for her, he would have been gone a long time ago. His sons and daughters also were a strong support system through the good times and the bad.
The tribute that his friends gave him at his funeral spoke volumes about the kind of person that he was. His long-time friends singing songs like “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Why Me, Lord?” “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” “Some Call it Heaven, I Call it Home,” and “Because He Lives” accompanied by electric guitar and the gorgeous steel guitar was the best gift they could possibly have given.
We know you are singing with the angels now, Romey. We will miss you.
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Marilyn Secco is a retired teacher and the author of the book “Front Porch Tales.” She has two children and five grandchildren and lives in Kersey with a temperamental cat named Tidder.