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Anderson column: Kevin Shay was a giant in life and boldly decided to help others in death

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A column by JOHN ANDERSON

You know a giant in your world passed away when photos and memories flood your social media timeline.

And you know the person is a giant in everyone else’s world when you need an entire high school for funeral services.

That is what will happen on Thursday as the life of Kevin L. Shay, 64, of Angelica, is celebrated.

Kevin was a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend to many, from his co-workers to the employees at Allegany County he would greet each day.

As a field training officer with the Allegany County Sheriff’s Department, he would teach new employees the ropes so they could go out on their own.

Eric Smith, a 15-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, was one of those who trained Day 1 under Kevin.

“He never treated you badly. He taught you the ropes,” Smith said. “He would sign me off that I was good to work on my own …but the training never stopped at that point. Kevin was that guy everyone relied on.”

That’s when it hit me.

That is probably the best thing I know about Kevin Shay. Once he gives you wisdom, shows you the ropes or raises you as his child, he smiles and lets you go. But he never stops training, he never stops giving advice. He never stops supporting.

That is Kevin Shay, the father I know best. He was incredibly supportive and loving, even though his job required him to be a tough guy. He tried the best he could, but he always smiled and he always laughed.

From left, Kevin Shay with his kids, David, Michelle, Ashley, Rob and his wife, Lisa.

After years working in the jail, Kevin switched over to the courthouse security detail. There were a few issues. You could get into the building through certain doors and there were times you could go around Cop Island and skirt to the left past the metal detector.

Things tightened up when Kevin arrived. There were a lot of employees who were not subject to the metal detector who now had to walk through it. That goes for media members and lawyers.

Kevin knew, the people who had the most access to cause an incident were employees. And he also knew something else. A smile and a joke, greeting you by your name, would make your day and make you enjoy that extra 10 seconds going through security.

When I would go through, Kevin would say, “check him twice.” A new deputy would get wide-eyed until Kevin started laughing. That was his way of letting his co-workers know I was OK in his book. But still make sure he goes through security!

That post was the place to be. Wes Raylea and Kevin Shay. Two professionals who had one of those friendships you were jealous of. They were constantly talking about their families, their goals and their struggles. And they never, ever once got mad at each other. There was a reason the post ran so smooth.

As Kevin continued to race out of work to see his family and extended family on a daily basis, he did all of this hiding the fact he was fighting pancreatic cancer.

Cancer. It’s just not fair. Kevin was in great shape. Fitness is how he met the current sheriff, Scott Cicrello.

Years ago on North Main Street in Wellsville tucked next to the police department was an outdoors store that later became a fitness center. 

As a young officer, Cicirello met Shay at the fitness center.

“He was charismatic, he had a smile on his face and he was always positive,” Cicirello said. “We hit it off really quick and became friends ever since.”

That was in 1994. Cicrello went to Alfred, Salamanca, became a trooper, an investigator and eventually sheriff. During that entire time, “We remained friends and we kept in touch as our careers changed.”

Cicirello was part of a group of law enforcement officials who recently organized a day of gathering with Kevin Shay as the honored guest. Everyone wanted him to know they supported him in his fight … they were all Shay Strong.

“He always represented the agency very well, he was always professional, he was well-liked, conscientious and beloved by all of his co-workers,” Cicirello said. “He just had that type of personality where people gravitated toward him.”

And every person who talks about Kevin, the conversation goes back to family.

“His family meant everything to him, his wife, his kids, his grandkids,” Cicrello said. “He took a lot of pride when we had those conversations about his family.”

Michael Tronetti, who is retired from the sheriff’s department, said he was lucky to have worked with Kevin.

“He was a stoic fighter during his courageous battle to live and be a productive human being to his family and friends and his community,” Tronetti said. “I, for one, had 20 years of the absolute best time working with this guy, and therefore I’m one of the lucky ones to have been a good friend.”

Eric Smith got emotional talking about his friendship with Kevin. But he had to explain other lessons Kevin taught others, how the respect from Kevin Shay expanded well-beyond the borders of Allegany County.

“People learned from him on transports (of prisoners), especially the federal transports,” Smith said. “He was so well-known and respected in Buffalo and Rochester by the federal government and marshals. He showed you the correct ways to do things and even the correct routes.”

The regional respect then went national.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network was accepting patients who wanted to go through clinical trials. Kevin said yes. He would get knocked down and back up.

The cancer continued to take a toll on his body. There was a chance to leave pancan.org and maybe take some other treatments that could extend his fight a little longer.

But there’s something you need to know about Kevin Shay. Behind the smile and gentle personality, there’s a tough SOB. Ask anyone who went against him at Whitesville in soccer, basketball or baseball. Ask anyone who played town team soccer against him in Angelica. 

Kevin knew cancer was not going away and it could affect someone he loves. Family or not. So he went all in to help find a cure.

“We will always remember, he was the first person to go down in history with his treatment, for taking the double doses,” Smith said. “He is the one doctors will learn from. But that’s Kevin. He was always the guy who stepped up to make sure everyone was better. He was fighting for his life and he always knew at the end of the day, the trials he was going through was going to help someone else. Even if it didn’t help him, he was going to help another person. His body was being tortured, but he didn’t care, he was willing to go through it.”

Smith pauses. The interview is getting tough for him to continue.

“It is really hard going down memory lane with Kevin,” Smith said. “How do you put all of those accomplishments into one thing?”

You don’t.

(John Anderson is a columnist and contributing writer for the Wellsville Sun. He can be reached at jandersondigitalmedia@gmail.com)

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