Terry Toppa, 1939-2021: a remembrance of my father

My father passed away on May 10 last year, after a short and unexpected battle with cancer (aside from some back pain, he was doing fine just a few weeks earlier). I wrote his obituary the next day. There was a short graveside committal service, where I also had the opportunity to say a few words about him. I want to share those words here, and his obituary. Two days ago, March 10, he would have been 83.

My remembrance of him

I want to thank all of you for coming today. It’s a testament to who my father was, and his place in our community, to see so many of you here today. A few days ago, the Newport Daily News columnist Jim Gillis offered a remembrance of my father. He wrote that whenever he saw Terry Toppa, they discussed two topics. One was small businesses in Newport, and the other was the Red Sox. At home I have a collection of about two dozen ticket stubs from all the Red Sox games I went to with my Dad in the late 70s and early 80s. I’ve kept them all these years because they represent some of the happy childhood memories he gave me, and the bond we shared. My father loved all his children and grandchildren, and found a way to share a bond with each of us.

Terry was also an accomplished athlete, and many of you here today know him from the tennis courts, or in earlier years, the basketball courts. As I grew up, my interests took me away from sports, and it was only when I was older that I realized he had never expressed even the slightest hint of disappointment, even though I’m sure he would have loved for me to follow in his footsteps. He loved me for who I am, just as he loved each of his children and step-children for who we are.

In many ways my father was my role model, and I like to think that many of my best qualities as a man and as a father I learned from him. Something my siblings and I all have in common is his work ethic. One of my early memories of him is watching him down on the floor with a hammer stapler, laying a carpet in a hot attic, sweat pouring off him, to start making it into a room for me and my sisters. Growing up in Newport, I was proud of all the different signs in town with the name Toppa on them. My father was the reason for several of them, from the different businesses he started over the years, and all of them were successful. Those accomplishments speak to more than just a work ethic – they also speak to his drive, imagination, and boldness.

Terry was an optimist, never expressed bitterness, and always looked for the best in people. He was known as a man of few words, but he always knew the right thing to say, and wisdom to share, when it mattered most. During his last couple weeks in the hospital, when we still weren’t sure if there might be a treatment for him, he told me this – “I’ve said I love you to all of you more in the past week than I have in my whole life, and I’m not going to stop saying it when this is over.” So the wisdom I’d like to share from him today is to not wait to express your love for each other.

Thank you all again for coming. It means a lot to me and all of Terry’s family that you are here with us today.

His obituary

Terrence Steven Toppa, 82, of Portsmouth, loving husband, father of four children and three step-children, passed away on Monday, May 10, 2021. Terry was born on March 10, 1939 in Newport, RI to Steven and Katherine (Shea) Toppa.

A lifelong Newporter, Terry was a loving husband and father, an accomplished athlete, and a successful entrepreneur. He raised three children, E’loise Tamer, Rebecca Toppa, and Michael Toppa (Maria) with his former wife Susan Killebrew. He married Patricia (McCarthy) Toppa on May 25, 1980, and together they raised their daughter Nicole Nicodemus (Keith). Terry also helped raise three step-children, Stephanie Pires, Melissa Henry (Rob), and Lewis Abramson (Anita).

In high school he was captain of the basketball, baseball, and football teams at De La Salle academy. He played on the basketball teams for the University of Rhode Island and then Providence College, where he graduated in 1963. He was ambidextrous and was well known for making certain basketball shots with either hand. Later in life he became an avid tennis player and made many friends on the courts at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. He also won their meatball contest two years in a row with his famous meatballs.

In the 1960s Terry taught math at Thompson Junior High for three years and was an assistant football and basketball coach at Roger’s High School. He opened and operated several successful businesses in the Newport area. He opened Toppa’s Food Service (originally named The Toppa Company) in 1966 with his brother Paul. The Toppa’s delivery trucks are a common sight today in Newport. In 1990 he opened Toppa’s Maytag Laundry, and in 1985 he obtained his broker’s license and started Toppa Realty. He continued to work as a real estate broker for Re/Max of Newport for the rest of his career.

Terry was preceded in death by his parents and his brother Paul Toppa. He is survived by his wife Pat, his children and step-children, his sister Pat Olechnowicz, eleven grandchildren, a great grandchild, and numerous cousins, nieces, and nephews.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: