For the past two weeks Belmont North man John Pirona’s death has dominated the waking moments of his family and friends.
For a short time yesterday at his funeral, there was relief and laughter as hundreds celebrated his life.
Mr Pirona, a father of two, died on July 22 after leaving a letter saying he was in ‘‘too much pain’’ because of sexual abuse by a priest at a Hunter Catholic school in the 1970s.
But it was father Lou’s stories of a younger John, before the abuse, that had mourners at Lake Macquarie Memorial Park smiling.
By the age of six or seven he showed the promise of the NSW fireman he would become, Mr Pirona said.
‘‘We had a big banana plant of about 20 feet high and somebody lit it with a little match,’’ he said.
‘‘Three fire brigades arrived and every kid in the street turned up to have a look.’’
John Pirona’s wife Tracey spoke of the loving father who taught literacy groups at his daughter’s school, and the romantic man who proposed on a bluff at sunset and hid champagne glasses behind a bush.
She wept about the lives that had continued after Mr Pirona’s disappearance and death – one daughter has won a Hunter gymnastic championship in the past two weeks; the other is travelling to the Netherlands in her sporting field.
NSW Fire Brigades Commissioner Greg Mullins spoke of a fireman who preferred to go barefoot in the station, against the rules, but whose personality led even a supervisor to ring ahead to ‘‘tell Pirona to put his bloody boots on before I get there’’.
Mr Mullins struggled while talking about ‘‘the pain in Joey’s past’’.
‘‘Being in a helping profession, it’s hard to come to terms with not being able to help a mate,’’ he said.
Dennis Hay spoke about Mr Pirona’s struggle to deal with his past after the men met at Heal for Life.
‘‘We had a very rare connection. We were able to talk about the dark side of our lives,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s a self-hatred that won’t go away. Just when you think you beat it, it comes crashing back again.’’
Before mourners, including Minister for the Hunter Mike Gallacher, Lou Pirona said he supported a royal commission into the Catholic church’s handling of child sex abuse.
‘‘No person or organisation should be above or outside the law,’’ he said.