Holidays were always a special time for Earl W. Reese.
Every year, Reese took charge of decorating his family’s Christmas tree, putting every ornament in its proper place. He’d be outside until the early hours of the morning, making sure the house was perfectly decked out, stringing lights from every branch and spindle of their Kaisertown home.
His family reminisced Sunday about those and other special times.
Reese, 57, was killed last Wednesday morning at his second job in the Town of Tonawanda when a pallet loaded with 1,300 pounds of merchandise fell on him in the back of a FedEx Freight truck where he was working. The pallet, which had been positioned against the back wall of the truck, tipped over onto him, pinning and crushing him until desperate co-workers could free him with a forklift. Despite paramedics’ efforts to revive him, he died at the scene.
The incident is being investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but the family was left to grieve “in shock, sadness and pain,” as a GoFundMe page describes. And for now, the family is spending every moment recalling the hardworking man who was so deeply committed to his family, friends and co-workers.
On Black Friday, the Buffalo father of three was the first to go out, spending five, six or even seven hours shopping to pick out a special present and the right card for each person. And even after weeks of shopping, he always had to go out one last time on Christmas Eve to fill in the last gift.
His oldest son, Justin, describes him as the epitome of Clark Griswold from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” movie. He even dressed as the big jolly elf when called upon.
“He was the world’s worst Santa,” Reese’s cousin, Julie Pernick, recalled Sunday with laughter. “His stuffing was terrible.”
And if that wasn’t enough, for Easter, he loved going to the city’s Broadway Market for butter lambs and kielbasa. Every niece and nephew got an Easter basket. Everyone got a smile.
“He was that ultimate family man,” Justin Reese said. “He was so proud of everybody opening up the gifts. He never wanted anything, but when we did give him gifts, he was so proud that people loved him so much. His face would light up like a little kid, and he would hold it up for a picture. He was a kid at heart.”
Earl Reese was the epicenter of his extended family. But holidays – indeed, any day – just won’t be the same for them without their beloved “Earl the Pearl.”
“It was very tragic, and very sudden,” said Pernick, a 39-year-old special-education teacher. “These aren’t the things you want to happen. You wouldn’t wish this on your worst enemy, let alone someone this good. This guy was like an angel.”
Now he’s become an inspiration to his own sons, 31-year-old Justin and 25-year-old twins Jacob and Joshua. “He was probably the best guy that I know in my life. He would do anything for anybody,” said Justin, who just got engaged last month. “No matter what I needed or my brothers needed, he would drop whatever he was doing to do anything for us. When I was growing up, he was the guy that I wanted to be like, the guy that I wanted to mold my life after when I get married. He was just a great guy.”
The youngest of five siblings himself, Reese’s first dedication was always to his family, Pernick said. He and his widow, Carol, met when they were teenagers – 18 and 15 years old, respectively – and “always only had eyes for each other,” his cousin said.
He was very close with his own mother, Edna Pearl Reese, who died a year ago at age 95, and they would talk “all the time,” Justin said. Earl was “her little surprise,” and they would always end every telephone conversation with “love you bunches.” That’s where his family focus came from, and it carried over to Carol as well, both Justin Reese and Pernick said.
Earl was the family’s sole provider, having worked at ITT Enidine in Orchard Park since he was 18 years old – making him the longest-tenured employee at the site, where he was known as “Mr. Enidine.” Family members recalled that he would ride his bike to get to and from work when he was younger, and built up strong bonds with co-workers.
He spent much of his career as a shipping manager at the 50-year-old company, which makes shock absorbers and other products for the industrial, aerospace, defense, rail and transportation industries. But he was as much a friend and confidant to his employees as he was a boss, and “would always go to bat for employees at work no matter what,” said Justin, who worked at ITT Enidine with his father for the last few years. “His knowledge there is going to take a long time to replace.”
Earl even took calls in the middle of the night from one distraught worker, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from military service in the Persian Gulf, helping him through an emotional crisis. “My cousin would gladly take the phone call to talk this man off the ledge,” Pernick said. “He never judged. This is the kind of man he was. He always wanted to know about you.”
When Pernick’s parents each had heart attacks, or her father needed help with the restaurant he owned, her cousin responded, with no complaints. He painted and furnished his son Jacob’s apartment. And he was equally comfortable listening “to the ladies,” as he was talking about sports with the guys, she said.
Indeed, he was an enthusiastic Bills and Sabres fan, enjoyed bowling and golf, and would happily take his sons to games. But he was also an avid gardener, who enjoyed decorating his house with flowers and watering his plants. “Earl was everyone’s person,” Pernick said. “He was always smiling.”
Two years ago, he took on the second job at FedEx to help pay the bills, but still found time for his family – whether it was going to the movies, the Erie County Fair or the Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio, where they vacationed just a week ago. “This is a man who worked so hard, with two jobs. It was very rare that he got a good night’s rest,” Pernick said.
“He was by far the hardest working guy I know,” said Justin. “He was just working to pay bills, never to get ahead.”
So far, the GoFundMe page has raised about $2,500 from more than 33 donations. “He’s going to be really missed. We just want everyone to know about Earl the Pearl,” Pernick said. “People need to know what kind of guy this was, and what he leaves behind.
“If we can all just take a minute to model ourselves like Earl and his mother, then we’ll all be better people because of it.”