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Farewell to 'faithful servant'

Arnold Andrews was among 49 people killed when a jet crashed after takeoff fom a Kentucky airport.

Published September 8, 2006

ST. PETE BEACH -- In life, Arnold “Arnie’’ Andrews preferred to be in the background, helping others behind the scenes.

But in death, the spotlight shone directly on the 64-year-old Tampa man known for a generous heart at his funeral mass Friday.

Andrews, the former executive director of Catholic Charities in St. Petersburg, died in the Aug. 27 crash of Atlanta-bound Comair Flight 5191 in Lexington, Ky., with 48 others.

His coffin was wheeled from a black hearse to the front of St. John Vianney Catholic Church under sunny skies. Atop it sat a toy cow, rosary beads, his mother’s Bible and a photo of Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba whose feast coincided with the funeral.

“He was a gentle, spiritual man, who was generosity personified,’’ said the Rev. Christopher Fitzgerald, a friend of Andrews. “He helped everyone, from migrant workers to hurricane victims to children with cancer.

“He did so much behind the scenes for people.’’

Andrews was a senior vice president and chief operating officer for the WestCare Foundation, a non-profit agency that operates health and substance abuse programs.

He was returning home after attending a company board meeting in Lexington. A friend said Andrews was originally scheduled to return the night before but his plane had a mechanical problem.

About daybreak on a Sunday morning, the commuter jet struggled to get airborne and crashed into a field just minutes after taking off from the wrong, too-short runway. Only the pilot survived the plane crash, the nation’s worst in five years.

On Friday, Andrews was remembered as a man who dedicated his life to serving the poor, downtrodden, homeless and drug-addicted. One of his last projects was a training center for homeless families in St. Petersburg.

His grown daughter, Kelly Theresa Andrews Gallo, read a letter from St. Paul to the Romans noting that Jesus triumphed over death.

Sitting next to the casket, Andrews’ fiance, Maggie Letchworth, dabbed her eyes as a spirited choir sang the gospel tune Standing on Higher Ground from the balcony.

Andrews, who was of Cuban heritage, spent most of his professional career serving the needy.

Andrews worked for Operation PAR (Parental Awareness and Responsibility), a drug treatment program serving Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee and Lee counties. He began as a volunteer and was executive vice president by the time he left 23 years later.

He served as the executive director of Catholic Charities for about 10 years. He helped secure grants to set up the San Jose Mission, a residential community for migrant farm workers in Dover.

About a year ago, he joined WestCare, which operates A Turning Point and The Mustard Seed Inn for the homeless with substance abuse problems.

Fitzgerald said Andrews’ constant companions were the Bible and a small book, The Maxims of Christian Perfection. He was a man whose energy came from his spirituality and who also enjoyed a big pint of Guinness beer.

“This man gave his whole life to reaching out,’’ Fitzgerald said. “To love our neighbor, he took this to a rare and exquisite degree.’’

Bishop Robert Lynch presided over the mass. After prayers and communion, he stood before the family and asked if everyone could pray for all the flight victims and their families who may not have the same comfort as those who knew Andrews.

He described Andrews as a doer, who didn’t have a lot of patience for organizational structure if it got in the way of charity work.

“In the long run, on that morning a couple of Sundays ago in Lexington when tragedy struck and death came so quickly, he was ready to embrace his Lord,’’ Lynch said. “Many of us go into eternal life wondering how we will pass that test on judgment day.

“That won’t be the case with Arnie.’’

As the pallbearers carried the casket from the church, a steady rain had begun to fall. The hearse headed to the Calvary Catholic Cemetery.

Andrews’ uncle, Winter Haven resident Edgar Nordyke, 70, stood under the church portico watching the rain.

“Anybody that needed help, he tried to help them,’’ Nordyke said. “I know. He helped me in times when I needed it.’’

Melanie Ave can be reached at (727) 893-8813 or

[Last modified September 8, 2006, 17:39:17]

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