By Robin Jovanovich
Not every Rye resident was fortunate enough to know Chris Mello, who distinguished himself as a scholar and an athlete at Rye High School and Princeton University. Just outside the Rye Y Fitness Center is a handsome bronze plaque containing a portrait of him and a few words about the kind of young man he was.
On September 11, 2001, Chris was on American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles. The plane was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the World Trade Center North Tower at 8:46 that morning.
Chris was 25 when he died. It seemed like all of Rye felt the loss of this young man who was admired, loved, and just getting started on the business of life.
Colleagues of his father Doug helped establish the Christopher Mello Scholarship Fund. Over the years, an annual golf tournament has been held, first through the Rye Y, and the proceeds have helped build the scholarship fund.
At every Rye/Harrison football game, a scholarship is given to a Rye player and a Harrison player. Even last year, when The Game couldn’t be played because of the pandemic restrictions, Doug Mello presented $5,000 checks to two players who possess the same sportsmanship, competitiveness, academic achievement, and leadership that Chris did.
“I can honestly say that before we started handing out these scholarships, the animosity between our two teams was untenable,” said Doug. “The rivalry is still there but the animosity has been replaced by amazing unanimity.” He added, “The police in both communities participate in the golf tournament. I think that’s profound.”
When he showed us the scholarship fund letter sent out this week to past supporters, Doug enjoyed pointing out the cartoon by Garfield creator Jim Davis at the bottom. “Chris was a closet cartoonist and Jim created a strip honoring Chris and the importance of friendship and good memories.”
It’s the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, and Doug is focused on the good stories, like that of Paul Veneto, a retired United Airline flight attendant who on August 21 left Logan Airport on foot, pushing an airline beverage cart, and will be at Ground Zero in time for the ceremony. Veneto wanted to pay tribute to the crew members who lost their lives that day and started a fundraising arm, Paulie’s Push.
He walked through Rye on September 6, escorted by Rye Police.
On September 11, Doug will be with his family — his son J.D. and his grandchildren.
On Monday, October 4, Doug Mello invites one and all to play in the golf tournament at Rye Golf Club. It would mean a lot to him. He’s hoping that 100 players come out. Jerry’s is providing the box lunches. A post-tournament cocktail party and dinner will be held at The Town Dock.
He laughs when explaining that due to a scheduling conflict The Game will be held two days before the tournament!
“The scholarship fund is an idea born in the parking lot at Rye High School,” he noted. “Twenty years later, it has spawned beyond what our family envisioned. Nearly 40 young men have received scholarships. What better way to recognize what Chris stood for.” He paused before adding, “And to live in hearts alive is not to die.”