Three Chimneys presents Good News Friday: Grandpa Joe and Secretariat

by | 12.24.2010 | 10:36am

Most of us have heard about how the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.  This is the story of how a movie about a horse, the great Triple Crown champion Secretariat, lifted the spirits of a dying man, one who has been a longtime fan of Big Red of Meadow Stable.

But there's more to it than that. It's also a story of compassion, friendship, and faith in one's fellow man.

Joseph R. Triano, “Grandpa Joe” to his granddaughter, Rachel Estrada Ryan, was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the gallbladder in early November. His health was poor to begin with, and after the diagnosis of cancer doctors told his family there was nothing they could do to help him.

Grandpa Joe hadn't been to the movie theater in years, but he'd heard about “Secretariat,” the Disney movie starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich, and he desperately wanted to see it. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, according to Rachel, it's all he talked about. But there was one small problem: Secretariat was no longer playing in theaters near his home, and it wasn't available yet on DVD.

Rachel was a fan of the Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, who himself had been ravaged by thyroid and jaw cancer, then nearly died when a radiation-damaged carotid artery burst open. To this day, Ebert is without his lower jaw, unable to speak, eat, or drink anything as a result of the damage done from that ordeal. Amazingly and courageously, Ebert has continued to practice his trade as one of America's most prolific and respected film critics. (For another inspirational story, read Chris Jones' profile of Ebert in Esquire magazine here.)

Rachel sent Ebert an email, telling him of her grandfather's condition and her predicament in trying to give him a chance to see “Secretariat” before his time is up. Ebert forwarded the email to his good friend and former University of Illinois classmate, Bill Nack, the eight-time Eclipse Award-winning writers who penned the definitive biography of Secretariat and was a consultant on the film. He had faith that Nack would figure out what to do.

And Nack did. He contacted the folks at Disney, arranged for them to get Grandpa Joe an advance copy of the DVD, even tracked down his phone number in Staten Island and called to let the family know the movie was on its way.

It arrived eight days before Christmas, and Rachel watched “Secretariat” with Grandpa Joe and her grandmother. This is what she told Ebert in a follow-up email: “After the credits concluded … we just sat and stared at the screen for the longest time, just me and my grandparents, in silence. I almost can't say if I liked it. This was not just a movie. I don't think ‘Secretariat' will ever be just a movie for me. You ruined it for me, in that way, Roger. You made it into something more than it could ever really be, something magical, something transcendent, an object of my love for my grandfather.”

This is the abbreviated version of the story of a family dealing with a loved one's terminal disease and how two old college buddies did what they could to make the family's remaining time together special. And, oh, yes, it's about a horse named Secretariat and that magical feeling a horse can instill in all of us.

Please read Roger Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times blog, featuring Rachel Ryan's own account in words and pictures of how her grandfather's dying wish came true (click here). It is an amazing  Christmas story.

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Thanks to the generosity of Three Chimneys Farm, the new sponsor of Good News Friday, a donation of $100 will be made to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the charity of choice for Joseph Triano's family. Three Chimneys will be doing that each and every week we bring you a story of people or organizations making a positive difference in our world.

  • what a wonderful Christmas present for a family needing to share some joy.

    a credit to all.

  • Tiznowbaby

    Oh wow. The power of the horse. Well done, Roger Ebert and Bill Nack.

  • Freespirit

    That brought tears to my eyes. What a great story.

  • txhorsefan

    Thanks. Beautiful.

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