September 16 – Happy Birthday Joe Riley III

pictureofjoe2When I wrote his original Amsterdam Birthday post in 2016, I put Joe Riley III in the same “likable”category as apple pie, Friday night high school football and hitting an exacta at the flat track. Simply put, he was one of this town’s all-time most well-liked individuals. Born on September 16, 1952, he was the oldest of the four Riley boys born to Joe Jr. and his wife Mary Ann, who was the sister of long-time St. Mary’s and Bishop Scully three-sport coach, the late Dutch Howlan. The boys also have a younger sister named Marybeth.

Joe Riley III attended SMI through eighth grade and then Bishop Scully, graduating in 1970. He was into sports his entire life and he was very good at all of them, earning several of those huge green “S’s” in high school for his play on Uncle Dutch’s basketball, football and baseball teams.

After graduating from Scully, he went on to Niagara University. He then returned to his hometown and started his one-man version of a “jobs program!” I met him for the very first time when he umpired one of my Shorty’s softball games in the early seventies. He also became a familiar site wearing one of those zebra shirts at Capital District high school gymnasiums as he evolved into one of this area’s best high school basketball referees. I used his moving company every time I’ve moved to a new home in this city. He also served as Montgomery County Coroner forever plus he and his brothers operated Riley Mortuary on Division Street, which has been in their family since 1921, when Joe’s great grandfather Arthur Riley bought into the business.

Joe married the lovely Karen Murphy and together they raised four kids, Kathleen, Patrick, Dennis and  Anne (though when I asked him once how many kids he had, he told me five if you count Chris Leonetti, who was Joe’s best friend and constant companion).

Tragically, Joe passed away in March of 2019 after a valiant struggle with cancer. It is still difficult to accept the fact that he is gone. When I found out he passed I wrote the following: “Here’s the God’s honest truth. There was not one time ever, either when I had business with him or ran into him somewhere, that I didn’t come away from the encounter thinking to myself “Joe Riley is one of the nicest people I ever met” He was always an absolute joy to be around, an exceptionally funny, witty, sincere, caring class act, an Amsterdam gem. His death last evening leaves a huge hole in both the spirit and personality of this city.” Happy Birthday Joe!

About a year before Joe’s illness was discovered, I asked him if he could move a piano from our home in Amsterdam to the fourth floor of a Brooklyn townhouse that had just been purchased by my youngest daughter and her husband. She lived on a hugely busy, one-way, very narrow Brooklyn street and the only way up to their place was a winding staircase, consisting of about 70 steps. As I was explaining the logistics of the horrifying and near impossible task I could actually see the famous twinkle in Joe’s eyes slowly fade away. He should have simply said: “Mike are you out of your mind?” but instead he told me he’d get back to me with a price. I spoke to him at least twenty times after that and Joe never once mentioned that piano. It’s still sitting in my front hallway.

Ironically, that piano once belonged to another guy who, like Joe Riley was born on September 16th.


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