Canzano: Bill Schonely laid to rest
Life of legendary Trail Blazers broadcaster celebrated.
LAKE OSWEGO — His casket, draped with the flag of the United States, was positioned near the steps of the church altar. Someone lit four candles and set two large bouquets of white roses off to one side. The choir at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church warmed up and took its place.
This was Bill Schonely’s funeral.
Never before had the body of the deceased been present for a celebration of life at this church. It’s not customary. But Rev. Dr. Graig Flach met with the legendary Blazers broadcaster in the last weeks of his life and agreed to break the rules.
Schonely told him: “I want to be there.”
On Friday, the man known as “The Schonz” was laid to rest by his family and friends. His wife, Dottie, sat closest to the casket, near the children and grandchildren. Across the way, Schonely’s other family — a line of former Trail Blazers’ players and executives — filled the first few pews.
The NBA franchise’s first-ever draft pick, Geoff Petrie, sat beside Terry Porter. Ex-Blazers Jim Barnett and Wally Walker were just beyond that, beside Lloyd Neal, Chris Dudley and Larry Steele.
In front of them all, in a row by himself, was Bill Walton. He wore a single red rose, pinned to the breast of his shirt. As the ceremony began, Walton rose to his feet like everyone else, cradled a small red hymn book, and sang “How Great Thou Art.”
Two former players were among those who spoke. Two different church pastors eulogized him. Friends and family listened, nodded, smiled, and celebrated Schonely’s life.
“You know the other song I like,” the broadcaster told his pastor, “the one with the oboe.”
Schonely got that song, too, on Friday. He also received a special performance by concert pianist Michael Allen Harrison. And soloist Julianne Johnson-Weiss lifted the room with a flurry of vocal notes that soared and stretched toward the rafters.
When Schonely died a few weeks ago, I wrote a column about a final message he wanted to share with Blazers fans. I also wondered who would speak at his funeral. Mostly because he always seemed to take the stage at moments such as this, framing the lives of everyone else.
Petrie spoke first on Friday. He and Schonely barnstormed across the state of Oregon before the team’s inaugural season in 1970. That trip was the brainchild of the franchise’s founding father, Harry Glickman. Schonely essentially built the NBA team’s original radio network, city by city.
It was the start of a conversation that stretched over multiple decades.
“Schonz was always game ready,” Petrie said. “He would put on the headphones and the game just came to life.”
Porter offered: “He always made everyone smile.”
Officers from the Lake Oswego Police Department didn’t come inside the church on Friday. They were busy blocking off neighboring streets with barricades. They prepared a team of police motorcycles to escort Schonely’s body to Willamette National Cemetery, where he’ll be buried.
Schonely called play-by-play for hockey, baseball, wrestling and basketball, among other things in his career. He worked in Seattle, then Portland. But he’ll always be a father, a husband, and a Marine, too.
The Trail Blazers have planned a public memorial on March 13 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. It promises to be a bang-up celebration. I’ll bet Schonely left a set of instructions for those in charge of that event, too. He was a detail-oriented person. It’s part of what made him wonderful as a broadcaster.
Bill Schonely meant so much to so many people. That much has become evident since his death last month at the age of 93. He wasn’t just “the voice” that kept generations of fans company on game days. He wasn’t just a team ambassador, posing for photographs on the concourse.
He was Rip City’s best friend.
When the service was over, six pallbearers moved alongside that flag-covered casket at the front of the room. Walton, Barnett, Dudley, Steele, Walker and Neal took their places and escorted Schonely’s body out of the church and into the parking lot.
On the way out, Walton did something with the palm of his free hand. He gently tapped the top of the casket three times, as if he was patting an old friend on the back one last time.
Walton could have been doing it for us all.
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Very well written JC...thank you for allowing fans like me an imaginary seat in the service, just as Schonz gave me an imaginary seat in the MC on so many nights growing up. Rip City has lost its voice, but that voice will never be forgotten.
It is harder seeing an icon pass as It brings all of our mortality into focus; and the ones we miss and loved.