BRISTOL - Word spread quickly over the weekend after it was first learned that the Boys & Girls Club of Bristol Family Center icon Rex Hamilton, 81, died at home Friday.
The retired director of operations at the club touched thousands of club members’ lives through his combined 42 years of employment with the Forestville and Bristol Boys Clubs, and the Bristol Boys & Girls Club.
“He made people feel good and he never felt like it was a job,” Diane Hamilton, his widow, said. “Many of the kids he had would later come up to him and say, ‘If it wasn’t for you, I’d be in jail.’ He never realized the impact he had on people.”
President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Bristol Family Center Michael Suchopar wrote, “Rex Hamilton has had an immeasurable impact on our organization and on countless children and families. There are literally thousands of people who feel heartfelt sadness on his passing. If you knew Rex, you respected him, admired him and eventually loved him. He was kind, caring, and dedicated; quite simply, Rex was a wonderful human being.
“Rex was an active part of our organization for 56 years of his life. During those 56 years he enhanced the lives of countless employees, children and families,” Suchopar continued.
“When I meet people who are our former employees or club members, the most commonly asked question I hear is ‘How’s Rex doing?’ Followed by, ‘What a great guy. He changed my life. Make sure you tell him I said hi.’ They are always genuinely thankful for the role that he played in their lives.”
The annual Youth of the Year Award is named after him, but according to his longtime friend, Richard McCarthy, “He didn’t like the attention drawn to him.”
Rex was from West Virginia, his big brothers worked in the coal mines and he was an athlete.
“His mother was determined to keep him out of the mines,” McCarthy said.
After graduating high school a standout athlete, he attended Fairmont State College, specializing in physical education and recreation, while also serving in the U.S. Navy. In 1962, at the age of 25 with a wife and two of his eventual three girls, he came to Bristol alone. He had experience in coaching and working with kids and Spike Norton, director of the then Bristol Boys Club, hired him to be the facility’s athletic director.
“That’s when I first met him,” said McCarthy. “Champ Duncan and I were the first two people to know Rex. He had a suit on and was in the office with Spike Norton and Norm (Beland). The three of us became fast friends.”
Soon, he would send for his family. They first lived on Judd Street, sharing their home with his mother and eventually, the Hamiltons had a third daughter.
During his early days at the club, he was able to obtain a limousine for kids to take to camp or elsewhere.
“He heard that Connecticut Limousine was getting a new line of cars and that they were going to donate old ones,” said McCarthy. “Spike said ‘O.K.’ and Rex, my son, Mark, Jay Schrager, and myself drove down to pick it up. Rex drove it back to Bristol and I drove the car back with the kids.”
One of the highlights of Hamilton’s working career was being named the unit director of the Forestville Boys Club in 1973, and he remained there until the doors were closed. He was then transferred back to Bristol. In 1995 The Bristol Press featured a story on both he and Beland, which talked about their club work with the kids. It was all about the kids.
“You teach them and they teach you back,” Hamilton said at the time.
One of his favorite club activities was the annual trek to Disney World, something he oversaw for over 30 years. He and McCarthy would set up with Sean Hayes, Gary Fleming and Don Ginnerty at the club Saturday mornings for the kids to come in and sign up or put money away for the trip.
“It broke his heart when he couldn’t do it anymore. He was doing this even after he retired,” McCarthy said.
In between all of this was the Italian Social Club, the only other club in town he was active with.
“He was called ‘The Grillman,’ because he would do the grill outdoors during parties and events,” McCarthy said. “All of his friends were down there, where he was very much admired and respected.”
In 2002, Hamilton lost his first wife, Anita, with whom he had three girls with; Debbie, Diane and Dee Dee. He then retired in 2004 and was feted at the Italian Society Club.
In 2016, Dee Dee passed away and those in his immediate family left were his other two daughters, and five grandchildren.
In early February of this year, Hamilton came down with pneumonia while wintering in Florida, leaving him weak while battling dementia.
“He saw the best of all in people,” McCarthy said. “He always found the good in people.”
“No one ever said anything bad about Rex,” Maghini added. “And, Rex never said anything bad about anyone else.”
Relatives and Friends may call at Funk Funeral Home March 16, between 4 and 8 p.m. A memorial service will be held at Funk Funeral Home on Saturday, March 17 at 11:30 a.m. Memorial donations may be made to the club, 255 West St.