Legacy to honor cancer victim

Family remembers cancer victim with annual award

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Bill Towey, a member of Wantagh High School’s class of 1994, was a modest man. After his death on June 6, his family wanted to honor him in a way that would emphasize his generosity, humility and integrity. They decided that a scholarship for high school students would be the perfect vehicle.

“After all the dust settled after the funeral, we began to think about what we might want to do as a legacy to my brother,” Towey’s sister, Mary Monahan, said. Having witnessed his fearless fight against cancer, his family decided to keep his memory alive through a $500 annual scholarship called Fearless Warrior, according to Monahan.

After Towey died, his next-door neighbor told the family a story they hadn’t heard. A drunken driver hit their two parked cars one Christmas Eve. As he drove away, Towey got in his car and followed him to what he assumed was the man’s house. He wrote down his license plate number, alerted police and filed a report before returning home. He never spoke about it.

The story touched the family deeply, and they wanted the scholarship to reflect Towey’s character. He wasn’t a scholar or a great athlete, but, Monahan said, “My brother had high regard for integrity and generosity and kindness. So we wanted to have a scholarship that reflected that.”

Wantagh High Principal Carolyn Breivogel, who was once Towey’s guidance counselor, was thrilled to hear that the family was starting this scholarship, according to Monahan. To apply, students must submit an essay of at least 500 words and a letter of recommendation. The essay prompt recounts his experience with the drunk driver and asks students to relate an incident from their own lives when they stood up for something and did the right thing instead of being mere bystanders. The Towey family will review the applications and award the scholarship.

“We think it’s amazing that as a family we can give to the school and give to the future generation in a way to remember him by,” Monahan said.

A battle with cancer

About two and a half years ago, Towey began experiencing some of the more common symptoms of colorectal cancer, his sister said, but he did not address them for several months. Those symptoms can include unexplained weight loss, weakness or fatigue and abdominal discomfort. His grandmother was a colorectal cancer survivor, and Monahan had had a precancerous polyp removed.

Despite the family history, “He thought he had irritable bowel syndrome,” Monahan said.

Shortly after he turned 40, he finally went to a doctor, and was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. “This is kind of an unusual diagnosis for someone who [just] turned 40,” she said.

After an operation in which part of his digestive tract was removed, Towey began undergoing chemotherapy. A month later, the cancer had spread to his lungs and lymph nodes. “We knew it was going to be much more of an aggressive fight for him,” his sister said. “Our family kind of rallied around that, and we tried to emotionally and physically support him, as well as financially supporting him.”

The family raised more than $50,000 through community fundraisers, she said. Monahan and her husband also started the Fearless Foundation, which sells colon cancer awareness products.

In August 2017, Towey received a clean bill of health — but, Monahan said, the cancer returned six months later. “It was a setback, but, you know, we were hoping that with a change in chemo and being a little bit more aggressive with it, we’d get some more time,” she said. “But unfortunately, three months later we began our journey without him.”

Towey died three months shy of his 42nd birthday, of a seizure brought on by complications of what had become Stage 4 cancer. In addition to his sister, he left behind his mother, a brother, his wife, Jennifer, and two teenage children. “A life that was just too short,” Monahan said simply. “A very full life, but just too short, in our eyes.”

Hundreds of people attended his funeral, she said. “He just never really let go of anybody,” she added. “He never really had an enemy . . . and it was just story after story of just how generous he was. He was just a very kind person. He was always very giving of his abilities. He was very humble about it . . . Whatever he had talents in he always shared with everybody.”

Monahan pointed to the Warrior mural on the side of one of Wantagh High’s buildings. Towey was one of the two anonymous graduates who painted it.

Monahan is hosting a birthday fundraiser on Friday from 8 p.m. to midnight at the Bayview Tavern in Seaford to raise money for the Fearless Warrior scholarship. In lieu of gifts, she is asking for $30 donations. For reservations or more information, call (516) 655-8116 or 655-8025.

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