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Edward J. Alfano


1983 - 2015 Obituary Condolences
Edward J. Alfano

AGE: 32 • Southampton

Edward ("Ed") James Alfano, 31, of Southampton, NJ, New York City, Cambridge, MA, and Bangkok, Thailand, died Monday, May 25. Ed was born June 19th 1983, three years after his sister Shelley and ten minutes before his brother Mark. He grew up in the loving care of his mother Marge and his father Ron. Filled with remarkable enthusiasm and energy, he had a boisterous childhood. On more than one occasion, his parents resorted to sending him to run laps around the house until he was at least a little tired. He was a constant source of competition for his brother, who could sometimes be heard saying things like, "Ed is stronger and taller, but I'm heavier." In one notorious family home video, Shelley stages a ballet in which Ed is presented as "the pretty ballerina!" and Mark settles for "the…other ballerina!" On one family vacation in Maine, Ed was excited to join the adults on a whitewater rafting trip down the Kennebec River, but he proved an inch too short to handle an oar. He nevertheless managed to cajole his parents into letting him sit, eyes wide and heart racing, in the middle of the raft. This sense of adventure characterized Ed's whole life.

During their youth, Ed, Shelley, and Mark spent many hours under the wings of their grandparents, Ruth and Edward Reif, in Haddon Heights, NJ. Grandma Ruth was especially fond of rocking the children to sleep at night in the big recliner in her living room while singing lullabies and telling Bible stories. Grandpa Ed may have contributed to Ed's hardworking - some might say workaholic - character. He recruited his grandchildren to help out with, among other odd jobs, the door-to-door delivery of telephone books. The favored method for getting this done efficiently was for Grandpa to drive slowly down the street in his green Buick with a trunk full of books, each in a bright yellow plastic bag, as the kids ran back and forth from trunk to stoop, stoop to trunk, and back again. It was an achievement for each of the children to graduate from carrying just one bag per arm to two and then even three. At the end of each job, Grandpa would pay the kids their cut in mint-condition one-dollar bills. On one occasion, the whole crew was stopped and questioned by a police officer who had received a report of three children riding in the open trunk of a car (the easiest way to ride between delivery points).

Back in the familial roost, Ed enjoyed home-cooked meals that Marge somehow managed to produce despite working long hours as a physical therapist. In the summer, one favorite dish was Jersey tomatoes accompanied by salt and fresh basil. Even when it was only minimally feasible, the family ate at the blue Plexiglas table on the screened-in porch. After dinner, Marge would often read to the family, sometimes for hours at length. One might wonder whether her power to fascinate her audience depended on their lack of access to the Internet, but it's hard to imagine a more enjoyable evening than sipping tea while listening to passages from The Hobbit delivered by an expert voice-actor. A favorite wintertime activity was assembling ever-more-complex jigsaw puzzles. This ritual was always carried out on the cherry table built by Grandpa Anthony, in the warm light of the stained-glass lamp Ron had constructed by hand while Shelley was in utero. The same table served as a staging ground for Christmastime pizzelle-making under Grandma Rita's watchful eye (don't even think about eating that raw dough!).

In 1990, Marge withdrew Ed and his siblings from the local public school to be educated at home. Over the next seven years, they learned the usual things, but also importantly learned how to learn. In many ways Ed's education was self-directed: after breakfast, he worked - at his own pace, with attention to the things that interested him - at his assignments in the company of his siblings. After official schoolwork was completed each day, which might happen anywhere between noon and 4 PM, Ed and his siblings would play with the family cats, Cody and Chloe, run rampant in the backyard and surrounding areas (amateur cartography of the swamp behind the house was a favorite activity), or play with their childhood friends, especially Joe and Ricky Marino, Jerome Ryder, and Easton Reynolds. Ed typically had more energy than his siblings - or anyone else for that matter - which led to Marge's institution of the "Gentle Chart." Ed would receive a smiley-face sticker on this chart every time he did something that could be construed as gentle and a frowny-face sticker for every distinctly ungentle action. The Gentle Chart was soon abandoned as insufficiently incentivizing.

Over the years, Ed learned to channel his boundless energy into the perseverance, diligence, courage, and reliability for which he will be remembered. He was a stalwart defender on the local soccer teams that Ron patiently coached. He learned to pole-vault on the school track and field team. The family took trips to the Outer Banks of North Carolina each summer; on one such vacation, Ed and his friend Armen Kherlopian taught the assorted teenagers in attendance to break pine boards with their fists and feet. On another occasion, when 17-year-old Mark and Mark's (then secret-)fiancée Veronica were harassed by an apparently numberless hoard of redneck teenagers who challenged the duo to a game of "full-contact football" for unofficial control of the beach, Ed approached the lot of them and said, without batting an eye, "Elect a champion and we'll do battle." To our lasting astonishment, they accepted this challenge, picking a boy roughly Ed's age and size who claimed to be his school's wrestling champion. In an attempt to defuse the situation, Marge approached the gaggle of parents, uncles, and aunts arrayed behind their unruly brood and asked, "Who here is the responsible adult?" When no one volunteered, she allowed the bout to proceed. Ed's first and, as it turned out, only move was the hip-toss he had perfected on his brother. After his opponent submitted, Ed stood up, brushed the sand from his torso, and strode directly into the Atlantic Ocean.

Ed and Mark got up to various other shenanigans during their high-school years. At midnight, April 30, 2000, they installed an impromptu Maypole, complete with streamers, on the 50-yard line of the football field. They made a game of sneakily parking their Geo Metro in the teachers' lot just before class began. They competed to see who could skip more days of class while maintaining high grades. One Christmas Eve, when the family had decided not to get a Christmas tree, they ventured out into the Pine Barrens to find and bring home a suitably Charlie-Brown-style tree - which the cats managed to demolish while everyone slept, leading to an anticlimactic Christmas morning of twigs, pine needles, and shattered ornaments. Beyond their pranks, they were constant allies. They supported each other emotionally as their Christian faith transformed into secular humanism, with Ed always ready to play the role of peace-maker and confidant. Despite imbibing a measure of rebellion from his brother, Ed managed to learn the value of constancy and diplomacy from his sister.

In addition to his vibrant physicality, Ed embraced music and learning. In high school and even before, he acquired expertise in classical and jazz trumpet, French horn, flugelhorn, and tuba, not to mention his baffling love-affair with the Appalachian dulcimer and such tunes as "Old Jawbones." Together with Mark, Brian Dixon, Megan Stokes, Phil Carhart, Ari Kaplan, Jason Green, and John Pfannenstein, Ed formed Three Hour Jive, a jazz band that played a few local concerts and even managed to record several songs in Brian's basement: "200-Proof Swing," "Billiard Room Boogie," "Free Admission," and the jazz-funk classic "Your Mom." His love of playing music led Ed to develop a talent for dancing - especially East Coast Swing and Lindy Hop - which he was always eager to teach to others, whether he had to lead or follow.

Ed graduated from high school near the top of his class, then went on to pursue an engineering degree at Columbia University. He had barely arrived for his first semester when the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center devastated the city. Ed persevered, bonded with new friends, pursued his studies, and acquired a taste for travel. After graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor's of Science in Chemical Engineering in 2005, he took a job as a consultant at the Monitor Group and, subsequently, at Extera Partners. On the job, he supplemented his scientific and practical training with new techniques, methods, and collaborations. Mark still remembers how excited Ed was, in 2006, to explain how he had used Principal Component Analysis to solve a problem that had bedeviled his team for months. In 2007, Ed and Mark co-founded Lumina Prep, an online educational company that they (mostly Ed) nursed through several years of development. Although they never hit it big, the company had some modest success, including pro bono contributions to several local charities whose mission was to improve the educational prospects of low-income students.

Ed soon returned to his formal education, earning both Master of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2013. His charm, humor, and unmistakably sincere concern for others led to new friendships there, including with many who shared his adventurousness. He organized a flotilla of "Sloanies" in the British Virgin Islands and went on mountaineering trips to far-flung peaks with some of his newfound friends.

In 2008, Ed met Waenyod Wongtrangan in Cambridge. They became attached to each other and decided to make a life together. They were married in Bangkok on August 4th, 2013. Unsurprisingly, their shared love of travel and adventure was one of the things that drew Ed and Waenyod together: they went on safari in Kenya for their honeymoon and had the good fortune to witness, among other natural wonders, the annual wildebeest migration. At this point, Ed had been to every continent except Antarctica, an emblem of his wanderlust, his openness to new cultures and values, and his appreciate of nature. He always treated these trips as a good excuse to bring home trinkets for Shelley and her husband Derrick's children, Carter, Reese, Sienna, and Lawson. The most exciting gift from Uncle Ed was a remote-controlled helicopter that was nominally a gift for Carter but pretty clearly an excuse for Ed to attempt dramatic takeoffs and landings in the kitchen.

After graduating, Ed started a new job as a consultant for McKinsey & Co. While there, he spearheaded an effort to reform internal conflict-of-interest and disclosure policies and practices. He also worked on teams in Texas, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea, and elsewhere. In 2015, his efforts were recognized with a promotion to Engagement Manager. Around this time, Ed and Waenyod began to search for a suitable nest in Bangkok, where they planned to raise a family.

It was during a McKinsey conference in London that Ed decided to have another adventure with some friends he'd made during his time at MIT. While climbing Stack Rocks, on the Welsh coast, he suffered a fatal fall. His family, his loving wife, and his many friends will always miss his ready wit, his forgiving disposition, his fierce loyalty, and his thirst to savor every hour before that eternal silence.

Ed is survived by his wife Waenyod, his parents Ronald and Marge Alfano, brother and sister Mark Alfano and Shelley Berad, brothers-in-law Pinrath and Makutchai, and Waenyod's parents Kanok and Chaloeylakana Wongtrangan.

The family would like to thank all those who have supported us in this time of unexpected grief. We are especially grateful to Clare Keon of McKinsey, who has been indispensable in the process of repatriating Ed's remains.

Relatives and friends are invited to the visitation on Wednesday June 10th from 10:00-11:00 AM at the Bradley Funeral Home, Rt. 73 & Evesham Rd., Marlton, NJ 08053. A celebration of life will begin at 11:00 AM. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to one of the following two causes, which represent values Ed passionately supported: Union of Concerned Scientists (http://www.ucsusa.org/) or Elizabeth Warren for Senate (donate.elizabethwarren.com).

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Published in Courier-Post on June 7, 2015
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