Marathon’s one-eyed man still laughing

Marathon’s one-eyed man still laughing

Ted Violissi continues treatment for cancer

Ten years ago, Ted Violissi of Marathon was the guy who not only brought the Jell-O shots to the party, he was also the first to show up the next morning to pick up the festivity’s detritus. He’s famous in the Middle Keys for his wise-cracking ways and give-the-shirt-of-his-back generosity. Now he’s dealing with the least funny subject on the planet — cancer.

And, yet, Ted can still see the humor.

“Oh, man, it’s like ‘Silence of the Lambs’ up in there,” he said of the radiation treatment room at Sylvester Cancer Center on the mainland, describing the custom masks and body plates used to guide the streams of radiation with precision. His own mask does look a bit like the muzzle worn by Anthony Hopkins.

“I call my tech ‘Clarice,’” he said, laughing. “Heck, she’s started calling herself Clarice.”

He has 13 more radiation treatments to go. That means leaving his home in Marathon at 4 a.m. five days a week. That’s in addition to the months of chemotherapy he’s already undergone. Unfortunately, the chemotherapy wasn’t able to save his right eye — overrun with squamous cell carcinoma tumor. It was removed in May.

He’s been unable to work since then, a terrible affliction for a single dad with seemingly endless energy. Locals know Ted as, alternately, Santa, the French-fry guy at the Marathon Seafood Festival, a member of the TDC advisory council, the former president of the Marathon Youth Club Football, and as a coach of intramural soccer, baseball, football and T-ball.

“Whatever my son did, I just followed him,” Ted said of his progeny, Teddy, 16.

John Murphy of Florida Keys Air Conditioning counts Ted as a friend and colleague.

“Nobody deserves cancer, but definitely not Ted. He’s raised his kid by himself and everything he does revolves around his son. And the customers loved him,” Murphy said.

Realtor Ben Daniels and Ted have been friends for about a decade, joining forces to raise their respective sons as single dads. They tried to teach each other to cook with limited success and enjoyed tons of adventures, none suitable for print, except the time Ted wiped out on a ski trip.

“He joined me at the bottom of the hill covered in snow and ice. He said, ‘Ben, I think I need to go home. I might have a concussion,’” Daniels said, mimicking Ted’s baritone perfectly. “He just has an amazing heart.”

Ted moved to the Keys from Connecticut in 1995. He’s been a traveling salesman, owned a boat rental business, worked for GFS, the Census Bureau and most recently as a heating and air conditioning tech for Dana’s and then Florida Keys Air Conditioning.

“I really can’t do that anymore. It’s something about working on ladders with torches and a lack of depth perception. It’s just a little dangerous,” he deadpanned.

And so the community has rallied around him. He has received some support and referrals from Keys charitable foundations and the support of friends and partner Zoraida Ban.

“She’s been with me through the whole thing. She and my son were there for the operation, and she’s been at every doctor’s appointment,” Ted said. “She hears things I don’t.”

Ted is optimistic about the future. The cancer has shown no signs of spreading, and he’s learning to deal with his compromised vision.

“I’ve learned that when you only have one eye, it’s not good to rub it when you’re driving down the road. Everything goes black,” he said, cracking himself up. “God’s not ready for me yet. We’ve got lots to talk about. Like the platypus. What? Did He make that out of spare parts?”


Help for Ted

The community is soliciting donations for a silent auction, details to be announced soon, to benefit Teddy Violissi. They’ve also set up an account at Centennial Bank in his name. Checks can be dropped off at any branch. For more information, or to donate to the silent auction, please call Zoraida Ban at 305-684-6357, Nancy Ponzoa at 305-394-7758 or Vivian Culmer at 305-481-7562.

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