By Norb Garrett
Our little hamlet by the sea was dealt a wicked triple sucker punch this week with the news of the passing of three of its special sons. Tony Carbonara, the gregarious and hugely giving restaurateur, Ben Villa, the football coach who always seemed to find the very best in every kid he coached, and Edward Lesneski, the patriarch of the funeral home that has played host to so many important moments in the lives of San Clemente’s families, all died and their deaths have saddened our community.
All three men have touched this community in similar ways, by giving of themselves to help make us all better and stronger.
In Tony Carbonara, I had a true friend. The owner of Carbonara Trattoria Italiana on Avenida Del Mar, Tony always had a smile to greet you. Always. I once commented, while dining with my son in Tony’s always welcoming restaurant, that as much as I loved his spaghetti carbonara I wished he’d make a cannelloni dish since he was the only one who I thought could pull it off. Thirty minutes later, he emerged from the kitchen and delivered to our table the most sumptuous cannelloni dish I’d ever had. Of course he didn’t charge me for it. I told him he should put it on the menu; he said he’d save it just for me. My son couldn’t believe Tony made the dish just for us.
To be honest, I can’t imagine a San Clemente without Tony Carbonara. He was omnipresent. He was a great champion of this town. Just as his restaurant sits in the heart of San Clemente, so will Tony’s legacy. I know we all will truly miss him.
I got to know Coach Villa through football at San Clemente High School. As assistant on the freshman football team, he was a man who dedicated himself to helping young men find the best in themselves. He helped to teach young men to believe that they could be great, that if they worked together as a team, fought hard, defended each other and believed, they could conquer anything. Coach Villa impacted the lives of many of San Clemente’s young men and families over his years coaching youth and high school football.
I didn’t know Edward Lesneski very well, but met him on a few occasions. Few businesses touch as many lives as that of a mortuary, and since 1968 the Lesneski Mortuary has been serving this community and helping it through its most trying, emotional times. His children will keep his legacy intact.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the families and friends of these distinguished men who served our community so well.