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Vt. father and son who died in storm remembered

Twelve days after they ventured out in Tropical Storm Irene and were never heard from again, a Vermont man and his son were mourned Friday in a joint funeral Mass, their grieving family and city saying a solemn goodbye to "Big Mike" and "Little Mike" with hymns, prayers and keepsakes.

About 500 people — many of them uniformed police officers and firefighters — packed into St. Peter's Church to pay their respects to City of Rutland water plant operator Michael J. Garofano, 55, and his 24-year-old son, Michael G. Garofano.

The two disappeared Aug. 28 after Garofano, concerned about the impact of the storm on Mendon Brook and the Rutland city reservoir it feeds, went to check on the water plant facility. Family members believe a riverbank may have collapsed underneath them and plunged the two into the swelling brook.

The elder Garofano's body was found the next day. His son's has not been recovered.

Family members and co-workers say Garofano — a 30-year city employee — was diligently doing his job, going out into the storm without being asked because he was concerned about the storm and the city's water supply. His son went along to accompany him.

It was a double dose of tragedy for the Garofano family, which was still recovering from the loss of another son, 25-year-old Robbie, who died in April 2010 after accidentally falling down a flight of stairs. The Rev. Tom Houle, who presided over the Mass, made mention of him twice during the 70-minute service.

But it was "Big Mike" and "Little Mike" whose smiling faces beamed from framed photographs next to a table in front of the altar, the father on the left in a shirt and tie, the son on the right, looking jaunty in a baseball cap with sunglasses perched atop the bill.

There were no caskets.

On the table, floral sprays flanked a baseball cap, Garofano's tool belt, a hammer and a half-dozen toy excavators and other heavy equipment likenesses.

"He was a simple man whose life was grounded like a rock in his family and his sense of duty," said Frank Urso, Garofano's brother-in-law in a short speech at the close of the Mass.

The son was "a beautiful young man who at age 24 was beginning to blossom like a flower in his mother's garden," Urso told the mourners.

Gov. Peter Shumlin and Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras sat in the front row of the congregation on one side, while family members — including mother Sally Garofano — sat in the front row on the other side.

There were no eulogies. In a homily, church Deacon William Glinka recalled the feeling when the storm knocked out electricity, using that as a parallel for the emotional darkness felt over their deaths.

"Tragic death is a lot like a blackout. One minute, the sun is shining, the next it is dark night," he said, continuing that just as someone in the dark seeks out a candle or whatever light they can find, so should the mourners turn to Jesus Christ in their time of darkness.

He also reminded them that when the elder Garofano died, he was looking out for them.

"They didn't have to go up there, but they did, as a duty to all of you," Glinka said.