“I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”
– Joseph Campbell
One of East Cooper's favorite people was laid to rest earlier this month, after he passed away from a massive heart attack.
Few knew Tony Carl Page was even sick. He wanted it that way.
He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure several years ago and was given six months or less to live. His heart was only functioning at 12 percent. But two years later, his heart was improving; he was playing tennis and leading a normal life.
He went to bed on March 24, only to breathe his last breath. He was found the next morning unresponsive.
But who was this man that had more than 700 people at his family's visitation alone?
His obituary called him a devoted husband, loving father, successful businessman ... lifelong learner, world traveler, Scrabble pro, tennis champ, world's best Jeopardy contestant and closet junk-food junkie.
In an exclusive, private conversation with his daughter Courtney and son Chase, so much more is revealed.
Most know he was the driving force behind Page's Okra Grill on Coleman Boulevard.
And his children will continue on, with brother and sister, Chase and Courtney, still buying what they call “ridiculously expensive fresh groceries,” making award-winning food and selling it at super low prices. And sister Ashleigh will still be baking her award-winning cakes and pastries.
The restaurant will go on as always, Courtney said. “The train rolls on,” said Chase.
His obituary also read, “He was the glue that held the family business together. He was most comfortable when engaging in a conversation with anyone who would listen to his latest news or hair-brained scheme. He could often be heard asking, 'What have you done good for yourself today?' and quoting countless words of wisdom. Tony never met a stranger; he had a way of engaging with all the people he met. He had a knack for bringing out the best in all of us. We are all better for having had him in our lives. He was well known for his love of Gamecock football and Duke basketball. Tony was a big man, but his heart was even bigger.”
His children have been comforted by the outpouring of community support. And ironically, they have been the ones comforting and consoling others, as complete strangers approached, devastated by the loss.
“It's been really hard to be sad when so many people have expressed how much they loved him,” said Chase. “We couldn't have gotten through the last few weeks without that.”
Chase explained that community members, business owners, Stuhr Funeral Home and the Restaurant Association took the task of planning a funeral out of their hands and made everything come together.
“That's what living in Mount Pleasant is all about,” said Courtney.
“We've seen people we haven't seen in years, reconnected with so many ... it's just been amazing,” she said.
And Chase added, “... the food. My gosh the food. Thank you. But they can stop sending food now,” he joked.
Tony immersed himself in local politics, cared about what was good for the town and truly loved his community.
“He mostly loved the people here,” said Courtney.
He left running the restaurant to his children. They handled the books, payroll and everything else. But he was a presence there that never went unnoticed.
Each morning, he poured himself a half cup of coffee and sat with a regular group of men who came to eat. “Same guys, same table, same everything,” Courtney said. Above that table now hangs a sign that says, “Tony's B.S. table.” The group also has a framed picture of Tony and claims his presence is causing them indigestion.
Courtney said that her dad was always buying treats and goodies for the female staff members and looking into new and improved restaurant equipment to better restaurant operations. And when he wasn't doing that, she said, his role was to uplift anyone he came in contact with.
“You can feel him here,” she says as we sit at a back table, out of the way of the restaurant staff cleaning up from the lunch rush.
“We want him to be here. You can't go anywhere in this restaurant and see something that does not say something about him.”
In fact, Ashleigh has already made sure that raised planting boxes have been put in place out back, and she will tend to the okra and tomatoes.
Just as Tony Page was a Mount Pleasant staple, so is their restaurant Okra Grill.
“We are going to do just as he would have,” said Chase. “We will continue to try and improve on what we've started.”
“And this will always be Mount Pleasant's restaurant,” said Courtney.
“Sure, it's scary trying to fill his shoes,” she said. “He had a way of making people feel warm and welcome. He was able to touch people – even with his sarcasm,” she said.
At his celebration of life, loved ones spoke about the man they loved so much.
Best friend Sally Pritchard said, “His heart may have been sick, but he had the biggest heart I've ever seen ... He had so much love for everyone he met. There was a place for everyone. He really cared about people. I've never met anyone else like that.”
Courtney said that if anything, Tony's death will motivate her and her sibling to continue to make Okra Grill better. Tony's philosophy was to give people an amazing meal at the best value, in a clean environment, with exceptional customer service. Courtney said she believed that if you take those four things and continuously try and make them better, you can't go wrong.
With that philosophy and what Courtney calls an amazing staff that she considers family, they'll carry on.
Page was born in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. in 1956. He is survived by his wife Kelsie “Kelly” Howland Page and three children; Courtney Faucette and her husband Shane, Chase Page and Ashleigh Page, stepchildren William, Charlotte and Amelia Cochran; as well as his ex-wife Virginia Zubriski and grandchildren Dominick Delia and Trevor Faucette. Also surviving are his brother Mike Page and wife Crystal; sister Linda Page; and their children; in addition to aunt, Muriel Metts; uncle, Lewis Page, and dear friend, Sallie Pritchard.