Joe Tunney was 26 when he announced in 1977 that he was leaving Philadelphia and going to live in Florida. He had 20 bucks in his pocket and a wealth of youthful adventurism.
“When he left home, he left behind a note with clues about a treasure chest he hid in our house,” said his brother Mike, who shared a Nov. 30 birthday with his brother, who was one year older. “We spent days looking for it. It was a miniature treasure chest filled with pennies.”
Mr. Tunney, 69, died on Friday, April 10, at Nazareth Hospital from the coronavirus. He had lived at Chapel Manor nursing home for about three years and was buried in the same family plot as his paternal grandmother, who died in the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic when Mr. Tunney’s father was 2.
Mr. Tunney grew up in Port Richmond, near Salmon and Venango, went to North Catholic High School, and never met a math problem he couldn’t solve. He mastered Rubik’s Cube, loved astronomy, and could belt out a tune on a whim.
Mr. Tunney and his brother were kids when they first heard the Buffalo Bills, the barbershop quartet made famous by the Broadway play and film The Music Man.
“We started to emulate them,” Mike Tunney said. “There were only two of us, but we tried to sound as barbershoppy as possible.”
Mike veered off into theater, but Mr. Tunney stuck with singing. Throughout his stint in Miami, his 20 years as a surveyor in the Philadelphia Streets Department, and his relationship with his wife, Allyson, the music was always there.
Mr. Tunney, who is survived by his wife, had seven siblings and many nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, and great-great-nieces and -nephews.
“He was really gregarious,” Mike said. “If he had a song to sing, he’d get up and sing it. Even in a restaurant or a public place or in somebody’s house. He would get up and sing a song at the drop of a hat. He was very entertaining in that way.”
“Everybody in the family can sing,” Mike Tunney said, “so everybody was on key. It sounded like a choir of angels. It was beautiful.”