The eternally optimistic boxing official Marty Sammon of Santa Clara, California, was dealt a debilitating blow on January 19 when his only son, Michael Patrick, died from a pulmonary embolism at a San Jose Hospital.

At the time of his untimely death, Michael, 39, was attending San Jose State University where he was close to earning his degree in mathematics. As a standout college and semi-professional rugby player, he had earned the same type of plaudits that his father has garnered as an esteemed official.

The elder Sammon has officiated 54 world title bouts; 11 as a referee and 43 as a judge. He was the lone judge to vote in Oscar De La Hoya’s favor in the Golden Boy’s first encounter with Shane Mosley.

“I always see the glass as half full, but this is a tough one to take,” said a tearful Sammon, shortly before attending a private family service for his son. “[California boxing official] Pat Russell called me at 7:30 this morning and asked if I was okay. I said I was far from okay. Then I apologized to him. I just don’t know what to feel, but the sense of loss and sadness is hard to bear.”

Sammon could not believe the outpouring of support his family has received from the boxing and rugby communities. He and his wife Rosemarie took countless calls of sympathy and concern, from as far away as Tunisia, Bangkok and Australia.

“As difficult as things have been, the love and support of so many people has been very comforting,” said Sammon.

Sammon said that his son, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1991, was a mathematical genius, phenomenal athlete, and a wonderful son. Even though he battled his illness with courage, determination and tenacity, there was no shortage of difficult challenges.

Still, Michael soldiered on by playing rugby and returning to college. On the rugby field, he was a relentless player and a fierce competitor. He played for San Jose and Chico State Colleges, as well as for the San Jose Seahawks Rugby Club and in Australia and New Zealand. After a recent Chico State alumni tournament, he was voted the Most Valuable Player.

“He was a lion on the field,” said his father. “He could ward off five guys at once. He was just a tremendous athlete, a real team player with so much heart.”

Michael displayed a different kind of heart off of the field. A fellow rugby player nicknamed Santa because of his beard and propensity for portraying his namesake at Christmas time, recently hired him to play an elf at a private function.

A little girl sitting on Santa’s lap looked over at the 6’2”, 225 pound Mike, and told Santa that she thought elves were always small. “That’s what happens when you don’t listen to your parents,” quipped Santa.

Recently, father and son enjoyed an evening together that Mike would tell friends and family was the best night of his life. The elder Sammon was working a show at The Tank in San Jose.

His son came as his guest, and was thrilled to meet such boxing luminaries as Jimmy Lennon Jr., Sean O’Grady, 2004 Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward of Oakland, Bay Area RingTalk radio host Pedro Fernandez, and Sacramento referee Jon Schorle II who appeared with the elder Sammon in the Academy Award winning film “Million Dollar Baby.”

Mike was hoping to watch his father effortlessly referee a number of fights with the physical aplomb of a man decades younger, but Marty wound up judging five fights instead. Extreme athleticism seems to be a dominant trait in the Sammon family.

“Andre Ward autographed a program for Mike and told him to be like his father,” said Sammon. “I hadn’t seen Mike so happy in years. It was a wonderful evening, one that I will never forget.”

The Sammon’s are resilient people and they will find a way to go on, no matter how difficult the road ahead may be. The family, which consists of Marty and Rosemarie’s other children, Sharon and Lisa, their husbands Rick and Eric, and grandchildren Katherine and Stephanie, will find comfort in the unbridled love they have for each other. The 13-year-old Stephanie was recently invited to try out for the Olympic Development soccer team for her age group.

One thing Sammon won’t do is succumb to the overwhelming grief that might fell lesser men. He has always displayed an exuberance for life, whether it was in the boxing ring where he represented Santa Clara University and in 1955 fought future light heavyweight title challenger Roger Rouse in a bout described by local papers as the bloodiest in the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium’s storied history, or in the ROTC, where as a member of the 101st Airborne in September 1957 he helped enforce integration at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

To this day, he stays in touch with Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the children who walked a gauntlet of hate and bigotry to enroll in that school, and is now the director of communications at Dominican University in San Rafael, California.

“It might sound trite, but you really have to cherish the moments you have in life,” said Sammon, as he fought back tears with the same steely determination in which he resisted Rouse’s thunderous punches.

“My son was a wonderful human being, who got some bad breaks. Life can be really fragile. I just hope that he has found a measure of peace in death that might have eluded him on Earth.”

All of us at send our heartfelt condolences to the friends, family and colleagues of Michael Patrick Sammon. May he rest in peace.