Angie Riley has been greeting visitors to the law firm of Proly, Laporte and Mulligan for a dozen years. This week a man came in looking sad.
"He was sorry about Pete passing away,'' Riley said.
The other day at the courthouse in New Port Richey, somebody came up to lawyer Brian Mulligan and gave him a hug. More condolences.
Word has spread about the passing of Pete Proly, for three decades one of the most respected criminal defense attorneys in Pasco County. But here's some good news.
It's not true.
"All things considered, I feel pretty good,'' Proly said Wednesday as he joked with partners Mulligan and Craig Laporte at their Bayonet Point office.
Just the other day, Proly learned that one of his clients had delivered the bad "news'' to Bob Freeman, owner of Alpha Counseling Services. "I called and said, 'Hey Bob, a voice from the dead,' '' Proly related. "He feigned great joy and happiness.''
Such rumors are bad for business, and the partners would like to put them to rest. But it's not difficult to see how this one got started.
In March 2010, Proly was diagnosed with myelodysplasia, a blood disorder once known as pre-leukemia. Friends organized a bone marrow drive to help him and others find a match for a transplant, which he received that October at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.
Three months later, Proly had a relapse. Doctors diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia and prepared him for the worst. "Patients who have already had bone marrow transplants and relapse within 90 days don't do very well,'' he said. "My doctor said 80 percent are dead within six months.''
Proly endured heavy-duty chemotherapy. He received more than 100 units of blood and a "booster'' from his bone marrow donor, a 46-year-old German man. At home in the Countryside area of Clearwater, Ellie Proly nursed her husband of 43 years.
With his immune system so fragile, Proly had to avoid germs. He had been a dedicated athlete, even competing in triathlons, but now he couldn't even go to the gym. No matter. He built his strength on the stairs at home — 1,000 steps up, 1,000 down in 34 minutes, every day.
Last October, a full year after his transplant, Proly was declared cancer-free, or "in remission.'' He returned to work but leaves the courthouse appearances to his partner, Mulligan. Laporte handles most of the firm's civil trials and personal injury claims.
Proly, who turned 65 in September, has suffered some graft vs. host effects, including chronic dry eyes. "Otherwise,'' he said, "I feel good. I'm in perfect health, except for a slight case of leukemia.''
This brush with death has caused him to give up some things — like golf. But it hasn't really changed him. "My priorities have always been the same: family.'' He and Ellie raised two children. He enjoys being grandpa to 8-year-old Michaela and 5-year-old Alex, who live nearby.
And while Proly has enjoyed a sterling professional reputation, he says he was overwhelmed by the reaction of people as they learned of his illness.
"It's been like living your own eulogy,'' he said. "During these times, people say things you would never hear otherwise. Hundreds of people have finished conversations with 'I love you.' And they really mean it. I'll never be able to adequately express my thanks.''
You just did, Pete.