Looking down from a rocky Rhode Island promontory 25 feet above where the Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay converge, Nick Napolitano could see Greg Minetti, a friend and Wake Forest fraternity brother, was in danger of drowning as eight-foot waves pounded the shore.

Nick Val Napalitano Memorial Fund, Nicholas Val Napolitano Scholarship Fund

Nick Napolitano at age 23 worked in New York as a financial and credit analyst for CIT Healthcare. He had been a National Merit Scholar at Westminster Schools in Atlanta and the president of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Wake Forest University.

Mr. Napolitano considered himself a strong swimmer, said his father, Val Napolitano of Atlanta, so he didn’t hesitate. He jumped in and managed to pull his friend to relative safety, but he lost his own life in the process.

The incident took place  Sunday afternoon August 7th, 2011 at Brenton Point State Park in Newport, R.I. Mr. Minetti had leaped from a jumping-off spot popularized by locals as “12 O’clock High” and immediately found himself in trouble amid the pounding surf.

Once Mr. Napolitano reached his friend, he gradually pulled him away from the cove that was taking the brunt of the battering waves. At that moment, another wave upended Mr. Napolitano and slammed him into a rock.

Thomas Coleman of Boston, a longtime friend from Atlanta school days, had jumped in to assist Mr. Napolitano. He said he saw his friend was seriously injured and held him for “what seemed like a couple of minutes” until a strong undertow snatched Mr. Napolitano away.

Mr. Napolitano’s body was recovered Tuesday. His father said the family was told death was caused by head trauma.

Mr. Minetti, of Bronxville, N.Y., was ultimately pulled to safety by Newport firefighters, treated at a local hospital and released Sunday. Mr. Coleman was able to climb out of the water onto the rocks without assistance.

For the past year Mr. Napolitano had been working in New York as a financial and credit analyst for CIT Healthcare, where he was responsible for managing the health care leveraged-loan portfolio.

“Nick worked with senior portfolio managers in monitoring the credit quality and financial performance of the portfolio as well as arranging and underwriting new financings for portfolio clients,” said Steven Dowe, a managing director of CIT Group Inc. “Nick was a talented young analyst and was greatly admired by his colleagues.”

Mr. Napolitano went to CIT Healthcare after earning a bachelor’s degree in finance from Wake Forest University last year. He was on the dean’s list each semester at the Winston-Salem, N.C., school and the recipient of the William Brigman Scholarship for academic excellence and leadership. He also was president of the local chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

“All the younger guys at our fraternity looked up to Nick,” said Boone DuPree of Boston. “Before he became chapter president, our fraternity was a bit disorganized and unkempt. He made it a point while he was president to make some fixes, to get us involved in community service projects, and to improve our image, both with the school and with the fraternity’s alumni.”

A National Merit Scholar at Westminster Schools, Mr. Napolitano took part in numerous community service projects at the school, including restoration of neighborhood parks, helping to rebuild homes and tutoring children at Odyssey Academy and Atlanta Youth Academy. He also was president of Westminster’s Tech Club, which he founded with the goal of charting new horizons of technology.

“At Westminster, Nick was kind of social chairman, breaching the lines of cliques, introducing us to friends of his from other schools,” said  Bryce Albin of New York City, a Westminster classmate.

A varsity athlete, Mr. Napolitano was left defender on Westminster’s soccer team during his junior and senior years. He was named an all-state and all-city performer on the 2006 team, which won the Georgia class AAA championship.

“Nick’s teammates voted him the best defensive player on the squad,” said Scott Snyder of Kennesaw, Westminster’s soccer coach. “Nick’s role in each game was to shut down the opponent’s best offensive player. Without him, we never would have won the championship.”

Mr. Napolitano played good defense in baseball as well. As a Northside Youth Organization all-star second baseman, he was nicknamed “Hoover” for his vacuum-cleaner-like talent for scooping up ground balls hit his way, his father said.

His senior English teacher at Westminster, Eddie DuPriest of Smyrna, said Mr. Napolitano “worked hard and never complained. I liked it that Nick enjoyed sharing ideas with the class and me.”

Also surviving are his mother, Regis Napolitano of Atlanta; and a sister, Olivia Napolitano of Auburn, Ala.

By J.E. Geshwiler

From the AJC