A Tribute to Joseph Phillip Palmisano
A Tribute to Joseph Phillip Palmisano
Greetings family, friends, and admirers of Joe Palmisano. We gather here to pay tribute to a man who for 80 years relished life, a man who lived a good life, who shared his knowledge, his energy, and his wealth with us. We remember a man whose impact will reverberate among and within us long after this memorial has ended. Joe’s family is especially grateful to see his friends and fellow Knights in this gathering.
I first met Joe in June of 1980, and in August of 1981 Joe became my father-in-law. During our courtship and afterwards, Joe frequently found onerous chores for me around his house on Ironwood Drive. I helped him dig up his septic tank, cleaned out his gutters, painted his house, moved his lumber, stripped paint off bleacher seats from a demolished stadium on Fort Bragg from which he created end-tables for our first apartment. I glued and sanded many pieces of wood in his workshop. Early on, my nickname for him became “the Boss.” The reason should be obvious.
One evening within the first month of dating Tia, the Boss was multitasking as usual. He was simultaneously watching TV, doing some accounting on his home computer, and keeping an eye on me as Tia and I sat in the den. I innocently picked up a brazil nut from the dish on the end table and put it in my mouth to crack the shell. He saw me do this and yelled at me “Don’t do that! You’ll break your damn teeth.” It took me by surprise. I knew he could be gruff but I didn’t expect him to yell at me. My feelings were hurt. Tia explained later that it was a good sign, that he wouldn’t have yelled at me if he didn’t care about me and my damn teeth. So if anyone here has been yelled at by Joseph Palmisano, let’s agree that it’s probably because he cared deeply about you and what you were doing.
Despite the sweat and sawdust and sewage, I’ve cherished The Boss for 27 years in sickness and in health and so my wife Tia and my sister-in-law Theresa have asked me to say a few words about their father. Since they are both excellent cooks and I am often hungry, I have agreed to honor their request. The Boss loved to eat too. And he loved to sit in the kitchen where his favorite women were preparing food, laughing and joking and sampling the goodies. At Christmas and Thanksgiving he’d take his rightful place at the head of the long table with his family gathered round and we’d sit for hours, eating and sipping wine, and telling stories. No one used more butter than Joseph Palmisano and no one tells funnier stories about clinic patients than daughter Theresa. One time she told us about a man who…. Wait a minute! I’m getting sidetracked. I’m supposed to be talking about the Boss.
Joseph Phillip Palmisano was born August 3rd, 1927 in Urbana Illinois to parents who trace their ancestry to the island of Sicily. He attended Catholic school where according to his own telling, the Sisters responsible for his education realized how much effort would necessarily be expended on this mischievous boy. He was able to behave for periods up to one hour while serving as an altar boy. Joe could recall the names of the nuns who found it so often necessary to discipline him with corporal punishment which was routine in those days. Apparently these devout disciplinarians developed short tempers and strong arms in dealing with young Joseph. As a teenager, Joe was fascinated with machinery and told me of his trips to the train yards where he worked for a time before enlisting in the Army shortly after his eighteenth birthday. That was November 1945.
According to some accounts, Velcro was invented for Joe Palmisano who early in his military career had a tendency to earn stripes only to have them removed and then later re-earned. He fell in love with and married Nola Nell Roberts from Tennessee and together they raised 5 children: Danny, Bobby, Tia, Theresa, and Vincent. Joe provided love, security and stability for Nola and the children and Nola was a devout mother and wife. During this period, Joe developed skills as a bookkeeper and moonlighted as tax preparer and accountant, and maintained his Palmisano Accounting Service until fairly recently. Beginning in his thirties, Joe read avidly of woodworking and expanded his workshop from the back of his small garage to a two-story workshop he constructed in the backyard of the Ironwood Drive home. After retiring from the Army in 1966 and beginning a second career as a Civil Servant on Fort Bragg, Joe spent countless hours on woodworking projects starting from rough sawmill lumber and creating cedar-lined oak chests and hand-crafted solid oak desks. Always willing to assist neighbors with cabinetry work, Joe developed yet more expertise as he accumulated a shop full of woodworking tools, some of which he claimed jumped into the back of his truck while driving home from Fort Bragg where he rose to the level of Budget Officer at Engineers.
Meanwhile the children were growing up and his daughters were becoming young women. The story goes that once when Tia, then about 12, was playing tag football with kids from the neighborhood, a boy intentionally tagged Tia on her blossoming bosoms. When Joe saw this, he chased the young villain away with a 2x4 and thus Tia was preserved unspoilt for me. Joe was more tolerant of the numerous dogs with names like Hamburger, Gaily, Thunder, and Fluffy that Nola or Theresa brought home. In those years, a 40 hour work week was just a dream as Joe continued his accounting service and pursued his woodworking hobby.
Except for dogs with silly names, life was very good for Joseph until Nola was diagnosed with cancer in 1978. Nola passed away within months and Joe was profoundly shaken by this loss. This was two years before I met Tia and 3 years before I became a son-in-law so I never knew my first mother-in-law. From all accounts Joseph and Nola were a happy couple who enjoyed listening to big-band music and sipping cocktails to escape the toils of work and parenting. Joe confided to me and Tia on several occasions that he regretted not having spent more time vacationing with his first wife and he strongly encouraged his children to take advantage of whatever opportunities arise to travel and see the world with each other. That, we have found, is very good advice, and in part accounts for the scheduling of this graveside service more than a week after his passing. With his blessing and encouragement, I was working in Zimbabwe last week so I am particularly grateful that this ceremony was delayed so that I can express my appreciation for the Boss.
After the death of his first wife, Joe became a very eligible bachelor. Women sought him for his great sense of humor, his vitality, his generosity, his sharp mind and his strong work ethic. Incidentally, these are the same characteristics that prompted Tia to pursue me and Theresa to pursue Tom.
Marlene Hiner recognized a good thing when she saw it and so did Joe Palmisano. Marlene and Joe were married in 1982 and Joe’s family instantly expanded to include Marvin and Renee. Joe continued to work diligently at Fort Bragg and retired in 1987. Marlene retired the following year. With the children mostly grown, Joe and Marlene were able to travel extensively, joining Joe and Lucille Rebello on a memorable motorhome trip to the northeast. Joe and Marlene also visited the Badlands during a trip out west to South Dakota. Marlene and Joe visited me and Tia and our three kids in 1992 when we lived in Columbia Missouri. Joe didn’t have a very good time because we didn’t have cable TV, which to The Boss was as essential as electricity and indoor plumbing. He and Marlene gave us a year’s subscription to the local cable company when they left, convinced that the grandchildren would otherwise grow up out of touch with the real world as depicted on Sesame Street. Back at home North Carolina, Joe could be found at his computer or in his workshop, always busy with one project or another. In retirement Joe generously gave his expertise and energy to the Knights of Columbus Cardinal Gibbons Council 2838 where he was a 4th degree Knight, was elected as Grand Knight, and until his death served with distinction as Financial Secretary and publisher of the council’s newsletter. Operation Lamb was one of his favorite projects in part because Tootsie Rolls were one of his greatest weaknesses. His devotion to his family, to Marlene and the Knights of Columbus was surpassed only by his devotion to Alex Trebec and Pat Sajak, the hosts of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. If you knew Joe well, you knew not to call when these shows were on. Otherwise, you’d end up talking to yourself.
Theresa’s husband Tom Grosso was aware of the issue of timing when he took a knee in front of the gathered family including the Boss to propose marriage to Theresa. Tom carefully avoided a time conflict with Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. The Boss believed in following protocol and tradition and was very pleased that Tom proposed in this romantic way. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask him for Tia’s hand in marriage because I wasn’t particularly interested in her hands at the time.
Though Joe gave up cigarettes after smoking for 30 years, he continued to work in his woodshop year round creating heirlooms for his friends, children, and grandchildren. He inadvertently inhaled sawdust and mineral spirits and paint thinners and polyurethanes, all of which lead to emphysema which was first diagnosed in 1996 the year he went on oxygen. Gradually the Boss became winded by even the mildest exertion and with great sadness had to abandon his woodworking. Joe experienced congestive heart failure and developed diabetes. Even though his body deteriorated rapidly, we all know that his mind remained sharp. He read incessantly, propping his novels and documentaries on a wooden stand that he designed and had me build for him. He stayed current with advances in computer technology and tax accounting software. He solved crossword puzzles and number puzzles every day, and looked forward to the call from John Shelton who often needed help with a clue or two. As his mobility was diminished, he and Marlene relocated to their home on Village Drive where Joe could have access to all parts of the house. Joe’s long-time friend Carol Beard oversaw the construction of the handicap ramp which gave Joe access to the outside world. John Cox was a regular visitor there and together he and Joe seemed to have answers for all the world’s problems. When he wasn’t reading or working on the computer, Joe spent untold hours watching cable TV, avoiding football and Nascar races and instead tearing up while watching a Lifetime TV special or a sappy Hallmark Channel movie. Beneath that jovial and sometimes gruff exterior, there was always a tender man with a soft heart.
Tethered to supplemental oxygen for the last 11 years, Joe nevertheless maintained a zest for life and ventured out weather-permitting with Marlene at the wheel of his handicap-equipped van. He relished going out for breakfast after the early Sunday Mass to JK’s or K&W Cafeteria or to Cracker Barrel where he’d feast on his favorite: sausage gravy over biscuits. As much as the food, he enjoyed the company of Joe and Lucille Rebello, Dean and Margaret Brown and Courtney and Mary Lou Fox. Indeed, part of Joe’s legacy would be the extravagant parties he hosted over many years, with his house full of people enjoying food and fluids accompanied by loud conversations and laughter late into the night. Over time, the parties became less frequent and life a little less rowdy for Joe. For the last year, he enjoyed playing with the latest addition to his family, granddaughter Rebekka (with Two- K’s.)
With his keen mind, Joe was aware of his declining health and his increasing dependence upon Marlene for the basic necessities of life. One of his greatest fears was becoming so disabled that he would have to be placed in a nursing home. This he was able to avoid due in large part to the care he received from Marlene and more recently from Lavonda Pate. Indeed, Joe’s life would likely have ended much earlier had Marlene not taken such good care of him and we must acknowledge her sacrificial contribution to prolonging the life and health of her husband and our dear friend for as long as she possibly could. Marlene, on behalf of Joe and all his friends, we thank you for all that you have done to keep this man in our lives as long as possible.
And so the time has come to say farewell to a husband, a father, a father-in-law, a grandfather, a brother Knight, a devout Catholic, a leader, a servant, a dear friend. We were not ready to let him go. Joe valued life and fought as hard as he could to sustain it for as long as he could. Faced with insurmountable odds, he characteristically never gave up, never gave less than his best effort. For that and many other things we admire him. We will miss him. We will honor him by living in such a way as to make him proud of us. We will pass on his stories. He will not be forgotten nor will the kind acts of his daughters who were with him to soothe him as he passed from this finite world to the infinite eternal Paradise where never again will he gasp for air. With his new perfect heavenly body, I’m fairly confident that Joe will quickly become bored of angelic choirs and instead become engaged in the sort of productive mischief that characterized his earthly life. Heavenly Sisters, get those yardsticks ready. Joe’s back so you have some work to do. And they better hide the Tootsie Rolls and butter.
As for us who remain, we have work to do as well. Among us are some that must assume roles that Joe occupied so well and for so long. Using the example he set for us, we must be husbands, fathers, father-in-laws, grandfathers, brother Knights, devout Catholics, leaders, servants, and dear friends to each other. I certainly intend to because he cares deeply about us and what we are doing and I don’t want to get yelled at again. Ever. Especially not from heaven by a rejuvenated man who now has perfect lungs and no need to restrain his appetite!
G.R. Davis Jr.
20 December 2007