Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Dad - 1911 - 2011

My dad passed away the other night.  He was 100 and 1/2 years old.  He witnessed changes during his lifetime that were most unbelievable.  He plowed fields with a hand-plow and horse.  The family had a cow!  Yet in 2010, he joined Facebook and his favorite new word was "Google."  I think he just liked saying it.  He came a long way, baby.  With this being said, below is the eulogy written and spoken at his funeral by my sister Jane Pitrone Rossi.  Thanks, Jane.  It was a wonderful tribute.  You caught his essence in every way....Joyce

Anthony Pitrone was born in 1911, the same year as Ronald Reagan. Other than both men having a full head of hair, their lives bore little resemblance. What Dad DID share in common with President Reagan was the world he was born into and the changes he witnessed.

Anthony Pitrone 1911 - 2011
For example, in 1911, the Titanic had not yet sailed on its doomed maiden voyage. Life expectancy for men born in 1911 was 50 years. . . Dad doubled that! Women could not vote. World War One would not even end until Anthony was age 7.

Dad recently recounted the story of himself and his brother, Dominic, walking on their way to claim the new family cow, Aramalinda, when church bells rang out and all the mines began blowing their whistles—signifying the end of WW 1.

Two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the latter to which his namesake and my brother, Tony, would be sent in 1967, a sexual revolution and 9/11—all left an indelible impression on dad. Great technological feats eclipsing the horse & buggy—electric vehicles, digital radios and flat screen TV’s, mainframe computers and laptops; push button phones and wireless cells—Dad witnessed it all. In fact, in 2010, (at the age of 99) Anthony Pitrone became a member of facebook, and many of you here are his facebook friends.

Although Dad was an eye-witness to major historical events and technological feats, there were many things that my father did not do in HIS century of life. He never flew in an airplane, he never went to bars (or as he called “biergartens”); he didn’t golf; he didn’t gamble or play cards; he rarely swore, except when referring to a horse’s backside; and he never bowled (although he often joked about his once-a-week Bowling Night).

Although Anthony DID NOT do many things fathers often do, my father’s life serves as an enduring legacy to his 9 children, 17 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren. In many respects and especially to his 9 children, my father’s passing is the end of an unprecedented era as a member of what Tom Brokaw called America’s “Greatest Generation.”

To borrow a phrase from another President from the Greatest Generation, when I think of Dad’s life, I think of “a kinder, gentler” time. Dad and the way he lived his life epitomized this kinder, gentler era.

My father’s passing represents a great loss to us, a fondness for a different era, when time seemed slower, less complicated.

In today’s society of financial irresponsibility, lewd behavior and vulgar language, fatherless households, cheating spouses, corrupt politicians and self-consumed youth, where nearly everyone craves his/her 15 minutes of fame, Dad provided us endless teachable moments.

More than a campaign slogan, Dad embraced family values: strong faith, self-sacrifice, anti-materialism, honesty, hard work, thriftiness and, above all, dedication to family.

Here's dad on his 99th B-Day with a visit from "Faux Flo"
Growing up in our family home in Dearborn Heights, we were blessed to have a childhood filled with friends, fun and lots of summer picnics where Dad often Bar-B-Q’d on the charcoal grill, and we all ate together at the over-sized picnic table lovingly handmade by Dad in our expansive backyard.
Dad and son John in the backyard
Not only did our yard have room for a complete baseball team (which we were), but it was filled with fruit trees—apple, pear, plum and a cherry tree as well as lovely grape vines. This yard also included a large garden with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, corn and even a large raspberry patch.

Of course as kids, we weren’t exactly enamored with the chores. Imagine holding a basket with one hand, and holding our noses with the other, arms outstretched as far as we could, we’d have to collect the rotten fruit that had fallen.

I also have vivid memories of five of us kids at a time out in the raspberry patch, no, not a patch—it was more like a field to the Pitrone kids who had to pick those raspberries. And Dad would direct us: “Get DOWN AND UNDER where the ripest berries are hiding.”

Didn't know dad was a backyard dog groomer..he tried!
Summer days found the Pitrone kids, basket in hand, moving slovenly, trying to fill the baskets while our friends waited to play on the other side of the fence. We would negotiate, combining our baskets to fill them faster so we could be free. The only times we showed real enthusiasm was when 4 or 5 of us simultaneously ran wildly in different directions after some unlucky Pitrone kid let out a blood-curdling scream when the bees found the kid before the kid could find the berries.

Dad’s knack for saving money and conserving resources was legendary. Our version of air-conditioning was shutting shades, and keeping lights turned off, while maneuvering fans spaced strategically throughout the house. Dad elevated squeezing that extra drop of ketchup or dab of toothpaste to an art form. Dad had “gone green” decades before it became a corporate buzzword.

Oftentimes, Dad did the grocery shopping as Mom might be busy with, well. . . other things. Dad was more than willing to take four or five kids at a time to the daily trip to the A&P for groceries. I have vivid memories of Dad whirling the basket through the aisles while baby Cheryl sat in the seat, and Janet, Julie and I perched on the foot bars around the basket keeping an eye out for the “Sucker Man” in the white coat. We thought the “Candyman” always wore a white coat. Little did we know he was the local pharmacist!

Though Dad was sometimes known not to buy the “favorite” cookies, as they were consumed in hours or even minutes, he would instead buy a mediocre cookie brand because it seemed to last longer in the Pitrone household.

But Dad DID practice what he preached as he had more than a willing palate when it came to finishing the last of the left-overs or the over-ripe bananas left on the kitchen counter two days too long for the rest of us.

Dad with his 6 daughters and 3 sons - Summer of 2011 at his 100th
Dad was also our private chauffeur, tirelessly shuttling us along multiple stops to: sporting events, school parties, sledding, ice-skating, field trips, bowling, movies and EVEN those dreaded estrogen-filled Pitrone household shopping sprees. And when Dad wasn’t chauffeuring us, he had a favorite question the moment we walked in the door: “Did you get to the aisles of beauty?” (Dad’s code for Hudson’s make-up counter and a humorous reminder of more important values than material ones.)

Upon spotting the bulging shoe box bags, Dad would race to the closet and with an armful of neglected shoes, look us in the eye and ask: “Why can’t you wear these…nothin’ wrong with THESE shoes?” Our disdainful comeback was well-rehearsed, complete with rolling eyes: “Tsk. Oh, Dad!”

As Child Number 8, aka “Miss Hand-Me-Down,” there were advantages to having big feet. I would squeeze my foot in one of Janet’s or Julie’s shoes, and indignantly display in exaggerated O.J. Simpson form, how pinched and contorted my overflowing foot looked in the dainty rejected shoes…”DAD, THEY DON’T FIT!” Cinderella I was not!

In a family of 11, thrift was a necessity. But Dad’s early adulthood in Depression-era Michigan, and his disappointment in Americans who wasted their money contributed to his frugal mindset. Yet this mindset never dissuaded my parents’ generosity to their church and countless charities.

I also have cherished memories of four little girls dressing up in my sister Janet’s discarded dance costumes every Saturday evening and performing for our most attentive and eager audience of Dad and Mom to the best of Lawrence Welk’s music.   Our cue to perform — a one-a, and a two-a, and a tree-a.

Other memories include sitting on the front porch on Dad’s lap on quiet summer nights with him always humming a tune or singing “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody…”;

Dad always finding the time for our evening ritual of playing catch, as I was the avid baseball fan and player in my youth; the weekly drives back to school as a freshman in college, where Dad wouldn’t say a lot, but always slipped me a couple of $20 dollar bills, with a “don’t tell anybody”; and, of course, thinking I was his favorite daughter. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s, however, that I learned my sisters also had the same vivid memory of themselves and Dad, singing the same song, on the same front porch. (Dad, where did you find the time?)

Anthony and Jean married 67 years
My father’s devotion to his children, moreover, was no less than his devotion to his wife, our Mom. My mother’s suffering from the debilitating effects of rheumatoid arthritis began in 1980 and lasted until her death in 2008.

In those 28 years, Dad assumed many household duties besides the daily grocery shopping. He supported Mom in her intellectual pursuits AND physical limitations. In fact, in Mom’s later years, she had no better nurse than Dad, as he tended to her every need, oftentimes dressing her when she could not dress herself, and near the end of her life, doing every daily chore so she could remain in her home. Dad WAS THE ULTIMATE ROLE MODEL TO HIS CHILDREN IN HIS DEDICATION AND LOVE FOR HIS WIFE.

After Mom’s passing, Dad was fortunate to have his family within reach. Children, in-laws, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All enjoyed their own unique relationship with Dad. And while Dad knew and was grateful that we were always here for him, one man deserves special recognition—Jon Williamson.

Dad and son-in-law Jon
More than a devoted son-in-law, Jon willingly played multiple roles for Dad: driver, maintenance man and tour guide. Barber, buddy and best friend. Their bond was beautiful. Thank you, Jon, for being there for Dad, and reciprocating his friendship.

Finally, many people might think of Dad as “old-fashioned.” But Dad’s life and the way he chose to live it represent a kinder, gentler time. A simpler time. A bygone time.

And so I think of Dad as kind of a modern man. A man who, through example, taught us basic lessons of life in a not-so-kind and not-so-gentle world. A man who taught us the value of money and the preciousness of resources. A man who always had a kind word for everyone. A man who worked hard and sacrificed all his life, a man who never wanted the spotlight on himself, a man who stayed behind the scenes, who chose not to golf, not to bowl, not to fly in airplanes, not to gamble or play cards. There were many things Dad did NOT do so that WE could.

And so the adjectives “dedicated and devoted” before husband and father have never been more appropriate. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, “To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. THIS is to have succeeded!” Dad, you not only succeeded, but you surpassed in every way.

They don’t erect statues for men like Anthony Pitrone, but in our hearts and minds, Dad, you stand tall.

I’d like to close with a poem by the influential leader of Chicano poets, Luis Omar Salinas, entitled:

“My Father Is a Simple Man”

I walk to town with my father to buy a newspaper.
He walks slower than I do so I must slow up.

The street is filled with children.

We argue about the price of pomegranates,
I convince him it is the fruit of scholars.

He has taken me on this journey and it’s been lifelong.
He’s sure I’ll be healthy so long as I eat more oranges,
And tells me the orange has seeds and so is perpetual;
And we too will come back like the orange trees.

I ask him what he thinks about death and he says
he will gladly face it when it comes but won’t jump
out in front of a car.

I’d gladly give my life for this man with a sixth grade education,
whose kindness and patience are true . . .
The truth of it is, he’s the scholar,

and when the bitter-hard reality
comes at me like a punishing evil stranger,
I can always remember that here was a man
who was a worker and provider,
who learned the simple facts
in life and lived by them . . .
who held no pretense.

And when he leaves without
benefit of fanfare or applause
I shall have learned what little
there is about greatness.


  1. Oh my, Joyce, that was the most beautiful eulogy I have ever heard. Your father must have been a very, very special person. You and your siblings and the rest of your family are truly blessed.

  2. Joyce - I'm so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful description of a life well lived! He sounds like a wonderful man and what a wonderful idea on how to live- simple, kinder and gentler :)

  3. Thank you Sue and Bethany. He was a hard-working man who was content being in the background all his life. He had a tough childhood and had to work to help support his family at a very early age. But he always had a smile and was always humming a song, right to the end. The older he got, the sweeter he became.

  4. Very sad to read of the passing. Wonderful eulogy. Wonderful pic of the whole clan, please post more "clan" photos.




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