Painting the Picture
For Robert Vitali, Stephen J. Fiorelli was the truest kind of childhood friend, the kind you stick with, commute with, talk to on the phone four times a week, and name as your baby's godfather. The two grew up four houses away from each other in Dongan Hills, in Staten Island.
"He was the best kind of best man," Mr. Vitali said.
Mr. Fiorelli, 43, was an engineer for the Port Authority, and loved buildings and bridges, said his brother Bill. He was well known in Aberdeen, N.J., for helping neighbors and friends with their home improvement projects.
"He was really an artist in a lot of ways," said Mr. Vitali, who still has the cocktail napkin his friend used to sketch out the new second floor of the Vitali home.
"He was able to paint the picture both in words and in drawings. I could watch him for hours, explaining something, sketching something out. It was amazing."
After Mr. Fiorelli's funeral, Mr. Vitali offered these words to people who asked him how he was holding up: "If you have any close friends, write a eulogy for them today, even if they're still alive. You'll look at them differently."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 9, 2001.
Stephen Fiorelli, 43, talented engineer
Stephen Fiorelli was an engineer's engineer, his family remembers. That meant he was always tinkering with, building or calculating something.
It also meant he had a very dry sense of humor.
When his wife called him Tuesday morning to tell him that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, where he worked as a civil engineer for the Port Authority, he tried to soothe her with that same dry sense of humor.
"He became sarcastic and was joking around, telling me he'd be okay. He did that to help me calm down," Theresa Fiorelli said yesterday.
As Mr. Fiorelli, 43, made his way down from the 64th floor of the North Tower, linking hands with 16 other employees, the building collapsed. His body was found in the rubble Friday night.
"He was a math whiz," said Mr. Fiorelli's brother, Ken Fiorelli. "Every Christmas he would take apart everyone's toys. As a teen he fixed bicycles and then everyone's car motor. As an engineer he loved working with bridges and tunnels and he loved the World Trade Center."
Mr. Fiorelli, a graduate of Rutgers University, enjoyed working with his hands. Theresa Fiorelli said her husband had basically gutted and redesigned their Aberdeen house with the help of her father, but was versatile enough to whip up an excellent meal in 10 minutes.
"People would invite him to parties just so he could do the grilling, and he didn't mind. He would be there to help you whether you needed help around the house or someone to talk to," Ken Fiorelli said.
When Mr. Fiorelli wasn't hatching his next household project or doing some research on how to make the Port Authority's bridges and tunnels safer for travelers, he was spending time sailing or camping with his son's Boy Scout troop or attending his daughter's basketball games.
In addition to his wife and brother, Mr. Fiorelli is survived by his children, Stephen Jr. and Christine; his brother, William, of Aberdeen and sister, Karen, of Red Bank; and his parents-in-law, Thomas and Carmella Archer of Whiting.
Visitation will be Tuesday from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. at St. Clement's Church, Matawan. A funeral Mass will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. at St. Clement's.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Stephen J. Fiorelli Eagle Scouts Scholarship Fund c/o Mr. Robert Shea, Troop 66, P.O. Box 171 Matawan, NJ, 07747.
Profile by Jeffery C. Mays published in THE STAR-LEDGER.