• "Dear cousin Nina, sorry to hear of John's passing. I have..."
    - Diane Debona
  • "Nina, My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family..."
    - Priscilla Burdick
  • "Jack, I never knew your Dad but my prayers are with you..."
  • "Our friend, our ballroom mentor, we miss your easy grace...."
  • "Gamby, Your dad was the best supporter of all our sports..."

The family of Dr. John Mathew Gambardella Sr., DVM, 92, of Branford, Connecticut, mourns the passing on May 31, 2014 of the beloved husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather that he was. He is survived by his loving wife, Nina Ardito Gambardella, who was by his side at the time of his passing at their home in Cresskill, New Jersey; his six children: Dr. Paul Gambardella and his wife, Susan, of Ramsey, New Jersey; Andrea Gambardella and her husband, Marc Montefusco, of Spring Valley, New York; Mary Gambardella, of New York City; Jack Gambardella, and his wife Isabel S. Lane, of Westbrook, Connecticut; Mark Gambardella and his wife, Cassandra Xiao Xue Wang, of New York City; and Nina Gambardella, of Montclair, New Jersey. John is also survived by his younger sister, Anita Erico, of Branford, CT and his nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his eldest daughter, Lydia, in 1958, and his younger brother, Mathew Gambardella in 2005. John was born in New Haven, Connecticut on September 14, 1921 to the late Paul and Rita Gambardella. He graduated from Hill House High School in 1939 and attended Collegiate Preparatory School in 1940 before entering college in 1941 at The University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he studied pre-veterinary medicine. While at the University of Tennessee, he was inducted into Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity. After having served in the Second World War, he returned to his pre-veterinary training at the University of Connecticut where he earned his bachelor's degree in science. John was accepted to the University of Oklahoma's School of Veterinary Medicine and, in 1953, graduated third in his class with a degree as Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. From 1953 to 1955 John interned with Dr. James Armstrong in Cranston, Rhode Island. In 1955, John returned with his family to the New Haven area where he opened his first veterinary practice on Main Street in East Haven. In 1959 he oversaw the construction of his East Shore Animal Hospital at 50 North Main Street in Branford, Connecticut, the first animal hospital of its kind in the state of Connecticut, built according to John's own specifications. Over time he developed this practice into one of the top small animal hospitals in all of New England, and in 1972, the East Shore Animal Hospital became the first in Connecticut to qualify for certification status by the National American Animal Hospital Association. As a veterinarian, he represented the old school of practice in which the doctor performed as general animal practitioner and surgical specialist at the same time. Throughout his forty-four years of practice, John continually studied the science and art of veterinary medicine, frequently traveling throughout the U.S. to learn the latest medical treatments and surgical procedures. To his clients, he was known for the depth of his diagnostic process, the detail of his explanations, and the honesty with which he helped his clients make the hard choices which owners of pets often must make. He took a personal interest in every animal he treated, exhibiting uncanny powers of insight into this kind of patient who is unable to speak for himself. Moreover, as those who worked for him will all surely remember, John demanded as much from his staff as he did from himself, in his unparalleled commitment to excellence. As a teenager, John played football in the now famous East Shore Sandlot League, putting together with friends, and later acting as head coach of, The Oakley Tigers, who enjoyed many successes in their five years as a team. John was also a fine baseball player and earned a sports scholarship to Collegiate Preparatory Academy by playing short-stop for the school's baseball team. Later, when he was enrolled at the University of Tennessee, John was a member of the wrestling team. He continued his involvement in sports serving as president of the Branford Football Booster club and vice-president of the Branford Gridiron Club when his sons were active in Branford High School sports. In 1988, he was the first Oakley Tiger to receive the East Shore Sandlot League's Annual Golden Football Award, and, finally, in 2005, John was inducted into the Branford Sports Hall of Fame. In his fifties, John, with his wife, Nina, participated in competitive international style amateur ball-room dancing. John and Nina developed and perfected many routines which they performed in competitions throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe, from Cherry Hill New Jersey, to Hawaii, to Montreal, Canada, to Black Pool, England, to Cervia, Italy. He was regional vice-president of the North Eastern chapter of The American Amateur Ballroom Dance Association (USABDA), and during his tenure, he helped to set up twenty three Northeastern chapters of USABDA, many of which are on college campuses. John served as president of the Branford Lions Club and president of Animal Haven, an organization for wayward animals. He was a member of the Branford Chamber of Commerce and was a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus. John received the United Way Gold Award, and he was awarded the Gold Plaque of Appreciation from Tufts University for his efforts in organizing a Connecticut association supporting the efforts of the university to establish New England's first regional school of veterinary medicine. The most prominent experience of life for John came when he left college at the outbreak of World War II to join the Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet. Although he was slightly too short to be the pilot he had hoped to be, he became an expert bombardier-navigator, mastering the Norden Bombsight. Stationed in Kunming, China, John was a member of the famous Flying Tigers, which began as the volunteer air corps founded by Claire Lee Chenault to aid the Chinese Nationalists' defense against Japanese aggressions. When John was with The Flying Tigers, they had been incorporated into the American Army Air Corps, but he had the occasion to meet Claire Lee Chenault, who praised John for, of all things, his prowess at the position of short-stop. On the return from one successful mission, John and his crew had to bailout from their B24 Bomber over South West China. He packed up the parachute which had saved his life and mailed it to Nina Rose Ardito, his fiancée, who then had the chute made into the wedding gown she would wear when they were married on June 21, 1945. (Also, all seven of his children were baptized in a christening gown made from a piece of that chute.) John's last mission in China resulted in the crash-landing of his B24 Bomber, fully loaded with its ordinance. Seven of the ten crew members were killed, including his best friend who had taken the seat assigned to John in the case of a crash landing. His fellow crew members waved him to the back of the plane where, after the crash, he managed to escape through a crack in the fuselage before the ordinance began to explode. As a result of both the bail-out and the crash, John was awarded two purple hearts. John liked to say that he had lived "a charmed life," and very likely the charms began with his chance escape from doom on that B24 Bomber. But he should also be remembered as a man who took the opportunities availed to him and ran with them. He had great powers of concentration, self-discipline, and fortitude, and he gave more than due diligence to any goal he set. These traits, among many others, he passed on to his children and grandchildren, who all carry a big piece of the John Gambardella fight with them at all times.
But John would certainly say that his crowning achievement was winning the heart of his beloved Nina Rose, whom he cherished unwaveringly throughout their near sixty-nine years as husband and wife.
John's funeral arrangements are being handled by W.S. Clancy Memorial Funeral Home of Branford. The service will take place 11 am on June 21, 2014 at St. Mary's Church, 731 Main Street in Branford, Connecticut and a reception will follow immediately afterward at St. Mary's Parish Center next door. Donations may be sent to the St. Mary Building Fund at 731 Main Street, Branford, Ct. 06405 and to The Connecticut Hospice at 100 Double Beach Road, Branford, Ct. 06405.
Published in New Haven Register on June 17, 2014
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