a 'rock' for the ages
Joseph L. Pellegrino of Milford, Pa., a retired Paterson Fire Department deputy chief and mentor |to a generation of that city's firefighters, died Tuesday at Morristown Memorial Hospital.
He was 75.
"He was my rock," said his wife, Carolyn Pellegrino, 73. Wednesday was the couple's 53rd anniversary. "We are devastated."
In his own way, Mr. Pellegrino was also a rock to others.
Nurses at Morristown Memorial came in on their day off to check on him, his wife said. "It usually doesn't happen," his wife said. "That's how he affected them."
And he was a rock to firefighters, she said.
"He helped everybody, he helped all the firemen, the EMT's, helped them get promotions, helped everybody," Carolyn Pellegrino said.
Besides his long career in the Fire Department, Mr. Pellegrino had also been a broker. He retired as vice president of investments at Oppenheimer Co., Wayne, in 2006.
Mr. Pellegrino's graying hair and tinted glasses gave him a grandfatherly look, but the appearance was deceiving. Over the years, he earned the nickname "General-Alarm Joe" for all the big fires his tour caught.
"You are not going to replace a guy like Joe Pellegrino," said Marty Perrone,CQ 64, of West Milford, who retired from the department with Mr. Pellegrino in 2002. "He was like a father to me, a brother. There was no better boss."
Perrone recalled a two-alarm fire where he rushed into a house, came back out, and complained about a burned neck. Mr. Pellegrino threw a bottle of water on his neck, and blurted, "You're OK, go back in."
Norman Morley and Mr. Pellegrino rose through the ranks together. "He was one of those studious guys, into the books, and he really loved the Fire Department," said Morley, 73, of Wayne, who retired in 2003. "Joe was always a gentleman."
Although he had been a member of the Paterson department for 39 years, Mr. Pellegrino was not the type to bring the fires home with him.
"He never talked about it," said a son, Joseph Pellegrino, 52, of Lake Hopatcong. "He could have the worst day in the world and he was fine. The next morning he was in his broker's firm at 8 a.m., and he would stay until 5 p.m."
After he retired, Mr. Pellegrino, still made rounds at fire headquarters on Madison Avenue, his favorite spot for monthly card games with firefighters.
"He would get his calendar out every year and say, 'Oh, my tour |is working, my guys, I have to |go down there,'x" his son, Joseph Pellegrino, Joseph said.
Some firefighters, the son said, weren't always happy to see him. "He won all the time," the son said.
Born and raised in North Caldwell, Mr. Pellegrino graduated from Passaic Valley High School in 1954, where he met his wife.
He was a member of the N.J. State FMBANew Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, the Paterson Fireman's Firemen's Association, and the Retired Fireman's Firemen's Association, and . He graduated summa cum laude from William Paterson University with a degree in criminal justice and public safety, and also was an adjunct professor at Passaic County Community College.
He is survived by his wife, Carolyn of Milford, Pa.; and sons, Joseph of Lake Hopatcong and Jeffrey of Augusta, N.J.; and grandchildren, Gianna, Lauren and Ryan. Mr. Pellegrino's brother, Terence Pellegrino, a retired Paterson Fire Department battalion chief, died in March 2012.
The family will receive friends Friday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Gaita Memorial Home, 154 Newark Pompton Turnpike, Little Falls. A funeral Mass will be held said Saturday at 10 a.m. at Holy Angels R.C. Church, Little Falls. Interment will follow Laurel Grove Memorial Park, Totowa.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to John A. Nicosia Scholarship Fund, 66 Woodside Ave., Hawthorne, N.J. NJ 07506, or a to a charity of your one's choice would be appreciated.