Donald M. Panciera Sr., 84, of Yarmouth Drive, Westerly, passed away surrounded by his loving family on Thursday morning, Feb. 9, 2012, at the Chestnut Cottage at The Elms of Westerly. He is survived by his wife of 24 years, Patricia A. (Perri) Panciera of Westerly, his son, Donald M. Panciera Jr. of Ashaway, his daughters, Gail E. Panciera of Westerly and Lisa Panciera-Downer of Colchester, Conn., his step-daughter, Kristen Sweeney of Eliot, Maine, his stepsons, Sean Farley of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and Scott Farley of Bel-Air, Md., his grandchildren, Tonya Mason, Matthew Panciera, Gina Lee, Suzanne Gwaltney, and Ashley, Chelsea, McKenzie and Courtney Downer, his step-grandchildren, John, Liam, and Erin Sweeney, and Will, Anna, Abigail and Benjamin Farley, six great-grandchildren and his brother, Irving Panciera of Hollywood, Fla. He was predeceased by his older brothers, Lawrence and Nardino.
Mr. Panciera was born in Westerly on June 23, 1927, the son of the late James and Westerlina (Campo) Panciera. Don was well-known as an exceptional high school, college and professional football player. His career began as a quarterback at LaSalle Academy where he was selected to the 1944 All State Football team. He led the 1945 Maroon team to an undefeated season and a trip to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. He then went on to play at Boston College and the University of San Francisco. He played for the New York Yankees of the old American Football Conference as the youngest starting quarterback in that league. In 1951, he joined the former Chicago Cardinals of the National Football League, before playing for the Detroit Lions. He also played for the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League. When his professional career ended, he served as a coach at the University of Dayton and Boston College. He was inducted into the Providence Gridiron Club and in May 2008, he was inducted into the Rhode Island Interscholastic League High School Athletic Hall of Fame. Providence Journal sportswriter John Gillooly selected Don as one of the top 100 Athletes of the 20th Century. Don always maintained that playing high school football led him to his outstanding college and professional careers. He continued to advocate and support high school and college sports, especially the University of Rhode Island. He recognized how his sports experiences had a tremendous effect on his personal life.
Don began working for General Motors in 1960 as a District Manager, and a few years later, he was awarded a Chevrolet dealership in Wakefield which became known as Panciera Chevrolet. Don continued to run the business until his retirement in 1998. At the time, he held the distinction of having owned the business for 31 years, the longest operating dealership in Rhode Island.
In addition to being an avid sports fan, Don enjoyed playing golf, spending winters in Florida, walking, keeping fit, and attending daily Mass. He will always be remembered as a humble and gentle man.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012, at 10 a.m. at St. Pius X Church, 44 Elm St., Westerly. There will be no procession from the funeral home. Burial will take place at River Bend Cemetery, Westerly.
Calling hours will be held on Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Rushlow-Iacoi Funeral Home & Crematory, 64 Friendship St., Westerly. For online condolences, please go to www.rushlowiacoifuneralhome.com
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Donald M. Panciera Sr. Football Memorial Scholarship, P.O. Box 2963, Westerly, RI 02891 or go to www.lasalle-academy.org/gize