By Doug Fleming
He looked good the last time I saw him, then again, he always looked that way. In fact, he looked better in death than many of those who came to mourn him looked in life. His life was full of wakes and I know of no one who went to more. The difference was this wake was his own. Whether he himself dressed up for the hundreds and hundreds of wakes or countless numbers of socials, he dressed to the nines and his mere presence lit up many a room and lifted the hearts of all those who knew him. If there were a GQ for seniors, he could have been on the cover. He also could have been the regular poster boy and cover story for many of his earlier years. After all, he was a real Dean Martin look alike. As handsome as all get out, debonair and charming as well as good-natured and gentle-hearted, the man from 5th Street in New Rochelle was all through his 80 plus years first and foremost in uncommon sense and character.
In my earlier years, my wife-to-be, Mary Mitura, and I would find a warm welcome any day and any time of the day at 17 5th St. Both he and his predeceased wife Rose were gracious hosts who never turned the lights out and made sure whenever you left or whether dark turned to light that coffee and dessert would be served. Their kitchen table was simply love in disguise.
Their living room was about as large as most homeowners’ bedrooms or a one car garage. Modest would accurately describe the home of a family that later in life would leave the West for a 10804 home in the Wykagyl section of the city. No matter where he and his family were to reside, no one could take West New Rochelle out of them. In days gone by, the West was the home of many of New Rochelle’s aspiring Italian families and not all of them were happy as this family uprooted itself for another zip code.
Whether it was Fenimore Road or 5th Street, their phone would ring at least a half dozen times and at all hours during each of our visits. Whenever it did, the patron of the house would excuse himself even during dinner or at a very late hour to talk, console or counsel anyone in need of his attention. No caller ever had to work hard to capture the patron’s ear.
Whenever we went out, the patron would cover all of the costs, pay entry fees, take all dinner checks and fight with you so he could leave the tip. If one wanted to take advantage of him and his wife, Rosie, they together could have been the best sponges in the sea of life. The reader should bear in mind that my later-to-be bride and I were not even 21 years old at this time and the only way to say thanks was to do so with affectionate appreciation.
In the evening, whenever he came home he’d head right to the bathroom to clean and wash up. He wore his work and would come into his home full of grime, dust, soot and powder. After all, he worked in demolition and, as a demolisher, he knocked down more walls than Joshua did at the Battle of Jericho. He loved to take down walls, not just because it was his source of income, but also because it was a sign of progress. Most walls bulled over by him resulted in newer ones built to be strong and last long.
Little did he know that the modest man from 5th Street in New Rochelle, who grew up with little capital and not much education but with an abundant amount of energy and common sense, would one day become the mayor of a city he so dearly loved.
Frank J. Garito’s life is a Lincoln-like story, one that could only have been thought of as a dream. Frank J. Garito loved New Rochelle and thousands of New Rochelleans loved him and what he stood for as mayor and as a citizen.
His funeral mass was held at Saint Joseph’s Church, not far from where the Garitos planted their family tree. At the memorial were a good number of West enders, each feeling like a good friend had moved again.
Invariably, as mayor at a dinner dance held at Glen Island, the Davenport, the Calabria Club or the Knights of Columbus one song would be played in his honor and, of course it was a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
Invariably, when Frank J. Garito was called upon as mayor to lionize or exalt a recipient, he would, after considerable praise, give thanks to the honoree for doing so much for so many.
For so many years of his life, Frank J. Garito ironically did too much for so many of us. While “My Way” was his song, he lived a life full of the Lord’s way and entirely by the Book. From the very first moment of getting up and coming awake, Frank J. Garito was ready to knock down any wall for a friend. No matter where Frank J. Garito lived or his GPS took him, he breathed purple air and the winds and tides of change were all purple too.
For Frank J. Garito, the creation of a senior center in West New Rochelle was an obsession. It was an honor to be at the opening of the Garito Manor not so long ago and see how proud he was of this waiting room in the West.
For all those who reside in the manor and those at his memorial service, Frank J. Garito was very awake and back in the West again. He was thought of as a person of character and one whom we all used to know. It was what it was and he was who he was–always Frank.
Joshua couldn’t ask for better. Thanks for all your waking moments and all the walls you tumbled down, Frank Joshua Garito.
Doug Fleming is the headmaster of the Thornton-Donovan School.