You Can Pick Your Friends…

Uncle Joe

There’s an old saying “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” We’ve all heard that phrase before. It’s usually used when we need to rationalize behavior within our family that didn’t sit well with us.

Well, every family has its ups and downs, we all know that. For me, I have been blessed in my life in many ways, but none greater than the gift of my family. This past week, my family lost its patriarch, Joe DeMarzo. He passed away on Wednesday Oct. 12 after a long illness and a courageous fight. He left us on Wednesday the same way he lived every day of his life, surrounded by his family.

“Uncle Joe”, as many of us called him, (I think he was everybody’s uncle) was larger than life in my eyes, a legend. My mother and father made sacrifices throughout their lives to make sure my brother and I received the best they could afford. My father (rest in peace) has been gone for many years now, and my Uncle Joe was like a second father to me. He will be remembered by us in many ways.

He was a happy guy with a contagious smile. He always had some silly joke, and it seemed that whatever life threw at him he just rolled with it. He was a friend to everyone. He gave advice and comfort to those around him. It was common place to “go ask Uncle Joe what he thinks.” He always had an answer. It may not have been the one you wanted to hear, but it was the one you needed to hear.

He was always supportive and when he said “it’s going to be ok” somehow you knew it was. He was always the go-to guy.

He will be remembered for his passion for his work. It is said that you can’t be great at something unless you love it. Uncle Joe loved his work. Honestly, I never think he really “worked” a day in his life. He didn’t go to “work” in the morning; instead he went to do what he loved to do, build homes. There is a quote from François-René de Chateaubriand that pretty much sums it up.

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

I don’t think anyone has built more houses in Madison than he did. The hundreds of homes he built that grace our beautiful town will serve as a lasting reminder of his great spirit, commitment to excellence, and love for his town.

He inspired those around him. Over the years, in my dental practice, I have hired professional consultants to coach my staff and me to be the best we can be. The lessons always came down to making my vision and purpose clear to my team, having the “right people on the bus”, and delivering dentistry that exceeded our patient’s expectations.

For all the times I sat there and listened to the experts, I kept thinking to myself, “I’ve seen this before.” All you had to do was go to one of Uncle Joe’s job sites, spend a day, and ask anyone on the job. They knew what his vision was and they wanted to be part of it.

If you weren’t the right person for the job, he thanked your for riding his bus and let you off at the first stop. The speed of construction, precision, and quality that went into his houses could only be achieved through great leadership. What Vince Lombardi was to football, or Henry Ford was to car-making, Uncle Joe was to home-building. Thank you, Uncle Joe, for all those valuable life lessons and especially for teaching me to have the courage to pursue your vision, and that “good” is not good enough.

What I will always remember most is his passionate commitment to our family. Family trumped all else, period. He was old-school and he was the glue that kept it all together. As we all grew up, sons, daughters, cousins, nieces, and nephews, and grandchildren, Uncle Joe was always there either in the foreground or background.

He was the steady hand on the tiller that kept the family on course. In Fr. Robert J. Spitzer’s Book “The Spirit of Leadership”, the highest level (level IV) of happiness you could obtain was where you were involved with something of ultimate significance, to create something that would live beyond you.

For a long time I thought this was limited to creating a foundation, or starting a charity. But I missed it. Everyone can experience level IV happiness. Uncle Joe taught that to me. You have everything you need right in your own home: your family. There is no greater asset, no greater gift, no greater level of happiness to be obtained than the love for one another in your family. It will live with you every day and last for generations. It’s right there in front of you. Grab it and embrace it with your whole heart. Hopefully, you are living it now. If not, maybe you’ll be like me and be lucky enough to have an Uncle Joe to show you the way.

God Bless,

Dr. Sam Romano.

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