March 16, 1934 – June 27, 2020
A Portrait of Radiance and Resilience: Josephine Pancia By daughter Julie Garisto
Josephine Pancia, whose nicknames have included Josie, Jo, Giuseppina and Pina, was born Giuseppa Pancia, a surname that means “belly” in Italian. She was born on March 16, 1934 in Cagnano Varano, Italy, in the province of Foggia and the region of Apulia.
If you were to look for her small-town birthplace on the boot-shaped map of Italy, Cagnano Varano would be located right on a little spur by the ankle. The town’s mild, sunny weather and mountainous terrain are similar to what you’d find in southern California. Her mother Giulia’s land was dotted with olive trees, and some of her close relatives were goat farmers.
Little Pina grew up during World War II and had no trouble making friends, but she admitted to being painfully shy as a child. She could also be quite the rebel. She played in the streets until dark, survived malaria and stayed away from home too long and too far for her mother’s liking. One Saturday afternoon she took a train to the next town, San Severo, with her best friend, Esterina, and almost got away with it until a neighbor ratted her out. Once, while babysitting by a lake while relatives mended a fishing net, she plunked her baby cousin Rina on the ground and ran after American GIs throwing chocolate bars out of the back of their truck.
The depressed Italian economy during wartime forced her father, Nicola Pancia, to work overseas and send money home — as did many fathers and brothers of the time in southern Italy. Some women left with them but most stayed behind to tend to the children, family stores or farms. Nicola lived and worked in Melbourne, Australia for nearly a decade. During one particularly difficult summer, her mother couldn’t afford clothes or the elastic or buttons to fix them, so little Pina had to hold up her worn-out underpants while she walked.
When she was 14, her father wrote to tell his family that he was transferring to Montreal and sent for his wife and daughters to join him. Josephine arrived early morning by boat at Ellis Island Christmas Day, 1948. Soon after arriving in Montreal, her parents began to have heated arguments. Giulia sent Nicola packing back to Australia, which forced Josephine to have to find work to make ends meet. At the tender age of 15, she braved the snowy streets of Montreal and its French-speaking strangers, and hopped on not one, not two but three streetcars to the dressmaking factory where she worked.
As a teen, Josephine had an eye for fashion. Having learned to sew in childhood, she appreciated finely tailored clothing and eventually became an expert tailor herself. One glance at her black-and-white photos from the late ’40s, ’50s and ‘60s, and you’ll see a lovely brunette with movie star looks — high cheekbones and pleated skirts, shift dresses, figure-flattering trench coats and a variety of fabulous couture.
Sometime around 1950, mother Giulia, who stitched clothes and tapestries by hand, rented out a room to Vito Garisto to help make ends meet. The main house was brimming, occupied by Josephine’s sister, Rosa, and her husband, Tony, and niece Nina lived there, too. Always restless and needing space, Josephine couldn’t resist when the handsome 29-year-old Calabrese tenant swept her off her 17-year-old feet and proposed to her. Around the same time, her best friend and coworker, Angela diNicolo, met Vito’s brother Joe, and they also married.
Josephine recounted on several occasions that Vito would say he couldn’t believe his luck marrying her, and she grew more and more insecure about keeping his hold on the young beauty. He forced her to quit taking accordion lessons, which she had picked up after learning the mandolin and banjo. At dinner with friends or relatives, he pinched her hand under the table if she made friendly conversation with a friend or relative of the opposite sex. “I was afraid to even look at a man,” she’d say. As time went on it was apparent that the ex-Italian POW battled depression and alcoholism, but back then men were expected to buck up. Vito tried to stay strong but often took his anguish out on his wife.
In the early 1950s, he prompted Josephine to move to Connecticut, where his siblings lived; where their children, Joseph, Teresa, Nicholas and Julie were born. Her factory friends called her “Jo,” and she refined her dressmaking skills in Connecticut, promoted from piece work to garment tailoring. She rekindled her relationship with her father, who died in 1964, loved her work and family but was homesick for many years for Italy. She longed for a sunnier home with a beach nearby. When Papa was laid off from AVCO, a munitions factory, she took the advice of a neighbor to move to Florida. In 1971, Josephine gathered her savings, unemployed husband, mother and four kids in their big white Chevy Impala, and bought a house in Clearwater’s then up-and-coming Newport subdivision for $22,000.
Settling into her new Florida home, Josephine hung a John F. Kennedy portrait on the wall and set to circling want ads and driving up and down nearby U.S. 19 to look for work. The highway looked very different then with long stretches of orange groves, pastures and forests instead of strip malls, office parks and car dealerships. Shopping for groceries presented many challenges for the Italian-American household. Josephine couldn’t find the ingredients she liked to cook with at Publix and once filled out a special request form to get Ronzoni pasta and wouldn’t abide buying Mueller’s.
Not long after the move, a retired mailman posted for sale his pizza-submarine sandwich shop on 22nd Avenue South, which he had run with his wife and teenage daughter. He named it Fairs Pizza and it was exactly the type of business Vito and Josephine sought. For a year or so, Josephine helped run Fairs. She smiled warmly and greeted customers with her Italian accent while Vito chased out anyone he deemed suspicious or just didn’t like — usually barefoot guys with long hair. Several customers would plan their visit for when she was working.
Having married too young, Josephine decided to get a divorce and for the first time experienced the joy and exhilaration of being a single adult woman.
At 40, she changed her hair from chestnut to a lighter golden brown, lost weight and sported a tan. This was a big deal since none of her friends or relatives her age at the time left their husbands. During Josie’s single years in the mid 1970s, 18-year-old daughter Teresa took her out in the evening, and guys who were her daughter’s age would flirt with the sexy single lady. She was having the time of her life.
Josephine eventually remarried, traveled across three continents, embarked on cruises and divorced a decade later. She moved to a house on Clearwater’s North Highland Avenue and installed a pool for her grandchildren’s enjoyment. To her family’s gratitude, Josephine thoroughly enjoyed her senior single years before succumbing to the cruel toll of dementia. She provided alterations for hundreds of satisfied customers; some loyal to her for more than two decades. She also worked as a companion for the elderly and made lifelong friends through that job.
Her close friend Marilyn Wells introduced her to Brazilian-born Olinda Laemmerhirt, who rented a room in the North Highland house around 1989-90. Olinda immediately bonded with her and called her the “picture of a perfect mother.” Indeed, Josie’s generous heart led to her taking in stray friends and relatives, and even adopting new family members locally and around the world. She became a grandmother figure to Lynn Fegadel’s children, Michael and Averi, in the 1990s, and Lynn, who lost her own mother, enjoyed maternal love from her, too. Toni Favuzza in Italy, who met her and daughter Julie on a train in 1986, visited in 2013 and said she was like a second mother to him. Her Italian exchange student Paolo DiMuccio had difficulties graduating from Clearwater High School until she prodded the principal into granting him his diploma.
While she was genuinely sweet, Josephine Pancia didn’t suffer fools. She didn’t abide rudeness, snobbishness and insincerity. She could be rather blunt if someone didn’t return the hospitality and cordiality she so easily offered to everyone.
An example of fortitude and resilience, Josephine Pancia was a survivor who maintained her strength, wisdom and spunky sense of humor despite health and life challenges. She knew how important it was to keep her heart open and intact, and keep family close. She also knew how to make a killer tomato sauce on Sundays and batted away bread-dippers trying to get a head start. Her radiant smile and sparkling eyes made everyone in her company feel special.
Having endured the heartbreaking loss of her sister Rosa, her niece Nina, and her two middle children, Teresa and Nicholas Garisto, Josephine is survived by her children Julie and Joseph Garisto; her grandchildren Nicholas, Carla and Michael Garisto, Joseph, Matthew and Nathan Garisto; and John and Candice Kobert; great-grandchildren Julianna and Arianna; and a great-grandson on the way.
- Nicola Pancia, Father (deceased)
- Giulia Miucci, Mother (deceased)
- Teresa Garisto, Daughter (deceased)
- Nicholas Garisto, Son (deceased)
- Julie Garisto, Daughter
- Joseph Garisto (Susan), Son
- Rodney Koodray, Husband (deceased)
- Vito Garisto, Husband (deceased)
- Joseph Robert Garisto, Grandson
- Matthew Vito Garisto, Grandson
- Nathan Angelo Garisto, Grandson
- Nicholas Damian Garisto, Grandson
- Carla Jayne Garisto, Granddaughter
- Michael Robert Garisto, Grandson
- John Michael Kobert, Grandson
- Candice Marie Kobert, Granddaughter
- Arianna Garisto, Great Granddaughter
- Julianna Garisto, Great Granddaughter
10:00 am - 11:00 am
St Catherine of Siena Catholic Church
July 3, 2020
My family has been Blessed by your mom,Grandmama. Grandma Josie welcomed us into her heart and your family 31 years ago. We have had so many wonderful times with her. Her twist Italian cookies will forever be a favorite of ours.
She will always hold a special place in all of our hearts.
Love you Grandma Josie.
Steve &Laurie Buckles
July 3, 2020
We met Grandma Josie many years ago via Lynn Fegadel. Every time we came to visit in Florida, Josie was the ' must visit ' list. She was a hoot to visit with! Listen to the stories, make cookies and enjoy her presence. We can not tell you how sad we are that she is gone. We wish her family strength to get thru the sorrow. Ci manchera e la ricorderemo!!
Steve & Laurie Buckles.
June 30, 2020
Sincere Sympathy to families of Josephine, She will be missed by many. Thoughts and Prayers to all ...Debby