The Reverend Dr. William J. Zito, 88, Pastor Emeritus of the First Congregational Church of Watertown, CT, passed away suddenly at Middlesex Hospital on May 4, 2023, from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. He was an extraordinary man who cared and connected deeply with individuals across generations. He loved people and he loved to minister to them; he viewed his congregation as his extended family. Bill was known as “everyone’s minister”; he found value and honor in serving others.
Bill Zito was born on July 2, 1934, the youngest of 8 children born to Gialessandro “John” Zito and Lucia (Benvenuto) Zito. He adored his parents and was proud of his Italian heritage. His home life centered on family, faith, and food; the extraordinary 8 remained close throughout their lives. After his parents immigrated to the States in 1913, they became disillusioned with their mother church. Years earlier a group of congregational ministers began the Village Street Mission serving Hartford area immigrants, providing services and support in their natural tongues. The Zito family found community and support in the mission and ultimately converted to Protestantism, opening the door to Bill’s future ministry. Growing up in a large, faithful Italian family inspired his love of people and his spirit of giving.
Bill married his childhood sweetheart, Janet (Sypher) Zito on September 8, 1956. They began dating when they were young teens and remained lovingly devoted for over 66 years ministering together as a team throughout. Their union unfolded as an epic love story, one for the ages. They raised two children, Mark and Jennifer Zito, and were blessed with 4 grandchildren, Jonathan, Jillian and Colin Rosadino and Matthew Zito. In the depth of his illness Bill always remembered to kiss his bride and reminded her not long ago to “never forget I love you”. Jan cared tenderly for Bill throughout his illness with loving devotion and patience.
Bill was a 1952 graduate of Weaver High School in Hartford where he grew up, a 1956 graduate of Trinity College where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree, and a 1959 graduate of The Hartford Seminary Foundation where he received his Bachelor of Divinity. Years later, in 1987, Bill earned his Doctor of Ministry from The Hartford Seminary. By avocation, Bill was an accomplished musician, serving as an organist and choir director throughout his college and seminary years. Upon his Ordination in 1959, Bill served as the Associate Minister of the Horace Bushnell Church in Hartford before answering the call to become the senior minister of the First Congregational Church in Westbrook where he served for nearly a decade. During his time in Westbrook, Bill won the hearts of the community and his congregation; he transformed a struggling church into a vibrant faith community. During his tenure there, Bill sat on the Board of Education and served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Westbrook Public Library. Although Bill was fun loving, spirited, occasionally off color and always the life of the party, he was viewed there as “a person so outstanding that he seemed to approach the divine”. One parishioner lamented upon his resignation, “what will I do with some ordinary minister with no sense of humor?”
In early 1970, seeking another challenge, Bill accepted the call to be the 25th senior minister of the First Congregational Church of Watertown founded in 1739 where he faithfully ministered for over 33 years. During his ministry he was active in the community serving as Chaplain of the Fire Department, Chair of multiple community boards and ecumenical councils including Chairman of the Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministry, and Chairman of the New School Coalition founding the Jonathan Trumbull Primary School. He was a long-time member of the Watertown Rotary Club, honored with its Paul Harris Award. He led meaningful and inspiring worship services and was a faithful pastor caring deeply for others. He also held several leadership roles in the United Church of Christ Connecticut Conference. Bill retired in 2003 as the beloved Pastor Emeritus of the First Congregational Church of Watertown. In his retirement, he served as the Annuitant Visitor for several years ministering to retired clergy throughout the State. Bill and Jan moved in 2005 to Portland, CT to be nearer to family and joined Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford where Bill continued to participate in worship services through his preaching and music.
In addition to his beloved bride, Jan, of Cromwell, son Mark J. Zito (Gail Corrow) of Middletown, daughter Attorney Jennifer L. Zito (Michael Rosadino) of South Glastonbury, and his 4 adored grandchildren, Bill is lovingly survived by his dear sisters Elizabeth DiMauro and Frances Bassford of Cromwell, his brother Attorney Edward Zito and his wife Kathleen of Wethersfield, and his sister-in-law, Martha Zito of Wethersfield. Bill was predeceased by 4 of his siblings, Dominic Zito, Joseph Zito, Mary DiPrato, and Antoinette “Antie” Brazukas, his father-in-law William J. Sypher and several brothers and sisters-in law. Bill is also survived by several nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews, all of whom he loved and most of whom he baptized and later married, as well as many beloved friends.
The Reverend Dr. William J. Zito was a light, radiant and bright, full of joy, love and compassion. God’s love and light poured through him. He had boundless energy. Over his career he performed nearly 1000 baptisms, over 1000 weddings and about 800 funerals. He impacted thousands along the way and shared in their joys and sorrows, ministering to generations of families. He met people where they were. His spirit was contagious. He was an accomplished musician and pianist, a gifted preacher, a devoted son, brother, husband, father and grandfather, and the life of any party. Bill was fun, personable, relatable, and passionate about his ministry. He was a family man who had the extraordinary gift of loving and relating to people. Above all, he loved the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind and he loved his neighbor as himself. He preached that the only excellence in life that counts is excellence in love. Bill Zito was excellent in love. He left the world a better place. Love is his legacy, and his influence will be felt for generations to come.
A Celebration of Bill’s life will be held at 10 o’clock in the morning on Saturday, May 20, 2023, at the Immanuel Congregational Church, 10 Woodland St., Hartford, CT 06105. A luncheon will follow. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in his memory may be made to The Alzheimer’s Association (www.act.alz.org/donate), Immanuel Congregational Church, or The First Congregational Church of Watertown, 40 DeForest Street, Watertown, CT 06795. To leave a message for the family, please visit www.desopofuneralchapel.com.