Community bids addio to Dominic DiFrisco

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Dominic DiFrisco
Dominic DiFrisco

“How ya doing kid?” … “I have shoes older than you.” … “These God-damned cell phones.” … When you read these phrases, you only hear one person: Dominic DiFrisco.

Dominic was a loving husband, father, grandfather, father-in-law, brother, uncle, brother-in-law and godfather to many. As he would say in Sicilian dialect, “sangue mio.” My blood. Dominic’s other family members were the countless worldwide friends and colleagues that he would laugh, mentor and share with any hour of the day or night. There literally wasn’t a corner of the world where Dominic didn’t know someone.

He was born Nov. 14, 1933, in the Bronx to Leoluca and Antonina, immigrants from Corleone, Sicily. After graduating from his beloved Fordham University in 1955, Dominic began an illustrious public relations career with Alitalia Airlines that ultimately brought him to Chicago in 1962, thanks to an introduction to then-Mayor Richard J. Daley. When Alitalia decided to close its Chicago office and offered to move Dominic back to New York City, he turned the offer down because he fell in love with Chicago and could not leave. With a deep devotion to his craft, Dominic’s expertise soared to great heights in the areas of government and community relations.

As a commendatore of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, Dominic carried the torch for countless topics important to the Italian-American community and was the community’s voice.

He was a longtime leader of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, and in 1971, as president of the JCCIA, Dominic created one of his proudest achievements: the Dante Award. Each year, the JCCIA presents the coveted award to a member of the local news media who has answered Dante Alighieri’s call to be “no timid friend to truth.” In 2014, he added the Filippo Mazzei Public Affairs Award to the annual Dante Award event.

On the JCCIA website, Dominic is quoted saying, “Our Italian-American community and the Chicagoland community are infinitely richer for our Dante and Mazzei recipient contributions to journalism and public affairs.” (1)

When the Italian-American community was at risk of losing one of its cornerstones, the Our Lady of Pompeii Church, Dominic banded together with other Little Italy community leaders, neighbors and alumni to raise enough money to save the church, and personally petitioned the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin to allow the special place to remain open.

One of Dominic’s favorite days of the year was the Columbus Day Parade. For 46 years, Dominic was the color commentator during the television broadcast of the parade. Dominic never met a microphone he didn’t like. During the broadcast, Dominic would use the time wisely, spotlighting every person who was important to him or the Italian-American community. He also never wasted an opportunity to tell ANY elected official, “You know, the Columbus Day Parade is the only ethnic parade still on State Street. Don’t you dare move it.”

As one of the most fanatical admirers of the New York Yankees, it was no surprise that Dominic was a supporter of the DiMaggio Plaza, a site on Taylor Street in Chicago’s Little Italy created to honor Yankee Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. (2)

But Dominic’s love for his Italian heritage expands far beyond the mother country. He held immense admiration for numerous ethnic groups including the Jewish, Chinese, African-American, Native American, Greek and Hispanic communities, to name a few.

One of his recent multi-cultural conquests was seeing through the renaming of Congress Parkway to Ida B. Wells Drive. City officials were trying to rename Balbo Drive, but that idea was met with stiff opposition led, in part, by Dominic. Instead, aldermen shifted to renaming Congress Parkway. “Ida B. Wells is getting her long-overdue recognition, and we are retaining a cherished part of Italian-American culture,” Dominic was quoted as saying.

“Hello. I’m at Gene’s having lunch. Are you stopping by?”

For more than 50 years, Dominic’s primary office was the corner booth at Gene and Georgetti’s. Stemming from a personal friendship with proprietor Gene Michellotti, you could find him there during weekday lunches and even dinners, and frequently for a Saturday lunch. Sitting at what will forever be called “Mr. DiFrisco’s booth,” he would visit with celebrities, high-profile elected officials, colleagues or anyone in the world Dominic wanted to help.

When you look up the word “networking” in the dictionary, you will see a photo of Dom sitting at the head of the booth table. Edelman, the public relations firm where he spent more than 20 years, must have had one hell of a large printing bill to cover all of the business cards that he would give out. If you thought you had a one-on-one lunch with him, it wouldn’t be uncommon for two or three people to “stop by.” It’s how he connected people.

Dominic’s world will live on through his deeply devoted wife and songbird of his life, Carol Loverde DiFrisco; the apple of his eye, daughter Nina Mariano and her husband Bob; and his pride and joy, grandson Pasquale Dominic Gianni, whom Dominic called “the core of my happiness and life.” Dominic was proud of the fact that Pasquale attended his alma mater Fordham, and equally proud of Pasquale being in law school, and everything he has accomplished in life. (3)

There are countless stories that can be told about a man who was larger than life to so many. His smile was infectious, his look was impeccable, and his heart was one-of-a-kind.

Heaven now has a corner booth with a red-and-white tablecloth, with a glass of lemon water (no ice) and a Bloody Mary… and a cell phone ringing with his voice saying, “These God damned cell phones…”

— Lissa Druss

About Lissa Druss

Lissa Druss is founder and CEO of Strategia Consulting, a government relations and business relations and crisis communication firm. She is a regular contributor on television and radio stations, offering perspective on crisis events and public affairs issues. She spent 21 years as a television journalist and is a nine-time Emmy award winner. She holds the title of Cavaliere dell’ Ordine della Stella d’Italia; serves on the boards of Milan-Chicago Sister Cities International, the Get Growing Foundation and the Italian American Human Relations Foundation, and is chairman of the Jarrett Payton Foundation. She works with the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii and the JCCIA, and is a member of the National Italian American Foundation.

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