They called him Gramps. The funeral for Frank Luisi was as grand as any royal procession. The line of those wishing to pay their respects was evident that he did more than touch a few lives. Luisi's compassion, heart of gold and tremendous sense of humor spanned generations, ensuring that his legacy of kindness will be well remembered.
The East Rockaway resident died on Dec. 23 of old age and complications from mesothelioma. He was 96.
" 'Do what you want to do' was my grandfather's motto. By that he meant following your heart, which for him was being there for everyone," said Nadene Flego of Pennsylvania and Luisi's eldest living grandchild.
Luisi was born in Brooklyn on Nov. 20, 1926. In 1944, he joined the Army and rose in the ranks to become a corporal. He married the love of his life, Helen, on April 19, 1945, at Fort Bragg Army Base in North Carolina. The two would go on to have four children.
"My grandparents grew up in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn. They were an amazing couple, married for almost 75 years before my grandmother passed three years ago," said Flego, who added that everyone adored the couple and that their house was "open to everyone." "My grandparents never missed a birthday to call a grandkid. Gramps checked in on everyone on a regular basis and loved to bust chops, keeping everyone laughing. He was the totem pole and pillar of the family."
Luisi was employed as a foreman at the American Can Co., in Brooklyn, before moving out to East Rockaway in 1963, and taking a job as a construction inspector for Nassau County. He also became involved with the East Rockaway Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter and became a youth coach and referee for his son and grandson's basketball games.
"My grandfather was the epitome of what it should mean to be a man. He lived a life of love and sacrifice," said grandson Michael White, 43, of East Islip. "Everything he did, he did for others. He was a legend who had a great run."
Luisi was a Golden Glove champion boxer while he was in the Army, with a record of 7-0 with five knockouts and two technical knockouts. He also had many hobbies and enjoyed horse racing, watching sports of any kind, going to casinos and traveling.
"My grandfather and his brother and neighbor chipped in and bought an RV together and drove across the country with their wives. They were very simple and never had a lot of money, but they loved to travel," said Flego of her grandparents, who visited Italy, Hawaii and Greece, among other destinations.
Granddaughter Alexandrea Charalambous, age 32, of Levittown said that something as simple as a phone call or hanging out around the table with good food was all Luisi needed to be happy.
"He was the most selfless man on this earth, who saved us all more than once — he saved me from drowning at the age of 4 in his swimming pool when I slipped through a tube. He scooped me up as quickly as I went under, and that’s when I saw it: the cape that he wore throughout his lifetime. He was our hero who didn’t need the recognition," said Charalambous.
"There was never a dull moment that we spent with our Gramps. He managed to remember each detail we shared of our lives, the good and the bad," said granddaughter Kristina Farraher, 35, of Bellmore. "We will forever be his sweethearts, sharing his love, light and wisdom."
Luisi is survived by his four children, Jean of East Rockaway, Denise of Oakdale, Frank Luisi Jr. of Franklin Square and Michelle of Levittown; 14 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren.