While thousands of Long Islanders saw the 1972 LIRR strike as a major inconvenience, Joe Viverito Jr. looked at it as an opportunity. The entrepreneurial advertising executive took to the streets during the early December commuter crisis, running about 19 miles from his home in Manhasset to his office in Manhattan.
Along the way, Viverito set up interviews with all the major New York newspapers, including Newsday and The New York Times. He also phoned into the John Gambling morning show on WOR, according to longtime friend Paul Fetscher.
"He decided that he was going to do it like a PR stunt and demonstrate that he could run to his commuter job in Manhattan from our home in Manhasset faster than it would take all the cars that would, no doubt, be piled up on the highways because of the strike," said son Matt Viverito, 50, of Mineola.
The Newsday front page from Dec. 6, 1972, showing Joe Viverito Jr. running to Manhattan because of the LIRR strike. Credit: Newsday
The stunt worked. Not only did Joe Viverito find himself on the cover of all the major area papers, Fetscher said, but he also found a new obsession, long distance running. He would go on to run in over 100 marathons, including virtually every New York and Boston marathon from 1973 to 2005, Matt Viverito said. He ran the 1976 New York Marathon in two hours, 39 minutes, a personal best, according to a 1999 Newsday story.
Joe Viverito, who served in the Army from 1956 to 1957 and was the father of four sons, died Dec. 25 at his home in Mineola, where he had lived since late 2016, his family said. He was 87.
"He was quiet, but had a dry sense of humor and was one of the guys," said Fetscher, 75, of Long Beach. "He was always clever and never met a pun he didn’t like."
Fetscher, who founded the Long Island Marathon, read about Joe Viverito’s run to work and invited him to run in the inaugural edition of the spring race — then called the Earth Day Marathon.
"I figured if this guy is doing that, he’s running enough miles to run a marathon," Fetscher said. "So I picked up the phone and called him."
Long distance running, as it is for many, became an addiction for Viverito. He competed for the Long Island Athletic Club and the New York-based Warren Street Social and Athletic Club, running eight miles a day during his lunch break with a group that included the son of novelist John Cheever, Fetscher said.
"He became really, really competitive," Matt Viverito said. "He logged many sub-three hour marathons … He just had such a passion for it. He would run about 8-10 miles per day, just to keep in shape."
Newsday article from Dec. 6, 1972 about Joe Viverito's 19-mile run from Manhasset to Manhattan during the LIRR strike. Credit: Newsday
The 1972 run to Manhattan wasn’t Joe Viverito’s first foray into distance pacing. In the summer of 1958, he walked from Garden City to Florida on a dare. He went with some friends who drove alongside him in a car. The journey took approximately 30 days and covered about 1,000 miles, his family said.
"He thought it was great fun," Matt Viverito said. "He would walk through towns and people would be prepared for him, because they had heard about this kooky guy that was doing this crazy thing and they’d welcome him in for a free meal."
Born June 6, 1933, Joe Viverito grew up in Garden City. He graduated Chaminade in 1951 and went to Villanova on a football scholarship. In the days when Villanova was a top Division I team, Joe Viverito was a starting center and linebacker. He played on the 1952 team that went 7-1-1 and was nationally ranked, Matt Viverito said.
Joe Viverito, who lived in Manhasset from 1966-2014, spent more than 40 years in the advertising industry. He worked as a creative director for multiple firms — including Grey Advertising in Manhattan, where he wrote ad copy for television and print.
In 1993, he started his own company, Viverito and Associates, in Manhattan. Here, he would generate ideas on how to market new products or rejuvenate older ones. The business dissolved in 2014 when Joe Viverito retired, his son said.
"He was a gifted writer, so I think he enjoyed being involved in something that he had a real talent for," said Matt Viverito.
Joe Viverito had a quiet nature but was as trustworthy as they come and often gave spot-on advice, his family said.
"He never had an envious, jealous, or angry bone in his body," said son Bill Viverito, 57, of Manhattan. "I never heard him say anything negative about anyone. He was like that Will Rogers quote, ‘I never met a man I didn’t like.’ "
In addition to Matt and Bill Viverito, survivors include his wife of 60 years, June, of Mineola and sons Joseph III of Bay Shore and Peter of East Setauket. A memorial service will be held in June. Joe Viverito was cremated, Matt Viverito said.