Paul C. Puzzo September 29, 1943 – November 14, 2020
Paul Puzzo was a true king among men. He started his life as the first-generation son of a Sicilian shoemaker and an Italian housewife, Corrado and Beatrice, in Wolcott, CT. He was the prince of the family; his three sisters, Julia, Lillian, and Bebe, were all more than a decade older than him and all doted on him like he was their own. The only thing better than one Italian mother is four Italian mothers.
Once he finished high school, he bounced around a couple of colleges until settling at the University of Hartford. A proud member of Beta Sigma Gamma, we think it’s safe to say that his major was partying. And in that respect, he graduated with all A’s.
After college, in 1967, he began what was to become a storied career at the Community Renewal Team of Greater Hartford. In the meantime, he married a lovely young woman from Vermont, Karen BaiRossi, and had two children Julianne and PJ. The four of them settled into a tiny home in Bloomfield, CT. They lived a typical suburban life filled with fantastic neighborhood friends, block parties, annual Christmas caroling, and all the trappings of a young family. Alas, not every marriage is meant to be, but life moved on as Karen and Paul went their separate ways.
But then Paul met the love of his life, Elaine Bracha. Elaine was born and raised in New Britain and a colleague at CRT. They soon married in 1983 and settled down in their lakefront home in East Hampton. It was around this time Paul’s star began to rise at CRT. He became the President & CEO and turned a fledgling nonprofit into the premier organization that those in need could turn to in the Hartford area. His ingenuity, tenacity, and dedication grew this once small organization into a powerhouse that literally fed, housed, educated, and cared for thousands of CT residents that may have otherwise fallen through the cracks. He provided a literal safety net for everyone who needed it.
While he was a brilliant strategist and successful beyond his wildest dreams, he did not let work define him. He and Elaine spent their days traveling the world - from the ruins of Rome to the jungles of Africa, from the street markets in Thailand to his father’s childhood home in Sicily - they made it their mission to see it all. They visited almost every national park in the US and loved to experience the wonders of nature together.
His other passion was his friends and, most importantly, entertaining those friends. He was happiest behind the stove with a house full of people. He hosted some of the most epic parties you can imagine. It's not everyone that can host annual cook-outs for 100 people. There are even fewer people who could successfully stuff six chickens with sausage and then stuff those chickens in a whole pig and roast it (a feat he considered a personal triumph). He was also famous for his annual Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, and in classic Paul Puzzo fashion, there was always at least a dozen types of fish and pierogis to honor his Polish wife.
Paul loved to golf in his retirement years and spent time doing it both in CT and from his second home in Florida. He might have loved cheese just a little more and would travel from CT to Florida and back again with his cheese collection, much to his wife’s chagrin. He was a fierce Democrat and was even the Democratic Town Chairman of his hometown for many years. We are so thankful that he could see the political tides change in his final days; it gave him immense pleasure to know this country had a chance to get back on track.
He was an amazing dad. He raised his children to be strong and independent. He gave us the tools to strike out on our own, but with the understanding that he would always be there when we needed him. He taught us the importance of family and tradition and that we should always give back to those in need. He loved his granddaughter Andrea and hosting her each summer on the lake, even the summer he had to get up at 6:00 am every morning to drive her to her job at Dunkin Donuts. And just five years ago, he became a great grandfather to Codi. On their last visit together, he got the joy of teaching her to make meatballs, a Puzzo family tradition. We, the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Paul Puzzo, will never, ever be able to fill the void he has left in our lives.
There are not enough words to explain the love he had for his wife, Elaine. If there were ever two people meant to be together, they were it. Married close to 40 years, they were like two puzzle pieces that just fit. Whether traveling the world or sitting on the porch reading, they were content just to be together. Elaine also brought her wonderful family into his life and he loved his sisters and brothers in law greatly and all their children. In his final years, as his health slowly began to fail, Elaine became his lifeline. He had spent his whole life taking care of her, a job he loved, but she returned the favor tenfold when he needed it the most.
Paul was kind; it’s a simple word, but one that not many people authentically embody. More people than we can count called him friend, surrogate dad, brother, mentor, and even hero. He was fiercely loyal and generous to a fault, the kind of guy you could call on for just about anything and know he would be there.
The world is a lesser place without Paul Puzzo. He filled a room with his laughter and his generosity of spirit. In his last days, he said many times that he had no regrets and in the immortal words of Frank Sinatra he did it “My Way.” What he would have wanted most was for all of us to live our lives as he did. He lived life on his own terms and leaves a legacy that will never be forgotten.
As one of his friends said, “today, a giant oak tree has fallen.”
Because of the cruel and unnecessary pandemic we will not be holding a funeral or services for Paul at this time, but rest assured he will be celebrated. When we are able, we are going to throw the biggest, best party in his honor and all who loved him and all who he loved will be invited. In lieu of flowers we ask that you make a donation in Paul’s name to either The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, www.tobaccofreekids.org/donate or Food Share, www.foodshare.org.
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