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Rocco Ursino loved being Italian.
Whenever he felt blue, he’d strap on an apron and make spaghetti sauce. There was a freezer full of it in the garage. When friends came for dinner, they left with spaghetti sauce. When they dropped in or came for coffee, they left with spaghetti sauce. When they helped him fix his car, they left with spaghetti sauce.
With his wife of 64 years, he raised seven children and threw himself into all aspects of their lives: Their schools, sporting events, fundraising for parent-teacher organizations. He was social and outgoing to the extreme. He had a coterie of friends he kept for more than half a century: Friends from grade school, friends from college, friends he met traveling. He kept in touch with them all. And his circle kept expanding.
When, late in life, he lived in a senior-living facility, he organized dinners to welcome new people moving in. Within a year he knew every one of the 200 or so other residents by name.
“One thing he didn’t understand is that not everybody was as social as he was, he didn’t understand how anybody could move in and just go about their lives quietly,” said his son, Christian Ursino, a Seattle interior designer. “I’d say ‘leave them alone,’ but he gave it the old college try.”
Mr. Ursino died on March 26 from complications of COVID-19. He was 90.
Until he got sick, he was very active and very healthy, his son said. His 90th birthday party, scheduled for less than two weeks before he would die, was postponed because of the pandemic, before anyone even knew he was sick.
Rocco Patrick Ursino was born March 15, 1930, in Bari, on Italy’s southern Adriatic coast. His family immigrated to the United States when he was 5, in search of more opportunity and a better life. They landed in New York, where they stayed briefly, before moving to Chicago. Around age 10, he moved with his family to Seattle.
They settled in the Rainier Valley, nicknamed Garlic Gulch at the time because of the concentration of Italian immigrants, one of Seattle’s old ethnic neighborhoods that has faded into history.
He went to grammar school at Our Lady of Mount Virgin church, where he met Gloria Sergi. They married in 1953, after high school at Seattle Prep and Mr. Ursino’s service in the Marines during the Korean War.
An optician, Mr. Ursino worked for decades in several local Sears stores, fitting people for glasses and managing the optical departments.
The Ursino family moved, as so many immigrant families have, from Rainier Valley, to Beacon Hill and, eventually, to Bellevue. Along the way, all their children went to local Catholic schools: St. George School, Sacred Heart School, Holy Names Academy, Eastside Catholic, O’Dea. Mr. Ursino faithfully attended weekly Mass at Sacred Heart in Bellevue.
In retirement, Mr. Ursino had a weekly tee time at Foster Golf Links in Tukwila with three Italian American friends he’d known for more than 50 years, including one he’d known since grade school. They called themselves “The Mafia.” He returned regularly to his old neighborhood in the Rainier Valley for coffee and pastries with friends at Borracchini’s Bakery.
All seven of his children still live in the Seattle area with their own families. Because of social distancing guidelines, only his children were allowed to attend the funeral, limited to a graveside service. Once restrictions are lifted, they plan a full service, including military honors. The near-solitary death and sparse funeral — for such a genial man — were the most difficult parts for his family.
“Their lives were really about their children, they dedicated their lives, their resources, their energy, their time, to raising their children,” Christian Ursino said of his parents. “We’re a very large Italian family. In good times and bad we gather, we eat, we console, that’s what we do.”