The following is a message from former Assemblyman Anthony Portantino:
Sadly, I share the news that my mother Barbara died Friday. She was 81 years old and she had a very full life. Barbara maintained her positive spirit to the end. Many of you met her during her visits to California, were extremely kind to her while she was here, continued to inquire about her and sent your prayers often this past year. My entire family thanks you for your warmth toward our Mom. I was very glad that Ellen, Sofia, Bella and I surprised her on Christmas morning. The girls, wearing bows in their hair, were her presents. Christmas and the two days after it were about the last three days she was up and active. Unfortunately, in the past three weeks, she experienced a quick and deep decline. My brother Phil and my sister-in-law Nancy were by her side when she left us.
As many of you know, my dad died when I was eleven, leaving Barbara and four children with limited means. She did a remarkable job as the foundation of our family and as our nurturing parent. Three of her four children graduated from college and the fourth went on to be a very successful entrepreneur. My oldest brother Phil, who was a high school senior when my dad died, became only the second person in our extended family to graduate from college. She wouldn't have it any other way.
Born in Long Branch, New Jersey, Mom helped her own mother run a small rooming house. Her father died when she was seven. She graduated from high school in 1950 and became a secretary in New York City. She met my dad, Tony at a Fort Monmouth mixer. The rest, as they say, is history. She quit her job and became a traditional Italian American mom raising Philip, MaryAnn, Michael and me through the 1960's and 1970's. I think she did a remarkable job. She loved making Halloween costumes. Almost every year, one of the four of us would win a trophy because of her work. Thanksgiving was a day robustly celebrated at our house with pasta and turkey on the menu. Every Sunday, I came home from church to a frying pan full of meatballs, quickly eaten while I watched the weekly Abbott and Costello movie shown Sunday afternoons at that time.
She never missed a Little League game, Pop Warner football game, or high school event that featured one of her children. She instilled in all of us a positive spirit and warmth that we carry as her legacy each and every day. A truly amazing woman, my mother survived an extremely difficult adolescence and the death of her husband with an uncanny ability to see the best in all people and an amazing belief in her children. She was not a complex person, but inspired big dreams for everyone she touched. In our large Italian family, there is always someone mad at someone else, but no one throughout the last 80 years ever got upset at my mother. She was the one person to whom everyone stopped by to visit with or pay their respects. I am very grateful to all of her childhood friends, my cousins, aunts and uncles who continually visited her in the nursing home this past year. She was truly a "good soul," as the old Italians would say.
Her obligations didn't stop as her children grew up, they intensified. She embraced my brother Michael when at age 16 he came out to her. I didn't even know that she knew he was gay until I was in my twenties. She knew it all along and supported Michael with devotion and unconditional love until the day he died two years ago. She inspired him to become an activist and she spoke out to a generation and to a culture that didn't always understand LGBT issues. She couldn't be kept away from Washington, accompanying my brother to the Capitol Mall where she climbed on stage to support his life long quest to achieve equal rights for all Americans during the LGBT Millennial March in 2000.
Although she loved having her children and grandchildren around her, she selflessly encouraged all of us to pursue our dreams and passions even when those dreams took us far away. Her only daughter moved south to pursue a business career and Michael and I moved west, and she supported our decisions without reservation, guilt or hesitation. She treated her son and daughters-in-law as if they were her own. No person could make others feel more loved and appreciated better than her.
A child of the Depression, she would use every inch of paper before she would get a new sheet. Nothing bothered her more than someone wasting a precious resource. Every time she went out to dinner, she appreciated the opportunity to do so. She would always offer the table the chance to taste her food before she touched it. When we packed up her house, we found every household gadget known to exist except the pocket fisherman. She was way beyond cute. All of her grandchildren were the smartest, prettiest and most handsome. She was all grandma all the time and they all loved her with an eagerness and earnestness that makes me smile.
Barbara Garrone Portantino leaves behind two sons, one daughter, two daughters-in-law, two sons-in-law, seven grandchildren and one great granddaughter. She called her grandchildren "her bonuses" because after my father died she hoped to live long enough to see her children grown. God granted her the "bonus" by allowing her the extra time to see and love her grandchildren. She was preceded in death by Anthony Portantino in 1972 and her three older sisters.
She will be missed but not forgotten. We will be holding a service for her in New Jersey in February. In lieu of flowers, donations in Barbara's name can be made to Elizabeth Househttp://elizabethhouse.net/ or Friends of Project Ten http://project10.org/. Elizabeth House helps young girls, many of who have been victims of abuse and Project Ten is nationally recognized program for LGBT youth.