Photo: Vinny DiGiovanni.
The final time Dante Muzzioli saw Vincent DiGiovanni was the day before his friend passed away.
“I knew Vinny since I was four years old and, along with my father, inspired me and made me who I am today,” said the Belmont businessman and long-time Belmont High School Boys’ Hockey Coach.
Muzzioli said he was able to tell DiGiovanni of his love for the lifelong Belmontian and the quiet, honest way he lived his life.
“He taught me the biggest lesson of my life, that hard work is the great equaliser, that you are not entitled to anything,” Muzzioli said.
“I saw a man who lived his life through perseverance and that’s why I admired him,” he said.
DiGiovanni, the owner of Hillside Garden & True Value at 280 Blanchard Rd., who spent his entire 95 years in Belmont, passed away on Tuesday Jan.19, 2016 surrounded by his family.
“My heart is heavy but make no mistake, Vincent went to heaven, I’m sure of that,” said Muzzioli.
Known just as “Vinny” to generations of gardeners and frustrated handymen, DiGiovanni’s dedication and hard work made his little supply store a success.
“He was there every day, getting to know the customers. He knew where everything was in his store. There wasn’t a time when he wasn’t around the store,” said Stephen Rosales, a former member of the Board of Selectmen.
When age caught up to him, DiGiovanni would continue to man the key-making machine, cutting and buffing duplicates that performed better than the original.
Born in 1921 into a house that would soon be filled with nine brothers and sisters – Guy, Rocco,”Skippy,” Anna, Tony, Mary, Louis, Joe and Charlie – he attended Belmont schools graduating from the High School in 1939. When war broke out in 1941, he quickly joined the U.S. Army Air Corp, serving in China, Burma and India until the hostilities ended in 1945.
Coming home, DiGiovanni did two things: start his gardening and supply business and marry his lifelong business partner and best friend, Antonette Mazzola. They were married for 64 years when Antonette died in 2010.
Soon after opening, Hillside became the “go to” store for gardening and household needs. DiGiovanni was known both for the quality of his supplies and material he sold.
“In our house, we always went to Vinny’s, not Hillside Supply,” said Ellen Cushman, Town Clerk and lifelong resident. “He grew all his flowers and plants from seed. I still go to pick up my Memorial Day geraniums from him,” she said.
And there was DiGiovanni’s key-making skills, which Cushman said he “had a real art for.”
The reason his duplicate keys worked so well “is because he took pride in everything he did,” said Rosales.
That attention to detail was just part of his character.
“[Vinny] was so generous. A really lovely, soft-spoken man who would greet patrons with a real idea of customer service, like the old days,” said Cushman.
“If someone can say, ‘what a good guy. He conducted himself with integrity, people liked him and he liked people,’ that’s not a bad way to go,” said Rosales.
As he said his goodbye to his friend, DiGiovanni told Muzzioli how proud he was of him.
“I wasn’t his kid, his son, but he found the time to tell me that,” said Muzzioli.
DiGiovanni was the devoted father of Anne Carignan of Bedford, Alice DiGiovanni of South Portland, Maine, Joseph DiGiovanni of Ipswich, Mary DiGiovanni of Waltham, Gerard DiGiovanni of Belmont, Joan Klos of Ipswich, Rose McBride of Amesbury, and Carol Calabro of Acton. He is predeceased by Vincent DiGiovanni Jr. He leaves behind many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, his surviving brother and sisters and a community of friends.
Visiting hours will take place in St. Joseph Church, 130 Common St., on Thursday, Jan. 21 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. Joseph Church on Friday, Jan. 22 at 9 a.m. Burial, next to his wife, will take place at Belmont Cemetery after Mass.
Instead of flowers contributions in his name to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital 501 St Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105 or St. Vincent DePaul Society, 18 Canton Street, Stoughton, MA 02072 or Pine Street Inn, 444 Harrison Ave. Boston, MA or to the charity of your choice.