Author: Hector Garrido
“Hec, what’s up?”
If I learned anything from my Italian father-in-law, and his brothers it’s that “old school” Italians are full of great stories, history, and they love to share it with whomever will listen. A simple ‘hello’ leads into the old days of Buffalo and you go down the rabbit hole filled with imagination and amazing stories. This was Joey Giambra.
Joe (as I called him) did more than tell you stories and give you history lessons. He also touched your spirit in a way few can. Joe was the security guard at my office building, but I learned he was also a musician, trumpet player, an actor, a writer, a poet, and so much more. Some knew him better than others, and while I am sure many knew him better than me, Joe touched my life. While my story will be one of many, the impact will be the same. Profound.
Joe would arrive at my building just before 5pm and he’d sit near the building entry doors and start his shift. Joe would greet everyone going through the front doors. He would always greet you by name – he knew every person in the building by name. He had such a warm and wonderful personality that it drew you to him. Often, he would not just ask about your day, but also your family members and refer to them by name as well. That was Joe for you.
In Buffalo, it seems most Italians knew each other from the ‘old neighborhood’, when the lower West Side around the Connecticut Street Armory was the Italian section of Buffalo. So there was no huge surprise that Joe knew my wife’s father and all the siblings in the family. He often shared these great stories.
The Giambra Fund for Arts and Culture has been established through the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.
My father-in-law gave us old copies of Per Niente magazines – an independent cultural magazine about Italian-Americans in Buffalo. Joseph Dileo created, and still runs the publication. He was good friends with my father-in-law. Joe was also involved with Per Niente and was good friends with Dileo. Dileo sent email updates about Joe after Joe became ill during the pandemic. The updates were tempestuous to read. I forwarded Dileo’s updates to my office of 42 employees. Joe knew all my coworkers by name, and he impacted their lives the same he did mine.
When I saw the subject line on the last email: “Joe G has gone to heaven…” I paused and my heart sank. I got teary eyed. Dileo wrote: “I guess the Lord needed a trumpet player more than we.” I dreaded forwarding the email to my coworkers. But it turned into a wonderful array of responses filled with Joe stories, great memories, and accounts of how Joe touched our lives. There were many stories about how he would serenade our office with his trumpet-playing in the after hours – those working late had almost daily trumpet concerts, as Joe would blow away in the hall.
A common theme in all the responses was the kindness in Joe. His warm, large heart and personality. His spirit. Joe never looked like he had a bad day, and talking to him always made your day better somehow. That’s the beauty and the aura Joe encompassed and radiated to those around him.
A live tribute event is in the works to celebrate his music and acting.
I debated writing a piece for Joe because while he made me feel close to him, our friendship wasn’t long. I spoke to Dileo, to discuss my insecurities and of course I got some great Joe stories before getting Dileo’s support. As he put it, I am one of the many fortunate to have met Joe and this is one of many goodbyes and tributes. In upcoming days, weeks and months there will be more goodbyes, more stories, more ‘thank yous’. Per Niente will focus its next issue in memory of Joe. Additionally, the Giambra Fund for Arts and Culture has been established through the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. And finally, a live tribute event is in the works to celebrate his music and acting.
Joe was a Buffalo gem, a renaissance man, but in the heart of it all a gentle, amazing man whom touched the lives of many. The line “Buffalo lost a part of its soul…” – in his death notice – speaks great truth.
Dear Joe – I hurt to know I won’t get to see you again nor chat with you, listen to your stories, exchange greetings, and hear your trumpet playing. Thank you for your kindness, your warmth, your stories, your everything. You will be sadly and deeply missed Joe. Rest in Peace.
“Have a good night, Joe.”
Lead image: Photo by Brendan Bannon