When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in mid-March industries all over East Boston, the city, state and nation were turned upside down.
One industry that was called upon as the pandemic spread across the neighborhood was the funeral home business.
When deaths from COVID began to soar in the spring Ruggiero Family Memorial Home Funeral Director Joseph Ruggiero III was thrown head first into the pandemic and had to navigate statewide restrictions on funerals while providing the deceased and their families with the dignity they deserved.
While many were able to work remotely from home amid fear and panic, Ruggiero was at the funeral home every day working with families on how to appropriately honor a loved one’s memory.
For this, Joseph Ruggiero III is the 2020 East Boston Times Man of the Year.
Back in April we were all warned that COVID-19 infections and deaths would surge and hit an apex and Ruggiero became all too familiar with the predicted surge.
Now, with infections reaching all time highs Ruggiero knows that suffering and death will be the final sum of the latest spike’s equation. He and his staff will be called upon once again to do what they do best—comfort the grieving and provide dignity to those who have passed.
Throughout the pandemic, Ruggiero has seen it all. Young men struck down in their 40’s by the virus, elderly men and women with no family dying at home, the children of parents sick with COVID unable to say a final goodbye because hospitals would not allow family members into the COVID wards due to fear of further spreading the virus.
While many of us would have cracked under this daily pressure, Ruggiero humbly went to work every day knowing that the virus would bring more and more catastrophe to the families he serves, the neighbors he grew up with, his longtime friends, and all his fellow East Bostonians.
However, Ruggiero composed himself with compassion and grace throughout, and had the uncanny ability to put aside concerns over his own health, safety, fears and panic and properly serve a segment of the population that needed a caring person above all else during a time of unparalleled trepidation.
For all those who claimed the pandemic was overblown it was all too real for Ruggiero and his staff at the funeral home.
“It’s real out there,” he said in the spring. “Please stay home and stay safe. Hug your loved ones that live with you and keep everyone else six feet away. Make time to check in with your family and friends, some of the strongest people in your life might be alone and very scared. Use zoom, FaceTime, Skype to tell people you love them and will see them soon. Cherish the time in doors because the alternative is sad, horrible and often catastrophic.”
While risking his own health and safety to ensure families had a proper memorial service and funeral, despite limits on attendees and closed churches at the beginning of the pandemic, Ruggiero was still able to give back to the community through food drives, helping grieving families get the support they need and supporting local nonprofits throughout the pandemic.
Recently, Ruggiero and the Funeral Home sponsored a toy drive in honor of the late Peter Felt. The toys were collected at the funeral home and distributed to nonprofits and agencies that help East Boston Families and children during the Holiday Season.