GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 8, 2009

Grief, loss expressed at vigil

By Patrick Anderson

In a cold January wind, mourners stood in a line out the door of St. Ann Church and on to Pleasant Street last night, waiting to pay their respects to the family of Matteo Russo and John Orlando, two Gloucester fishermen who died at sea over the weekend.

Before an altar filled with flowers, Russo's wife, Josephine, told those gathered of her love for her husband and shock of his sudden death.

"All your life, you worked hard for your family and it is sad to know how much you sacrificed for us," she said. "You lived your life to the fullest."

With mystery still surrounding the sinking of Russo's fishing boat, the Patriot, Josephine Russo said coming to terms with her husband's death was made even more challenging by not knowing its cause.

"It is difficult to know why such a great man was taken away," she said during the remembrance vigil last night. "There are so many unanswered questions."

Orlando's daughter, Grace, Josephine's sister, told the several hundred who attended the vigil that she couldn't believe her father was gone.

"I am not ready to give you up and live life without you. Every phone ring, every knock at the door, I think it is you coming home from a fishing trip," Grace Orlando said.

She recalled fondly ringing in the new year a week ago with her father and the rest of her family.

City Councilor Sefatia Romeo, who has known Orlando, 59, since she was a child, told those gathered how he had stayed close to her family through the years, been skilled at fixing things, and had helped her feel better about having an unusual name.

"When he would come home from fishing, he would come over and check on us and give fish to my mother," Romeo said. "He fixed our screen door. Everything else in the house is gone, but the screen door is still there."

State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, arriving in Gloucester after being sworn in to the Legislature in Boston hours earlier, said several lawmakers, who had known Russo from his work advocating for fishermen, had come up to her and expressed their condolences.

Ferrante, who knew Russo since childhood, said so many people from fishing communities fondly remembered the 36-year-old because of his affection for those around him.

"Matteo loved everyone so much," she said. "He loved people, loved life and loved fishing."

Patrick Anderson can be reached at panderson@gloucestertimes.com.