Eight Bells: Joseph Vittoria
Published on January 24th, 2021
Joseph Vincent Vittoria, of Palm Beach, FL and Greenwich, CT, died at home surrounded by his family on January 18, 2021. He was 85. He had been battling leukemia for some time. He died in the arms of his beloved wife of 58 years, Luciana.
Joe was born in Glen Cove, Long Island to first-generation Americans, Giuseppe and Maria (nee Ingicco) Vittoria. He grew up in nearby Sea Cliff, where he developed a passion for sailing and was always available to the local yacht club’s members to crew on their boats.
He was an outstanding student and was admitted to Yale on a scholarship, and he graduated with a degree in civil engineering, which he had originally thought would be his calling. However, upon graduating, he decided to switch to business and accepted a scholarship to study for an MBA at Columbia. On completing his studies, he was drafted, but his military accomplishments were cut short due to health issues.
With unexpected time on his hands, he decided to go to Europe to visit his relatives in Italy. After a few weeks in Rome, he visited his cousin in Naples, who invited him to a friend’s 18th birthday party. When the door opened, his life changed. There was the birthday girl, Luciana. After a summer of fully-chaperoned courtship, Joe knew he had to return to the US and start his career, but he promised Luciana he would be back.
Within a year and after a series of incredibly lucky breaks, he was back in Rome working for Hertz Rent A Car. He surprised Luciana at her home and proposed to her on the spot. They were married ten months later. Joe would have been happy to stay in Italy, greatly appreciating the famous “dolce vita” in Rome, and knowing Luciana was happiest there too. They had three of their four children, Joseph, Jerry, and Audrey, there and were settled.
However, a big new role came with Avis Rent A Car, and they were transferred to London, England. Their fourth child, Edward, arrived soon after their move. During their time in England, Joe renewed his relationship with sailing by buying a series of Camper Nicholson sailing yachts. The family enjoyed memorable sailing trips together in the Italian Mediterranean.
By the end of the decade, Joe was back at Hertz promoted to a new global role in New York City. The family settled in Greenwich in 1980, and Joe was soon promoted to CEO. There was one more twist in the rent-a-car tale: Joe was lured back to Avis, where he eventually became CEO.
Joe’s years as CEO brought tremendous success at Avis, which culminated when he led the company to a then unprecedented Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). For years after Joe’s retirement, he would meet Avis employees around the country who would tell him how the ESOP had changed their lives for the better. Joe was asked to join the board of United Airlines partly thanks to his experience of implementing the ESOP.
As Joe’s attention turned to life after car rental, he returned to his passion for sailing but also added his love of engineering by developing a line of sailing superyachts, the Mirabellas. Each one advanced the boundaries of composite engineering, hydraulics, and sail making, but it was the 246-foot Mirabella V, launched in 2004, which was the most remarkable and is still today the sailing yacht with the tallest single mast, an amazing feat of vision and engineering.
Luciana ran the Mirabella yacht business out of their home in Palm Beach, which allowed Joe to continue to invest in new companies and sit on a variety of boards. He remained active with Columbia Business School, sitting on its Board of Overseers, and in the 80s served on a presidential commission under Ronald Reagan.
Joe was a lifelong fan of the New York Giants and attended four of their Super Bowls, of which the Giants won three.
In late 2018, Joe was diagnosed with MDS/pre-leukemia, which he was able to manage with regular treatments. In the summer of 2019, Joe and Luciana were able to join the family for a special celebration on the island of Capri hosted by his daughter Audrey and her husband Christian. Joe was in great form, dancing into the late evening.
By early 2020, the world had changed, and such family gatherings that were so dear to him became more challenging. Moreover, the leukemia had progressed. They returned to Greenwich to be closer to their children. Earlier this month, despite all the extraordinary precautions that were taken to keep him safe, Joe caught COVID-19.
Remarkably, after six days in the hospital, he was able to recover sufficiently to come home. However, the Leukemia at this point had taken over his body, and he succumbed four days later.
Joe leaves behind the love of his life, Luciana, his children: Joseph (and wife Barbara) Vittoria, Jerry (and wife Francesca) Vittoria, Audrey (and husband Christian) Meissner, and Edward (and wife Cristina) Vittoria; and the grandchildren he adored, Joseph, Alexa, Isabella, Sofia, Andrew, Lulu, Camilla, Max, Carolina, Nic, and Carlotta. He is survived by his only brother Jerome Vittoria and was pre-deceased by his four sisters Olympia, Helen, Marie, and Olga.
Joe was loved and respected by all who knew him. He rarely said a bad word about anyone and always believed the best of everyone. Joe was very generous with his time and ready to help almost anyone who asked, especially if it involved something that people said: “couldn’t be done.” Indeed, Joe was always a dreamer, and the combination of affection, intellect, and vision is what made him so special.
Joe and Luciana shared a deep religious belief and were active in the Catholic community. Joe was a Knight of Malta and a Freeman of the City of London. A mass of Christian burial will be held at St. Roch R.C. Church on January 27 at 10:00 a.m., followed by entombment at St. Mary’s Cemetery. Only family and close friends can attend due to the current social distancing requirements. Please contact the family if you wish to attend so that they can control numbers.
A memorial and celebration of Joe’s life will be planned for later in the year so that all his friends and loved ones can gather together when it is safe to do so.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in Joseph Vittoria’s name may be made to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center – University of Miami with special recognition for Dr. Terrence Bradley, who was simply brilliant in the care of Joe and to the Jupiter Medical Centre Foundation with special recognition for Dr. Nicole Corry, who also was so supportive of Joe until his last day.