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John Petrarca, University technician, dies at 64

Family, coworkers remember Petrarca for his devotion, selflessness at work, home

John Petrarca Jr., who worked as a water treatment technician at the Department of Facilities Management for the past six years, passed away Sept. 24 at the age of 64.

After working at the Rhode Island Mall for over 40 years — first as a restaurant cook, then as a security guard before becoming a technician — Petrarca came to the University in 2014. Respected by his colleagues as a responsible, smart and perceptive technician, Petrarca was just as devoted to his work as he was to the people who worked alongside him. He was known as “Father John” by his coworkers.

“He was somebody who was solid, who you could always go to for advice,” said Thomas Demanche P’20, chief engineer at facilities management. “He would always speak his mind and tell you what he thinks, and he was pretty much always right.”

Jean-Pierre Fortin, who works as a water treatment technician at the University, said he “hit it off perfect” with Petrarca five years ago when they began working together.

“He had an infectious smile about him, an attitude that if you started talking to him, you just felt like he was your best friend instantly,” Fortin said, adding that the positive energy Petrarca brought into the workplace turned rough days into ones that ended with jokes and laughter. “He was probably the best coworker I’ve ever worked with in my life.”

Dependable and unselfish, Petrarca was the kind of person “who did it for you before you could do it for him,” Fortin said. Fortin recalled a time when he told Petrarca he had to go to a certain building to move a piece of equipment. Petrarca, eager to help, told Fortin to call him when he arrived at the building so that he could lend a hand. But just as Fortin entered the building and reached for his phone, he realized that Petrarca had already quietly done the job for him.

“He was the person that knew so much about everything,” said Petrarca’s wife, Christine. “He could fix anything, he could troubleshoot anything. Anything that I needed, his friends needed, his family needed, he was that guy.”

Before their marriage 39 years ago, the two dated for five years. “Loud and fast” and into cars, Petrarca was the complete opposite of Christine Petrarca, but she loved him for being a “gentle giant with a big heart,” a side to him that she said became stronger with age.

A lifelong lover of cars, Petrarca was often found by his wife tinkering away at a car in the garage of their home that they built together. Years ago, he purchased a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, an exact duplicate to the one he owned in high school. Petrarca also took great pride in his 1964 Corvette Coupe, which he patiently restored over the course of 10 years. He also loved to help his friends with their own cars, whether that be by assisting them in finding spare parts or fixing a broken headlight.

Petrarca also held a passion for all genres of music. “Music was around him all the time,” Christine Petrarca said. Some of his favorite artists were The Beach Boys, Grand Funk Railroad, James Taylor and Steely Dan. He and his wife would often play their CDs while sharing a few drinks — a pastime they called “garage drinking,” which was well-known by friends, Christine Petrarca said.

Petrarca was also a loyal family man with a deep commitment to his friends, wife and two children. “He had friends that he still was friends with since elementary school,” Christine Petrarca said. “His friends and his family were everything to him. That was his legacy.”

When his daughter and son were just children, he constantly played games with them and was sure to attend each one of their parent-teacher conferences until high school. Christine Petrarca said that nothing was more important to him than being involved with his kids’ lives and assuring them that he would always be a source of support and help.

Out of the countless memories she has of Petrarca’s considerate nature, Christine Petrarca said the compassion he showed when her brother passed away in 2015 will stay with her forever. When everyone was told to leave the room as her brother was taken off life support, Petrarca stayed, stroking his face and reminiscing on their shared memories in the final moments. That selfless act made Christine Petrarca love her husband even more, “if that was even possible,” she said.

Friends and family of Petrarca hope to continue his legacy of kindness by hosting an annual car show fundraiser event, which will give local high school students scholarship money in Petrarca’s name. Petrarca will be remembered as a warm-hearted individual who prioritized the needs of others above his own.

“We used to call him Father John because he was like a dad,” Demanche said. “Now I call him Saint John.”   



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