To say that Theresa Rose Giglio touched many lives would be a gross understatement. The former Grant-White secretary died on Feb. 21, 2015, at the age of 64, after a struggle with cancer. Her husband, Frank, said that 1,600 mourners signed the registry at the Carbonara Funeral Home. St. Vincent Ferrer Church was packed for her funeral Mass. But most touching of all, the 10-block-long funeral procession wound past Grant-White School.
Pat Malarski had tied purple ribbons around the trees and the student body and staff came out to say goodbye. Funeral Director Mike Carbonara stopped the procession and presented one of the 40 floral pieces to a young girl. “This is from Mrs. Giglio,” he said, handing her a vase of roses.
“Mrs. Giglio” was a legend in District 91. She reportedly never said to “No” to a request for help. She took on the toughest jobs without complaint. Her sunny personality made her popular with staff and students alike. Co-worker Rosie Moroni said she lost her “best friend in the whole wide world.” They had worked together 19 years and hung out together outside school hours.
“Frank thought it was a good idea to go by the school, her favorite place,” Moroni said of the funeral procession, “The kids loved her. She was the nicest person in the world.” Moroni was honored to serve as one of Giglio’s pallbearers at the funeral Mass. She said Giglio’s daughter, Rosemarie O’Rourke, spoke to the mourners from the heart about what a great mother, sister and friend, her mom had been.
Sue Giblin is another Grant-White co-worker who misses Giglio. Before working together, Giblin met Giglio through Little League in 1982. “We became solid friends and worked together on the board,” she said. After the Giblins tragically lost their son, Jimmy, in a motorcycle accident, Giglio was there for her. “When we lost Jimmy, she was standing in front of our house with her arms open. We would never have made it through without Theresa and Frank.”
The two friends shared “every sadness and happiness we’ve ever had.” Giblin likened Giglio to “Mother Theresa” the way she treated students. “She would reprimand them with hugs. She was the epitome of kindness.” Giblin said the fifth-graders were especially moved by Giglio’s death and many of them attended her wake.
The Grant-White students certainly gave Giglio a good sendoff back on June 3, 2013 when she retired. At the assembly in the gym, she sat in an easy chair at center court, while the entire student body entertained her. They performed light-hearted skits and thanked Mrs. Giglio for “taking our temperature, bandaging our wounds and being our mother away from home.”
The highlight was when her husband, Frank, surprised her and took her for a spin on the dance floor, while the students sang, “Thinking of You.” Giglio responded, “I love each and every one of you. I feel like you’re part of my family.”
The Giglios moved to Forest Park in 1971 and raised their three kids, Tony, Rosemarie and Frankie, at 1501 Marengo. Giglio worked at nearby Betsy Ross School as lunch monitor and health aid for four years. She was encouraged to take the secretary job at Grant-White and the rest is D91 history.
Former Superintendent and Principal Joe Scolire, described Giglio as “the ambassador for the district.” They had a 25-year working relationship. “She was the ‘yes’ person in the district,” Scolire recalled. Giglio took on the thankless task of calling substitute teachers on school mornings, starting at 5 a.m. “It was the toughest job in the school,” said Scolire, “And she did it for many years.”
“Theresa was very organized,” he continued. “She knew every student’s name and was loved by everyone. She was the most selfless person I ever met. She was also very pleasant and funny.” Scolire said that when the funeral procession drove past Grant-White, many mourners were crying in their cars.
No one has suffered a bigger loss than Frank Giglio.
“She was the love of my life,” he said. “We were married 46 years. She had two philosophies: wake up happy every day and never say no to anybody.” Giglio’s inability to say no rankled Frank a bit, as when she worked part-time at Costco following her retirement. “When kids wanted to take off work to go on a date, she’d fill in. I told her that she would end up working as much as she did at the district.”
Frank saw the wake and funeral as the final “stamp of approval” on his wife’s life. “Some of the ‘kids’ from Grant-White are now in their ’30s. They said that Theresa had been their ‘second mom.’ One of the Grant-White teachers thanked Theresa for pushing her to teach.” Former Principal John Ericksen said, “She was the boss of that school. I never had to worry about anything.”
Giglio was diagnosed with cancer nine months ago and immediately started keeping a journal. Frank forced himself to read it. The last entry was on his birthday, Feb. 8, 2015. “From the day she was diagnosed, she never wrote a negative word. The worst she wrote was that she was, ‘Mad at the chemo.'”
Giglio underwent seven-hour chemo treatments without complaint. “The chemo made her terribly sick and she was in a lot of pain,” Frank recalled, “though she never lost her positive spirit.” It helped that old friends like Andrea Balsavich and Sandy Byrnes were faithful visitors. Her school buddies also kept up with her. “Theresa used to say, ‘God has a plan for everybody. Her faith was very strong.”
As her body broke down, Giglio held onto her dignity and Frank became her caregiver.
“She was really in a lot of pain on Friday,” he recalled, “but she told me, ‘Frank I’m not ready to go yet.’ A lot of friends, lifelong Forest Parkers came and we brought the grandkids over. She perked up and felt, ‘I can go now.'”
But not everyone was ready for her to go.
“A lot of people have a void in their lives,” Frank said.