My grandfather passed away yesterday, at 94 years old. His health had steadily deteriorated over the past year, so it was not unexpected. He always took great pride in the accomplishments of his 4 children, 9 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren. Including both sides of my family, he was the last of his generation, and I miss him already.
He especially enjoyed telling stories of his parents, who left behind a life of poverty in Sicily to start a new life in Boston. I am named after his father, Michael Mandrachia, who was a master mason. My grandfather told me more than once how his father could eyeball a job site and make corrections to the engineers’ estimates of how much cement they would need. I like to think that some small fragment of that talent lives on in me.
If you asked him to, he’d also tell stories about his experiences in Europe during World War II as a doctor in the Army. But it was never like “there goes Popi with his war stories again.” His tales were always fascinating, and I don’t think I ever heard the same story twice. The last one he told me, just a few months ago, took place after the war had ended, and he was attached to a couple of OSS agents (the OSS was the predecessor of the CIA) for a mission. They were dispatched to a ski resort to retrieve a couple of Nazi colonels. The OSS had learned that the colonels had gone to the top of the mountain, where they had stashed a supply of food. They then cut the lines for the lifts, and hoped they could ride out the aftermath of the war there, unreachable and unnoticed. So my grandfather and the agents had to climb the mountain to arrest them, and fortunately they surrendered peacefully.
What impressed me the most about him over the years, watching him grow old as I grew up, was that he always challenged himself. After he stopped working, he took up dancing. When he could no longer dance, he revived his interest in painting. (I wrote a post last year about an exhibition of his paintings [the linked post is not published yet]), When he could no longer paint, he took up writing poetry. And through all of that, almost to his last day, he played the stock market, and was amazingly successful at it. Just a couple of months ago he made a very generous contribution to the boys’ college fund. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have been able to afford my first year of grad school at Georgetown, as loans only covered half the tuition (fortunately I received a fellowship that covered my tuition for the remaining years).
Here is the draft of his obituary, written by my aunt, and there are a couple more pictures below.
ALFONSO C. MANDRACHIA, M.D.
MELROSE – Alfonso C. Mandrachia, M.D., died peacefully the 18th day of December 2007 with family at his side. He was born in 1913 in Chelsea, MA, the son of Michael and Susie (Montalbano) Mandrachia. Raised in Everett, MA, he was a graduate of Tufts University and Middlesex University (precursor to Brandeis University) School of Medicine. A volunteer, he served during World War II with the 86th Infantry Division, the 169th Medical Battalion (Separate) and the 10th Armored Division, and attained the rank of major. His overseas campaigns included Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, the Ardennes, and Central Europe. He was the medical officer assigned to the examination of a number of high-ranking enemy officers, and was awarded both a Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
Following his discharge, he established his medical practice in Everett and completed post-graduate study at Tufts College Medical School, Pratt Diagnostic Hospital, and the Boston Dispensary Clinic. He had a long career as a family practitioner, and was as devoted to his patients as they were to him, routinely making housecalls long after they had otherwise become a rarity. He was a member of the Everett Medical Society, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the Lambda Phi Mu Medical Fraternity. Over the years, he served as chief of the medical staff at Whidden Memorial Hospital (Everett), and city physician for the city of Everett, and was company physician at General Electric in Everett and Automatic Radio in Melrose. He and his family have lived in Melrose since 1954.
A member of the lacrosse team at Tufts, Al was an avid skier, golfer, oil painter, and bridge player in his adult years. He also enjoyed crossword puzzles and writing poetry. An exhibit of his paintings was displayed last year at the Melrose Public Library, and playing bridge at the Milano Center with the “Sunshine Boys” was one of his favorite activities.
He leaves his devoted and loving wife, Elizabeth Cserhalmi. He was predeceased by his cherished wife of almost fifty years, Eloise (Saunders) Mandrachia. He will be most remembered for his deep and abiding affection for, and pride in, his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He leaves three daughters and one son, who will miss him greviously: Susan Kenny Killebrew and husband David of New York City and Newport, R.I.; Priscilla Mandrachia and husband Vincent Ferraro of South Hadley, MA; Michelle Barbati and husband Joseph of Melrose; and A. Charles Mandrachia, Jr. of Melrose. Popi leaves nine grandchildren to treasure his memory, E’loise Tamer, Rebecca Toppa, Michael Toppa, John Kenny, Nathaniel Ferraro, Zachary Ferraro, Alexander Barbati, Matthew Barbati, and Cora Barbati. Also, five great-grandchildren on whom he doted: Alexander Tamer, Matthew and Alexandra Brown, and Kai and Eidan Toppa. Also predeceased by his sisters Florence (Mandrachia) Augello and Catherine (Mandrachia) Joyce, he leaves several nieces and a nephew.
A special remembrance will be held with the Sunshine Boys at the Milano Center at a date to be announced. No other services will be held and the family requests no flowers. Memorial contributions may be made to the Melrose Public Library, 69 West Emerson St., Melrose, MA 02176 or The Fitch House, 75 Lake Ave, Melrose, MA 02176.