1943 - 2006
"Embracing the Universe"
teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is
invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.” ~ Jacques
was the youngest of five children born to Catherine and Joseph
Viggiano and to all accounts was eagerly awaited for. Prior to
JoAnne’s arrival her parents gave the important task of
naming this newborn to her sisters, Marie and Rita. So in August
of 1943 my mother JoAnne was born. Her bothers Ralph and Richard
were in the armed forces and fighting the war in Europe: All five
siblings would not be reunited until 1945. This was a bitter sweet
reunion because their father had passed on only six months after
Joanne’s birth. Her bothers being much older (25, 23 yr)
took a surrogate fatherly role in her life ensuring that JoAnne
never felt like she missed out on important events. They took
her to daddy daughter dances, worried about her education, loved
her unconditionally and yes, even walked her down the aisle on
her wedding day.
My mother was always surrounded by unconditional love that encouraged
her to cultivate a strong sense of self and a very empathic heart.
She often referred to herself as being spoiled because of the
loving support of her mother, siblings and extended family. Her
mother Catherine, and siblings Rita and Richard felt that her
education was very important, so at seventeen with some hard work
JoAnne won several scholarships and was able to attend Fordham
University. She graduated in June of 1965 with a degree in chemistry.
JoAnne was the first to graduate college in her family and was
faced with the age old question what to do next? She decided to
work for Catholic Charities in New York City. She loved her experience
there but it was not to be her lifelong career. JoAnne then worked
for a short time for a drug company on “analysis machines,
glorified micro balances but the job had very little human interaction.”
In 1966 my mother’s life forever changed. JoAnne lost her
mother that year suddenly on a Saturday evening. Through the grief
her family supported her and encouraged her to use this event
as a catalyst to find what truly made her happy. JoAnne took the
New York state teaching exam and found a job teaching Chemistry
at a local high school. Finally her two passions were united!
She loved to tell her students how bright, bold and sometimes
just how plain lucky scientists can be. JoAnne also met the love
of her life in September of 1966 - my father David. She described
my dad as “sensitive, kind, fun, smart, and very, very huggable”.
In August of 1968 they became newlyweds and proceeded to spend
their early years together in Florida. My dad would finish school
at the Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Florida while
my mom taught chemistry there. Some of her fondest memories of
Florida were when they would spend time together. They would have
lunch together in the labs during the day. Some evenings they
would walk to the beach and watch the space launches; one of which
was Apollo 11. It was there living just south of Cape
Canaveral that my mom became so fascinated with space and the
technology associated with the spectacular night time launches
that would leave the ocean’s edge in a magnificence sort
of afterglow. The Celestis Memorial Space Flight Journey will
be from the very shore she once stood hand-in-hand with my father.
My mother’s dream realized.
Three short years later they moved from Florida to New Jersey.
My mother took a job teaching at Middletown High School, my father
worked for the government. In the fall of 1977 they saved up some
money to purchase a small house in Millstone Township, New Jersey.
I often wonder if, as they pulled up the flea infested green carpeting,
that they knew this would be where they would live out their remaining
adventures together. Less than a year later I arrived on the scene
- their little miracle. It is hard to summarize the relationship
we had. It was a mother-daughter relationship that continued to
evolve and change throughout the years. She was my rock, a beacon
of love and support throughout all of life’s challenges.
My mother would often tell me how lucky she was to have me but
truth be told I was the lucky one: I was the one that was truly
spoiled. I grew up thinking that unconditional love and happy
childhood memories were normal.
In the early 1990’s my mother left the stay-at-home life
and returned to a career in teaching, this time at Freehold Regional
High School. The school very quickly became an extended family
to JoAnne. My mother seamlessly incorporated family and career
as only a master craftsman could. She was involved in countless
extracurricular activities and YES, made chemistry and physics
fun! No easy feat! Maybe it was the Oreos, but I would like to
think it was the unconditional respect and love she had for her
students and the subject she taught.
In 1998 my mother would begin her fight with cancer. It was the
first time I would see what courage and grace under fire honestly
looked like. JoAnne attacked her invader with chemo, radiation
and a few other of the best offensive approaches at the time.
Her personal experiences drew her to the American Cancer Society.
Her passion was contagious, drawing in student support for this
charity at the annual Relay for Life. During this time JoAnne
also revisited her passion for research when she became involved
with QuarkNet. She was the first high school teacher in New Jersey
to become an educator for QuarkNet, a project at Rutgers University
which was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Office
of High Energy Physics, and Fermi Lab. She traveled with the Rutgers
team of scientists to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear
Research, to help develop sensors for The Large Hadron Collider
(LHC) now in operation. She had an adventure of a lifetime there
and enjoyed being near such amazing thinkers.
My mother’s professional accomplishments didn’t end
there. She was recognized as Educator of Distinction in 2004 by
the Nobel Prize family, the national Society of High School Scholars.
My mother never wanted public recognition for her accomplishments.
What she wanted was for her students to become critical thinkers
about the world around them, then to use that thinking and apply
it to their lives. What she hoped for was that her students would
reach their full potential.
In 2004 my mother experienced yet another whirlwind of activity.
She was overjoyed and excited for two events in her life. My mother,
the very organized thinker, the type A personality that she was,
prepared for my wedding. JoAnne was able to coordinate an amazing
day complete with the Catholic priest, church, hall, flowers,
dress, etc. This was done in only TWO WEEKS from start to finish.
Though people may think it can’t be done they don’t
know my mother. To this day I personally think it was one of the
most magical days of my life and yes, if you ask, it was the least
stressful event I’ve ever been part of planning.
Soon after my marriage I moved back in with my parents while
my husband was deployed overseas. As I grew larger by the month,
pregnant with JoAnne’s first grandchild, the excitement
and anticipation grew larger too. One of my favorite memories
was in June just after I had found out it was a girl. We took
the trip to Babies R Us. Six hours later both of us were in a
fog and so confused. We did what any new parent or grandparent
would do in that position - we bought a book and together took
Lamaze. My husband came home for the birth later that year in
October to a “how to” version of cliff notes. To my
mother life was complete. JoAnne told me that she had prayed for
this day so many years ago. She relished in the glow that only
a grandparent can have. Sixteen months later she welcomed her
second grandchild Jacob into the world. Soon after Jacob celebrated
his first Easter, this would be the last holiday this family celebrated
together. As holidays go it was perfect. The weather, the activities,
and the people we were surrounded by, a small gift in light of
such a profound loss to come. Years from now when I speak to my
children I will remind them from who they came from. I will tell
my daughter what my mother told me. “You can do anything
you put your mind to. You can overcome any challenge. You are
from a long line of strong women.”
I love you not for what you are, but for
What I am when I am with you
I love you not only for what you have made for yourself,
But for what you are making of me.
I love you for the part of me that you bring out...
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning ~
I will never find the words to say goodbye, to perfectly sculpt
our relationship for others, to truly understand what we had or
for that matter your life. As your daughter I always knew I was
loved, I never had to question it. It was a fact. I never had
to look for your support. It was always there as sure as I was
that the sun would rise in the morning. I could tell you everything
and nothing. You never judged. You understood me sometimes better
than I knew myself. Yet you were gentle, methodically throughout
my life guiding me. Ensuring that I would be OK, I am OK though
I still miss you everyday. I often wonder what you would say if…then
I remember. You’re the little voice inside my head that
nudges me to do well, to try my best and to love like there is
no tomorrow and yes, to laugh. I will love you for always. I will
love you forever. My mommy you will always be.
To answer your question Mom, “Unequivocally yes, a million
times over yes!”
Forever and Always,