Cumberland Times-News

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November 29, 2013

Doctor was champion of the arts and community

CUMBERLAND — Dr. Nicholas (“Nick”) Giarritta is being remembered for his generosity to the community and to individuals.

“He was the greatest, nicest, most supportive person ... there would be no Cumberland Theatre without him,” said Don Whisted, of the Cumberland Theatre. And that is the literal truth. Giarritta bought a former Assembly of God Church at 101-103 North Johnson Street for the theater. After remodeling, the Giarrittas donated the building to the Board of Trustees of the Cumberland Theatre. Giarritta died Thursday, surrounded by family, at the age of 88.

On at least one occasion, the theater couldn’t make payroll, said Whisted. A call to Giarritta fixed that; the doctor sold part of his wine collection to solve the problem.

Nick also loved to cook, and he was a darn good cook, said those who’d feasted on his culinary creations.

“At The Bistro (a restaurant they owned), when we had parties, you’d never see him. He was in the kitchen cooking,” Whisted said. Gloria Saville, a longtime member of the theater’s board of directors also remembered the cooking. The Bistro was in business for 20 years. “It got rave reviews in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post,” Shirley said. It was the second restaurant Nick owned in town. “He was Sicilian and his parents and every man and woman knew how to cook,” Shirley said. From his time studying and traveling in Europe, his cooking interests branched out into other cuisines, Shirley said. “He loved to eat and had excellent taste.”

Saville remembered early fundraising efforts for the theater.

“Nick cooked the meal and I made the dessert. My husband, Buford, was the waiter,” Saville said. “Nick was a little on the quiet side but very friendly when you got to know him, “ Saville said. “He was a fabulous cook.”

Shirley said her husband was very proud of a brief part he had in the movie “Quo Vadis?”. He loved music too, and enjoyed singing in Italian, German, French and Spanish. When he was a child, the singing didn’t come easy, despite a beautiful voice, Shirley said. “He was so shy. His uncle would put a paper bag over his head, and only then would he be able to sing in front of the usual gatherings of the Sicilian community in Brooklyn. Nick’s love of singing lasted until the end.

“The day before he died, he would sing to the hospice aide,” Shirley said.

“He came here for the job and fell in love with the place,” Whisted said. Whisted was one of many beneficiaries of Nick’s personal generosity.

“I know I am one of many ... he helped many other people,” Whisted said. Nick was gifted in developing good relationships with people and keeping them.

What motivated that generosity?

“I think he believed in people...if they had a dream he helped them realize it,” Shirley said. Nick might help people with anything from a car payment to college tuition, she said.

Nick also had a talent for letting bygones be bygones.

 “Once a year, we had a fight,” Whisted said. As soon as the disagreement was over, it was over, Whisted said. When asked what people should know about Nick, Whisted said the “they should know how much he cared.”

And he cared, above all, about the arts.

“Nick Giarritta was a great supporter of the local arts community and one of the founding members of the Allegany Arts Council,” said Andy Vick, executive director of the Allegany Arts Council. “He will certainly be missed, but his legacy in the community will continue,” Vick said.

“We would go to an art show and go our separate ways. When we met up later, we both picked out the very same piece of art to buy,” Shirley said. The couple have hoped to donate their art collection to the city, if they could find a place to put it, Shirley said. They were friends with Mark and Mary Lazarus, owners of a Cumberland department story for many years. “Mary would call him Cumberland’s Renaissance man,” Shirley said.

When Nick moved to Cumberland from Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1962 and accepted a position as the head of pathology with Sacred Heart Hospital on Decatur Street, he didn’t think he was staying for too long. He helped design the pathology lab for the new Sacred Heart Hospital and he became fond of the people and the beauty of the city, which reminded him of Zurich, where he studied medicine, Shirley said. “The art of medicine was the beginning,” Shirley said. Nick appreciated all beauty.

“He saw the beauty in this town when no one else saw it,” Shirley said. “He loved beauty and thought beauty should be a part of everyone’s life,” Shirley said.

He gave up a much more lucrative career to settle in Cumberland, Shirley said.

Nick told his father: “They really need a pathologist ... and the people are lovely.”

The local theater was only a part of Giarritta’s many contributions to the community. Among many activities he was a member of the Downtown Development Commission, Kiwanis Club, a March of Dimes Lifetime Achievement Honoree and the recipient of both the Maryland House of Delegates Outstanding Leadership Award and Cumberland Mayor and City Council Outstanding Citizen Award.

And Giarritta and his wife, Shirley, were most recently honored as the Community Trust Foundation’s 2013 Humanitarian Award recipients.

When he was presented with the Dapper Dan Civic Service Award, he broke down in tears, saying only “I just love this town.”

“He was not just a gentleman. He was a gentle man,” said Shirley. “This community should feel like I do, very blessed for every day he was here.”

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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