In Memoriam: Evelyn Di Giorgio Grant

My name is Philip Grant. I am one of Evelyn Grant’s two sons. Steven, her other son, is here, as are my wife, Susan; Steven’s wife, Sharon; their son, Elliot; and Evelyn’s husband, Bill.

Mafalda Evelyn Di Giorgio Grant, born February 22, 1916, died Sunday morning, August 13, at the age of 90, from heart and lung problems. She and Bill had been married for 65 years. She was the last of the second generation of Di Giorgios in America.

We wanted to be here with you to celebrate her life and mourn her passing. Thank you very much for attending.

Do you know that Mom was 50 years old before she discovered what her name was? She grew up as Evelyn Mafalda Di Giorgio. Apparently even her mother did not know what her name was. To apply for a passport in 1966 for her first trip to Europe, she had to get a birth certificate from Maryland, and it said that her name was Mafalda Evelyn. Turns out her mother and father disagreed about her name, so her father secretly told the hospital the name he wanted while her mother was still recuperating.

Like most women of her generation, Mom was a homemaker. She devoted her life to her family and her home. She worked briefly as a teacher and a shop lady.

Her passions were

  • her home—cooking, decorating, entertaining;
  • her family—husband Bill, whom you know; her two boys (me and Steven); and her five grandchildren (Elliot is here, and the others were just here the week before she died) and six great-grandchildren;
  • her art;
  • her golf; and
  • her bridge.

Most of you have known her for less than two years, so let me take a few minutes and tell you about her. If I take too much of your time, please yawn or squirm or otherwise indicate that I should be moving on quickly.

Evelyn was born in Baltimore. Her parents, Rosario and Carmelina Di Giorgio, had immigrated from Sicily, from the area near Palermo, where the family grew lemons.

Rosario had three brothers: Vincent, Joseph, and Salvatore. Because the Di Giorgio family history is an important part of the history of Italian-Americans and one that she was very proud of, let me digress for a moment.

Her father’s brother Joseph—her Uncle Joe—was an American business leader. He came to this country in his early teens in the late 1800s and started out as a fruit peddler in Baltimore. He quickly got into the wholesale fruit business, started the Baltimore Fruit Exchange, and bought ships to bring bananas from Central America in competition with United Fruit (Chiquita Banana).

Later he decided to move West and go into the growing end of things. He successfully drilled for water around Bakersfield, which was then mostly desert. With the help of Mr. Gianinni, who owned the Bank of America, Joseph bought up thousands of acres of land east and south of Bakersfield and planted various fruit crops. His company, the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation, eventually owned substantial farmland also in Northern California, Washington, and Florida and was the largest fruit company in the world. It also owned S&W Foods, TreeSweet, and White Rose, an East Coast food company. Joseph Di Giorgio was honored some years ago as the “father of Kern County.”

When Uncle Joe moved West, Evelyn’s father, Rosario, did also. He purchased substantial holdings in the Imperial Valley, where he farmed. Unfortunately, he lost most of that through illness and bad luck. But before his setbacks, the family lived in Los Angeles, where Evelyn grew up in the Hancock Park area and, later on, Motor Avenue. The family was a prominent Los Angeles family and entertained the likes of Enrico Caruso when he sang in LA. Mom has described her childhood as very happy, and she had very fond memories.

Evelyn was the youngest of eight—three sisters and four brothers. They called her “Girlie.” As in most good Italian families, the girls were groomed to be home makers and the boys for business. Her brother Sal ran the Di Giorgio farming operations in Washington, her brother Joe the California operations, her brother Phil became president, and her brother Vincent became a prominent lawyer in Bakersfield.

Her oldest sister, Connie, died in childbirth. Her sister Theresa married Frank Busch, of the Anhaeuser-Busch company. Her sister Anne married a grocery store owner in Los Angeles. And of course Evelyn married Bill. All of the sisters were homemakers. All of her brothers and sisters have died. Evelyn was the last of the second generation of Di Giorgios in America, the matriarch of the family, which has hundreds of members all over the United States and Sicily.

Evelyn and Bill met in 1938 in Eugene, Oregon, where they both were attending the University of Oregon. Dad can tell you wonderful stories of their college escapades. Mom was an art major and Dad a journalism major. They were married September 2, 1940, in Los Angeles. They then drove back to Oregon for their honeymoon, stopping in Santa Barbara, the World’s Fair in San Francisco, and Crater Lake.

They lived in Eugene for a while, then Portland, and then moved a lot—sometimes because of the war, sometimes for jobs, and sometimes I think just so she could decorate another house. Mother always seemed restless and ready to move after she had been in a house for a while. To give you a perspective, I was born in December 1941. By the time I was 17 years old, I had lived in 17 different houses, one for every year of my life.

Eventually, they settled in Portland, where Steve and I mostly grew up. Dad worked for Consolidated Freightways, at one time the largest trucking company in the world. When CF moved its headquarters to Menlo Park in 1957, we moved to Los Altos in the Bay Area. Mom and Dad lived there until the late 1980s, when they moved to Santa Maria, then Laguna Hills, and finally, here [Pasadena, CA]. Their moving slowed down a bit, as I believe they lived in only eight houses during their 30 years in the Bay Area, and three places since they left the Bay Area in 1989.

Mom discovered golf in the late 1940s when we lived in Salem, and she was an avid golfer from then until a few years ago, when she could no longer play. She was an excellent golfer and won many tournaments. Mom and Dad always belonged to a country club in Portland, Los Altos, and Santa Maria, and the club and the friends they met at the club always were one of the focal points of her life. In fact, it was a major part of the family’s life. I pretty much grew up on the golf course in Portland but stopped playing when I went to college. Steve did not much like golf as a child, but has become an avid golfer now.

I don’t know when she began playing bridge, but I cannot remember her ever not playing bridge. She was very good at it, as some of you know, and taught me how to play. She always had bridge afternoons with the girls and bridge evenings with other couples.

Mother was what some would call a right-brain person. She was a gifted artist and over the course of 60 years sculpted and painted many lovely creations. Some are in their apartment. She also loved crafts, as some of you here know. Over the years she tried almost every craft one can imagine. I can remember her ceramics days, her sewing days, her junk art days, her painting, and so forth. My wife and I have many examples of her various efforts. She loved to be able to make something beautiful.

She loved beauty and her home reflected that. It was always very tastefully decorated and pleasant to be in—never stuffy.

Cooking also was a passion, and she was a great cook. That is something all of you have missed. Her mother was a wonderful cook and taught her daughters and sons how to cook. In fact, when Di Giorgio bought S&W, Uncle Phil had Grandma cook up a pot of her spaghetti sauce. His secretary recorded everything that went into it because Grandma cooked to taste without recipes, and that became S&W’s spaghetti sauce.

She was a great mother—always there, always supportive, always protective, always understanding. I am glad that she could be here close to us in her last years, and that you could have the chance to know her.

Thank you.

2006 August 19

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