Remembering Barbara Garrone Portantino, Anthony Portantino's Mother

Former Assemblyman Anthony Portantino announces his mother, Barbara Garrone Portantino, died on Friday, Jan. 25.

The following is a message from former Assemblyman Anthony Portantino: 

Sadly, I share the news that my mother Barbara died Friday. She was 81 years old and she had a very full life. Barbara maintained her positive spirit to the end. Many of you met her during her visits to California, were extremely kind to her while she was here, continued to inquire about her and sent your prayers often this past year. My entire family thanks you for your warmth toward our Mom. I was very glad that Ellen, Sofia, Bella and I surprised her on Christmas morning. The girls, wearing bows in their hair, were her presents. Christmas and the two days after it were about the last three days she was up and active. Unfortunately, in the past three weeks, she experienced a quick and deep decline. My brother Phil and my sister-in-law Nancy were by her side when she left us.

As many of you know, my dad died when I was eleven, leaving Barbara and four children with limited means. She did a remarkable job as the foundation of our family and as our nurturing parent. Three of her four children graduated from college and the fourth went on to be a very successful entrepreneur. My oldest brother Phil, who was a high school senior when my dad died, became only the second person in our extended family to graduate from college. She wouldn't have it any other way.

Born in Long Branch, New Jersey, Mom helped her own mother run a small rooming house. Her father died when she was seven.  She graduated from high school in 1950 and became a secretary in New York City. She met my dad, Tony at a Fort Monmouth mixer. The rest, as they say, is history. She quit her job and became a traditional Italian American mom raising Philip, MaryAnn, Michael and me through the 1960's and 1970's. I think she did a remarkable job. She loved making Halloween costumes. Almost every year, one of the four of us would win a trophy because of her work. Thanksgiving was a day robustly celebrated at our house with pasta and turkey on the menu. Every Sunday, I came home from church to a frying pan full of meatballs, quickly eaten while I watched the weekly Abbott and Costello movie shown Sunday afternoons at that time.

She never missed a Little League game, Pop Warner football game, or high school event that featured one of her children. She instilled in all of us a positive spirit and warmth that we carry as her legacy each and every day. A truly amazing woman, my mother survived an extremely difficult adolescence and the death of her husband with an uncanny ability to see the best in all people and an amazing belief in her children. She was not a complex person, but inspired big dreams for everyone she touched.   In our large Italian family, there is always someone mad at someone else, but no one throughout the last 80 years ever got upset at my mother. She was the one person to whom everyone stopped by to visit with or pay their respects. I am very grateful to all of her childhood friends, my cousins, aunts and uncles who continually visited her in the nursing home this past year. She was truly a "good soul," as the old Italians would say.

Her obligations didn't stop as her children grew up, they intensified. She embraced my brother Michael when at age 16 he came out to her.   I didn't even know that she knew he was gay until I was in my twenties. She knew it all along and supported Michael with devotion and unconditional love until the day he died two years ago. She inspired him to become an activist and she spoke out to a generation and to a culture that didn't always understand LGBT issues. She couldn't be kept away from Washington, accompanying my brother to the Capitol Mall where she climbed on stage to support his life long quest to achieve equal rights for all Americans during the LGBT Millennial March in 2000.

Although she loved having her children and grandchildren around her, she selflessly encouraged all of us to pursue our dreams and passions even when those dreams took us far away. Her only daughter moved south to pursue a business career and Michael and I moved west, and she supported our decisions without reservation, guilt or hesitation. She treated her son and daughters-in-law as if they were her own. No person could make others feel more loved and appreciated better than her.

A child of the Depression, she would use every inch of paper before she would get a new sheet. Nothing bothered her more than someone wasting a precious resource. Every time she went out to dinner, she appreciated the opportunity to do so. She would always offer the table the chance to taste her food before she touched it. When we packed up her house, we found every household gadget known to exist except the pocket fisherman. She was way beyond cute. All of her grandchildren were the smartest, prettiest and most handsome. She was all grandma all the time and they all loved her with an eagerness and earnestness that makes me smile.

Barbara Garrone Portantino leaves behind two sons, one daughter, two daughters-in-law, two sons-in-law, seven grandchildren and one great granddaughter. She called her grandchildren "her bonuses" because after my father died she hoped to live long enough to see her children grown. God granted her the "bonus" by allowing her the extra time to see and love her grandchildren. She was preceded in death by Anthony Portantino in 1972 and her three older sisters.

She will be missed but not forgotten. We will be holding a service for her in New Jersey in February. In lieu of flowers, donations in Barbara's name can be made to Elizabeth Househttp://elizabethhouse.net/   or Friends of Project Ten http://project10.org/. Elizabeth House helps young girls, many of who have been victims of abuse and Project Ten is nationally recognized program for LGBT youth.


Anthony Portantino

Joseph Payne January 30, 2013 at 03:02 AM
Anthony, I am so sorry to hear of your mother's passing. I know you left your Asembly seat in order to care for her and spend some of the quality time you had left with her. That's what Italian sons do! Having an elderly Italian mother myself I know how important they are to the family. At 82 my mother still treats me as her favorite son (that is as long as the other two aren't around), and sometimes, no matter how old we get, we still get treated as a snot-nozed kid. That's what makes them so special. Joan and I wish you all the best, along with our thoughts and prayers. RIP Barbara. Joseph and Joan Payne
teresa Shaw Sherman January 30, 2013 at 04:03 PM
Once upon a time, when my mother-in-law was visiting from Detroit Michigan, she told my children and I a story about visiting her own mother in a nursing home. Marion said, her mother would often say, "If i am not here when you get back, you know that I am gone". When hearing that phrase, I was sad. Marion said "Don't be". Memories and people that touch are lives never fade but remain strong in our hearts. Marion often joked that if I wasn't there when she got back, either I was out shopping or at a Casino. We would laugh and use that phrase to be humorous. Well unfortunately , my mother-in-law passed away 9/30/2010 (twenty years to the exact date of my own mother's death. So immediately, I thought of the phrase from long ago. Well just writing to you is a sign of love and grace that is past down from one generation to the next. People that come into our lives, do leave but not without leaving something for us to remember. So, Anthony, "if I'm not here when you get back...,I'm at Soboba Casino "
henk friezer January 30, 2013 at 09:13 PM
Anthony- First my condolences on your loss. But if it is any consolation, your mother had the satisfaction of knowing that she raised a great son who turned out be a contributor to his community and constituents. No one will ever be able to take away the happy memories you had together in her time on earth.


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