Constable: Rocco Blasi was a man of many plans, until COVID-19 struck
Monday should have been a birthday celebration for retired college professor and author Rocco Blasi of Mount Prospect.
As difficult as 2020 was in general, Blasi headed into the holiday season having a great year. A printer in England published his first novel. Blasi was in great shape mentally and physically, often taking three-mile walks. He looked forward to kicking off the first week of 2021 by celebrating his 88th birthday, and had hopes that life would return to normal in time for his wife, Joyce, and him to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in June.
Then he was stricken with COVID-19.
"He was always so with it," Joyce says of her husband, a poor Italian immigrant who taught himself English and was fluent in seven languages. Blasi served in the U.S. Army and earned a Fulbright scholarship on his way to a doctoral degree in English and an award-winning career as a professor at Wilbur Wright in Chicago and Harper College in Palatine.
An Eagle Scout leader and soccer coach with a third-degree black belt in karate, Blasi wrote a book of poetry in Italian, edited technical books for Central Scientific Co. in Chicago, and encouraged the arts through his leadership in the Arts Council of Mount Prospect.
During an enjoyable backyard interview in October about his novel, "Florio and Biancofiore: Peripatetic Lovers," published by Vanguard Press in England, Blasi adhered to social distancing guidelines and, except for a brief moment posing for photographs, wore a mask.
"He wears his mask. I wear a mask," Joyce remembers.
They were both wearing masks in November when they visited a longtime friend who was dying in her home. A dozen friends and relatives of that woman later tested positive for COVID-19.
"We wore masks in the house after that, but it was already in the house," Joyce says of the contagious coronavirus.
"We got the news on Thanksgiving," Joyce remembers. "On that Saturday he went into the hospital and never came out."
The news still shocks her and others who knew Rocco. She didn't see him for two weeks, but they talked by phone from his room at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.
"He thought he was getting better," she says, remembering him saying, "I don't want to die. I want to live."
A father of five and grandfather to five, Blasi was devoted to his family.
"He was effusive about expressing his love for his family, and his obsession with my mother over their 50-year marriage," writes their daughter Rosa Blasi, an actress who has appeared in dozens of TV shows and movies and is best known for playing the role of Dr. Luisa Delgado on Lifetime's "Strong Medicine" series.
"Nothing was left unsaid. He was as passionate as he was funny as he was proud. And he was always, always, always there. To support. And try and give you his food. And to encourage. But mostly to love. I am who I am because I never heard the words 'you can't' or 'you might fail.'"
Even as he was dying, and Joyce and Rosa held his hands, he quipped through his oxygen mask, "Wow. Now that's some 'Strong Medicine.'"
He died on Christmas Eve in the hospice wing of the hospital.
People who shrug off the nearly 350,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 often conclude that many were simply feeble, old, sick people about to die anyway. That was not Rocco. He could pass for years younger and had so much to look forward to. He was impressive.
"He was 'that guy,' and he set the bar HIGH," his daughter writes.
"He was such a caring, loving person to everyone he met," Joyce says. "He was always nice. He was a great father, a great husband. We have to be grateful for the time we had with him."