Gennaro “Jerry” Peter Di Biase, 89, died peacefully on August 7, 2019, at Hope Hospice in Providence, R.I. He was born on February 9, 1930, in Providence to the late Antonio Di Biase and Agnese (Ruscito) Di Biase.
Jerry grew up on Federal Hill in Providence, and found refuge from the pressures of urban life when spending summers at his grandparents’ home in the Wanskuck section of Providence. He graduated from Mount Pleasant High School in 1948.
He soon became active in progressive politics in Rhode Island, working at Providence Combing Co. From 1952 to 1954, he served in the United States Army during the Korean conflict, receiving the Korean Service Medal and the United Nations Service Medal. His fondest memories of his service were of playing tight end on the Army football team in Yokohama, Japan.
After the war he worked at Atlantic Tubing and Rubber where he began to organize labor. In 1955 he married Alice Ovelia Vess, with whom he had two sons – Stephen Di Biase of Seattle, Wash., and Michael Di Biase of Colorado Springs, Colo. They divorced in 1971.
Blacklisted for his political beliefs, Jerry worked at an array of jobs during the late 1950s and early 1960s. He attended Rutgers University and The University of Rhode Island while working as a counselor, at Cranston Community Action Program, and for many years at Rhode Island Group Health Association. He later worked to uncover housing discrimination practices for the State of Rhode Island.
Jerry married Janne Thorning in 1981 and lived for a year in Denmark. They divorced in 1986.
Jerry was known for his intelligence, his humor, his devotion to the civil rights movement and progressive causes, and his boundless energy. He was a lover of classical music and jazz, an avid book collector, and a sympathetic listener. He will be deeply missed by many, including his two sons, his sister Angela Hogan and his brother Anthony Di Biase. Jerry was predeceased by his youngest brother, John Di Biase, in 1975. John’s early death had a profound impact on him. One result was his taking up the study of psychology and the devotion of the rest of his working life to helping others.
Jerry also leaves four grandchildren: Lia Murty, Sophia Di Biase, Jacob Di Biase, and Eva Licht; a great-grandson: J.J. Murty; two nieces: Rosemarie Pelletier and Sarah Rusillo; a nephew: Eric Di Biase, and a loving extended family. A memorial service will be held on Sunday, October 20, at 5:00 p.m. at Blackstone River Theatre, 549 Broad St., Cumberland, RI.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Jerry’s honor to The NAACP; www.naacp.org/donate.
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