Nearly three decades after Frank Natoli left his job as a business executive with the Miami Herald, crowds still cheered when they heard his name. He was that popular, said son Joe Natoli.
Natoli, a veteran of World War II who fought as a combat infantryman at the Battle of the Bulge, died Tuesday of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 88.
Born Aug. 31, 1924 in Borough Park, a community with a prominent Italian population in Brooklyn, N.Y., Natoli started working at the New York World-Telegram and Sun before he joined the U.S. Army in 1943. He was part of the force that entered Normandy in July 1944.
He remained with the army during the occupation and returned to the United States in 1946.
“His service to his country was so important to him,” said Joe Natoli, senior vice president of business and finance at the University of Miami. “Being a World War II veteran, he was part of the greatest generation.”
After the war, he married Maria Detrez of Rotem, Belgium, resumed his job at the New York World-Telegram and Sun, and eventually studied nights at Pace College to earn his bachelor’s degree in business.
By 1955, he had welcomed sons Frank and Joseph.
Joe Natoli said he has childhood memories of his father coming home from work and taking his spot at the only desk in the home to study.
“As my brother and I were growing up, we watched a very hard-working guy pulling himself up,” he said.
The family relocated to South Florida in 1970, where Natoli would remain the rest of his life.
By 1974, the Natolis had amicably divorced and the following year Frank married Angela Colucci.
In South Florida, he left his mark at the Miami Herald, where he worked in accounting until retiring in 1984, ultimately obtaining the position of assistant to the business manager and treasurer.
“He was a very well-respected guy who could work with anyone,” Joe Natoli said.
Natoli remembers when he was out of college and in need of a job, his father was able to help him obtain a position as a staff accountant at Knight Ridder, at the time the parent of company of the Miami Herald.
In his early days at the Herald, everyone knew Frank Natoli, but not his son. Inter-office mail for Joe often got dropped off at the senior Natoli’s desk.
“It gave him great pride to bring me my mail,” he said. “I still remember the first day I got his mail.”
Joe Natoli, who went on to become president of the Miami Herald Publishing Company, was propelled by the advice he received from his father at the start of his career.
“When I joined in ’76, he said ‘put your head down and work hard and good things will happen,’ ” Joe Natoli said.
After retirement, Natoli and Colucci often travelled to her childhood home in Florence, Italy, for many years maintaining an apartment there. He spent many afternoons sitting outside and taking in the city, even learning to master his ancestral Italian.
“I never saw him happier than when he would tell the stories of going over to Florence and having Campari,” Joe said.
Frank Natoli, who made his home in Bay Harbor Islands, had struggled with Alzheimer’s disease for nearly a decade.
It was at a doctor’s appointment Tuesday morning that his struggle came to an end. As he was wheeled in for the appointment, the doctor found he had no vitals. He died peacefully.
“He was such a sweet man,” Joe Natoli said. “Even as he struggled in his final years, he was always smiling and always wanted to give Angela a kiss.”
In addition to his wife and sons, Frank Natoli is survived by a sister, Constance Gianferrara.
A funeral Mass will be held 10 a.m. Friday at St. Joseph’s Church, 8670 Byron Ave. in Miami Beach. It will be followed by entombment at Woodlawn Park North Mausoleum, 3260 SW Eighth St.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Alzheimer’s Research at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, PO 248073, Coral Gables, FL 33124.