Eugene Conese built one of the world’s largest jet engine maintenance and overhaul companies.
Founded in 1987, Greenwich Air Services, with headquarters near Miami International Airport, employed more than 3,000 at nine locations in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, including 900 in Miami. The company reported $398 million in revenues for the 1996 fiscal year, about six months before General Electric purchased Greenwich for $530 million.
“GE is committed to growing the aviation business and this should present tremendous opportunities,” Conese said at the time in a Miami Herald business article.
Despite overseeing a major corporation, charities and other business interests, Conese, who died at 85 on March 19 at his Coral Gables home, was most concerned about one aspect of his legacy.
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“His true legacy is the strong family bonds that he mentored with us and all of his grandchildren,” said son Eugene Conese, Jr. who was president of his father’s company. “He was making sure he always utilized and educated everyone on the value of everyone’s human capital. He was very much a family man at the end of the day even though he had many awards and accolades as a business leader. It all came down to his strong belief in family values.”
Sure enough, his 2010 memoir, Making Memories: My Life Story (Kindle, $9.99), was written “as a gift to the Conese family” according to an Amazon description. The rags-to-riches tale told of the son of Frances and Frank Conese, Italian immigrants, in Eastchester, N.Y.
“He’s a self-made man who put himself through college and was the first in our family to do so,” his son said.
Conese graduated from Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., in 1951 with a business degree. After serving during the Korean War he earned an MBA from New York University in 1954.
Through the 1970s, Conese was president and chief executive officer of Irvin Industries, Inc., a manufacturing and distribution company in the aerospace and automotive industries. His Conese Foundation, started in 1980, has donated more than $5 million to various organizations, including the Jackson Memorial Hospital Foundation, for which he served on the board, Miami Children's Hospital Foundation, American Cancer Society, Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Iona College.
In 1989, he was named to the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation's board of trustees. Around that time, his curiosity and desire for growth led Conese and his wife Anna May to seek swimming lessons at their Gables by the Sea home when they were in their early 60s. Conese also loved golfing, boating and was a wine and cigar connoisseur.
In 1996, Conese won the Wright Brothers Memorial Award from the Greater Miami Aviation Association. He also received the 2010 Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor.
“Like the Gambler in Kenny Rogers’ famous song, Gene Conese knew ‘when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em,’” the Amazon description of his autobiography read.
His son puts it another way.
“He could communicate at any level, whether with business or political leaders, or dealing with someone at the grocery store. He had the ability to perceive and connect with anybody. He inspired many.”
Conese is survived by his wife Anna May, daughters Deborah and Susan, sons Eugene Jr. and Mark Conese, 10 grandchildren, and his sisters Mary Bertoncini and Anita Healy.
A funeral Mass will be held at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at St. Hugh Catholic Church, 3460 Royal Rd., Coconut Grove.
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