SCHENECTADY -- Ask Gioia Ottaviano about any great work of literature and she might typically respond: "I read the book and saw the play."
Books and live theater were the two great passions of this former school teacher and librarian who passed away Saturday afternoon around 4 p.m. at Ellis Hospital at the age of 94. She worked in the Schenectady School District for 45 years, grew up and lived much of her life on Avenue B in Goose Hill and was a regular at Proctors, the Schenectady Civic Playhouse and the Schenectady Light Opera Company.
"She was amazing," Proctors CEO Philip Morris said of Ottaviano, who was named a Patroon of the city by Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy in 2014. "She was at every event we ever did, and she did the same for SLOC and Schenectady Civic. My box office people knew her very well. There'd be times when she was at Proctors five or six days a week."
Former Schenectady Mayor Karen B. Johnson also knew Ottaviano well.
"She loved going to every activity that she could downtown," said Johnson. "I really admired that about her. She planned on going to every show, and when she got sick she would have a friend take her. Every time I went to Proctors for a show, I would see her there."
Ottaviano was born in January of 1924 to Nicandro Ottaviano, a tailor, and his wife, Amelia Dente Ottaviano. Gioia was the youngest of four siblings, and along with her three brothers was the first generation of family members to graduate from college. Her oldest brother, Orazio (Buddy) went to Union College and became city editor of the Schenectady Gazette, while Peter went on to graduate from Harvard and Nicandro Jr. from the University of Chicago. Their little sister finished up her college career in 1946 at Buffalo State Teachers College.
Amelia Dente Ottaviano was the first Italian immigrant woman, her daughter told the Gazette in 2009, to graduate from Schenectady High School. She was also one of the first women to vote in Schenectady in 1918, and for her tireless lifelong support of the Schenectady County Public Library, the Schenectady Girls Club, the YWCA and the Schenectady Museum (miSci) Amelia was named a Patroon of the city by Schenectady Mayor Frank Duci in 1975.
Gioia Ottaviano followed in her mother's footsteps in many ways, including serving as a library volunteer for many years after her retirement from the school district. Her involvement with local theater goes as far back as the early 1960s, perhaps even longer, according to Joe Fava. A longtime actor and director for the Schenectady Civic Players and the Schenectady Light Opera Company, Fava met Ottaviano more than 50 years ago.
"Her aunt's husband was my history teacher in high school, so I go back quite a ways with them," said Fava. "They were all readers, and Gioia was very active at Schenectady Civic and SLOC. She was producing shows and doing other things on the administrative end. But she loved the theater. She saw everything around here, and for a long time a week didn't go by when she wasn't heading to New York to see a Broadway show."
Ottaviano was a lifelong parishioner at St. Anthony's Church in Schenectady. The Rev. Richard Carlino announced Ottaviano's passing at a Saturday Mass.
"She was a pillar of the church and will be missed tremendously," said Carlino. "She was tiny in stature but a giant in character. She had so many contacts with people. She was like an octopus with tentacles reaching out to people. She was just a wonderful person."
Ottaviano made a big impression on Morris soon after he became Proctors CEO in 2004.
"She struck me as being energetic, bright and worldly," said Morris. "She was able to talk about subjective things very well, and that comes from lots and lots of exposure to the arts."
"She was very active in the community, and was a generous donor at Proctors and I'm sure at the other Schenectady theaters, too," said Johnson. "You can't go to live theater all the time, but she would have. She was a goer."
Final arrangements are pending but Carlino said that a funeral Mass for Ottaviano will be held on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Anthony's.