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Past Newsmakers

Summer 2009 Newsmakers

Michael Massimino was part of a team of American astronauts last May that left Earth in a multi-billion-dollar spacecraft to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990, the $132 million Hubble needed a new camera, capable of probing even deeper into space.

Massimino, who is of Sicilian heritage and holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, coordinated a series of spacewalks by three other astronauts and then exited himself from the spacecraft to replace the Hubble's batteries and gyroscopes.

Significantly, the American venture came during the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first astronomical discoveries in 1609. A mathematician, physicist and astronomer, Galileo improved the telescope's range, allowing him more closely to observe the movement of the planets. He became convinced that the Earth revolved around the Sun, an opinion not shared by the Catholic Church, which sustained that the Sun moved around the Earth.

In 1632, Galileo was tried by a papal court, made to recant, and spent the last 10 years of his life ill and blind under house arrest in Tuscany. Today, Galileo is widely considered the Father of Modern Science.

SAM BUTERA, a tenor saxophonist, who performed with Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr., died June 3 in Las Vegas at age 81. He had Alzheimer's disease. His partnership with Prima began in 1954 and lasted nearly 20 years with recordings, night club acts, movies and TV. Their music blended jazz, Dixieland and tarantellas. Some of their best songs include "Pennies from Heaven," "That Old Black Magic" and "When You're Smiling."

FRANK CORSARO, a Broadway and opera director, was honored last April in Washington, D.C., with the National Endowment for the Arts 2009 Opera Honors. Among his many achievements, Corsaro, now 84, directed Bette Davis in the Broadway production of The Night of the Iguana (1961) and the New York City Opera production of La Traviata with a very young Placido Domingo.

DOM DiMAGGIO, a gifted center fielder with the Boston Red Sox whose career was overshadowed by his famous brother, died May 8 of pneumonia. He was 92. Dom DiMaggio joined the Red Sox in 1940 and helped lead them to the 1946 World Series. Many considered him second only to Joe DiMaggio as the best center fielder of his time. He was the youngest of nine children born to Sicilian immigrants, who thought baseball was frivolous until their sons became famous...and rich.

RITA LEVI-MONTALCINI, M.D., who won a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1986, celebrated her 100th birthday April 22 in Rome. She is the oldest living Nobel Prize recipient and also an Italian Senator for Life. Born into a Sephardic Jewish family in Turin where she studied medicine, Montalcini came to the U.S. in 1946 to do research at Washington University in St. Louis. There, her work with biochemist Stan Cohen earned them the Nobel Prize for discovering a mechanism that regulates the growth of cells and organs. She is still working on academic projects and has no plans to retire.

TINA MAIOLO, Esq. is the Embassy of Italy's official referral contact concerning requests for legal aid that the embassy receives from its constituency. The certification was formalized by Italy's ambassador to the U.S., Giovanni Castellaneta last April. Maiolo is the only attorney in the U.S. to receive this certification. She heads the business law practice for Carr Maloney, a law firm serving the mid-Atlantic region with offices in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

JOHN MARCHI, a former N.Y. state senator (R), who represented Staten Island for a record 50 years as the longest-serving member of the state's legislature, died April 25, a month shy of his 88th birthday, of pneumonia in his parents' hometown of Lucca, Italy. Mr. Marchi was elected to the N.Y. State Senate in 1956, ran unsuccessfully for mayor twice and was a champion of Staten Island and its Italian Americans. Among his many accomplishments, he is credited with helping to design the financial plan that saved New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s.

JIM MESSINA is deputy White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama whom he previously served as chief of staff during Mr. Obama's presidential campaign. Messina, 39, is known as a "key problem solver," thanks to his contacts in the U.S. Congress where he was chief of staff to Senators Max Baucus and Byron Dorgan and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy.

NINA MIGLIONICO, the first woman to serve in the city council in Birmingham, Ala., and its first woman president, died May 6 at age 95. Tiny at only 4 feet 11 inches, she was a fierce defender of civil rights and opponent of segregation during the 18 years she served in the council (1963-81). The daughter of Italian immigrants, she grew up above her family's grocery store and later became one of Alabama's first women lawyers.

RICHARD C. PROTO, former director of research at the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), who died last year, was honored by NSA May 18 when it named its new Symposium Center after him in recognition of his 35-year-career at the agency. A gifted mathematician, his "Proto Algorithm" is still used at NSA. Congressman John Larson of Connecticut entered Proto's achievements in the Congressional Record on May 21.

ADRIANA TRIGIANI, the best-selling novelist, treated about 300 of her fans during her first annual World's Biggest Book Club luncheon in New York City April 25. They were served hors d'oeuvres, drinks and dessert, all courtesy of Trigiani to show her appreciation. Author of Very Valentine, Lucia, Lucia and the Big Stone Gap series, she has written the screenplay and plans to direct the movie version of her first best seller, Big Stone Gap this year.