Dorothy D. Fusco, long-time teacher, dies at age 69
BY MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org March 15, 2013 8:02PM
Dorothy D. Fusco
Updated: April 17, 2013 6:10AM
Dorothy D. Fusco was a teacher — first and foremost, her family says.
But not just because she was a full-time elementary school teacher for several years and then substitute taught for 35 more.
She taught kindness, devotion, strength, and resilience, family and friends said.
An editor of her student newspaper in high school and English major in college, she passed on her love of the written word to her only child, Chicago Sun-Times investigative reporter Chris Fusco.
Devastated when her husband of 32 years — who suffered from mental illness — committed suicide, she came to understand it over time, and was able to still find joy in her life.
“We’re very open about my dad being a suicide victim, because we feel it’s important to not stigmatize mental illness,” her son said.
“My mom’s life story is really about how she came back from that and continued to live and travel and do all the things that my dad would have wanted her to do,” he said.
Mrs. Fusco died Thursday morning at her home in south suburban Oak Lawn, from esophageal cancer. She was 69, a week shy of her 70th birthday.
“Dorothy was a vibrant, wonderful, beautiful human being with a kind, gentle soul,” said her sister, Paulette Karas. “She was an extraordinary mother and extraordinary wife.”
Mrs. Fusco was born to the late Paul and Mary Alleruzzo on March 21, 1943, and grew up in the South Side Brainerd neighborhood. At Calumet High School, she was editor of the Calumet Crier, graduating in the top five of her class of 1961.
She attended Northern Illinois University, where she graduated with honors in 1965.
From 1966 to 1972, she taught English at the former McDonald School in Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123. It was there she met the love of her life, the late Jim Fusco, who began teaching at McDonald in 1968. The two married on the Fourth of July 1971.
A year later, Mrs. Fusco gave up full-time teaching after becoming pregnant. She stayed at home with her son until he reached school age, then returned to the classroom, a substitute teacher in Oak Lawn and Alsip schools up until she became ill last year.
“Whether full-time or part-time, she loved the classroom,” her son said. “She loved the children, and through difficult times, it was what kept her going.”
After Mrs. Fusco’s husband retired from teaching, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Mrs. Fusco was right there, supporting him with love, patience and understanding, her family said. The two were enjoying retirement, just beginning to take more vacations and enjoy time with their then 2-year-old grandson, Benjamin, when tragedy struck.
On Feb. 26, 2003, her husband took his own life.
“Though mom and I were well aware of dad’s illness, his death still was a complete shock, especially to mom, who adored him,” Chris Fusco said. “Rather than bury herself in grief, mom — after several months — put herself back together and kept on enjoying life. She stayed in the house in Oak Lawn that dad and her had built, traveled for the first time to Europe, and made frequent trips to Ravinia and the Drury Lane in Oak Brook.”
In her leisure time, Mrs. Fusco loved watching “Wheel of Fortune” or working on Jumble puzzles, and was a big White Sox and Blackhawks fan. And her son says she was a big fan of Sun-Times columnist/NBC-5 reporter Carol Marin.
“She was always so proud to say her son works with Carol, who would trade emails with Mom and her best friend, Mary Lu Sweeney,” Chris Fusco said.
Sweeney described Mrs. Fusco as “the best friend anyone could ever have,” saying, “She was just so kind and loving. I never heard her say a thing bad about anybody. Never, ever, ever! And I was a friend of hers for 43 years.”
“As young teachers, one day, we were wearing the same heart pendant and found out we both loved to shop on the TV Shopping Network. I complained hers was much brighter than mine. Next time I saw her, she had a jar of Marshall Field’s jewelry cleaner for me,” Sweeney recalled. “She did things like that all the time. The way she fought that cancer battle? I would have been boo-hooing in a corner, but she was so determined, just incredible.”
Mrs. Fusco was diagnosed with esophageal cancer on Easter Sunday last year. It had spread beyond cure. But even then, she would teach by example. With an ever positive outlook, she undertook chemo, traveled to San Diego for her nephew’s wedding, and took her son, daughter-in-law and grandson on a five-night cruise on the Queen Mary 2.
“To look at the pictures from that cruise, you’d have no idea mom had cancer,” her son said. “It was an experience we’ll always treasure.”
Besides her son; grandson; daughter-in-law, Sun-Times TV critic Lori Rackl; and sister, survivors include another sister, Rosemary McTigue; and many nieces and nephews.
Visitation will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Chapel Hill Gardens South Funeral Home, 11333 S. Central in Oak Lawn. A funeral mass will take place at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Terrence Catholic Church, 4300 W 119th Pl., in Alsip. Burial will be at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.