One unsung 'little guy' gets due respect

In an age of celebrity, when the rich and famous receive more than their share of headlines, the proverbial "little guy" - ordinary and hardworking, often with no pedigreed education or lofty title - grows more invisible.

So imagine the pleasure some readers of the Boston Globe felt recently when an unusual headline marched across the top of an obituary page: "Domenic DiCarlo, Revere homebody, music lover."

"Homebody" may not be the way most people would choose to be remembered. Yet what a charming, affectionate description this is, and what a refreshing departure from ordinary obituaries trumpeting the accomplishments of the successful: judges, CEOs, playwrights, scientists. It reflects an anecdotal approach to obituaries that is gaining popularity in some newspapers by offering a more intimate portrait of the deceased.

As lives go, Mr. DiCarlo's appears relatively simple. He spent his entire 84 years at the same address, with the same telephone number. When he married at 18, his bride, Helen, moved into his three-family stucco-and-brick house in Revere, Mass., north of Boston. They celebrated 62 wedding anniversaries there.

What comforting stability for DiCarlo and his family, which includes Renée Gold, a great-niece who grew up in the couple's home. Two years ago, DiCarlo walked her down the aisle, then danced with her at the reception.

In a restless society, where moving, globetrotting, and nonstop achieving are prized, people like DiCarlo have become an anachronism. If he ventured out of town, Ms. Gold recalls, it was only for day trips. He never flew, and he slept in his own bed nearly every night. His jobs - career may be too fancy a word - included clerking in a shoe store, shucking clams on the waterfront, working as a chef, and delivering food to schools.

Now friends and relatives are eulogizing DiCarlo not so much for his professional achievements as for his character. His barber praises him for being a "classy guy" who tipped his hat to women passing by. Gold's list of qualities that describe her beloved uncle includes simplicity, pure love, and selflessness.

"He had a simple house, simple car, simple clothes," she says. "There was a sense of calm and peace just being in his presence." He insisted on preserving what she calls "the old-fashionedness" of Sundays. That was the day the family always gathered. It was also the day he visited the grave of the couple's only daughter, who died 16 years ago.

"Everyone else's needs came before Domenic's, always," Gold adds. "He had a real sense of selflessness. That's the No. 1 word. People adored him. No one ever had a bad word to say about him."

Across the country, neighborhoods everywhere are dotted with caring, big-hearted people like DiCarlo, beloved by their families and friends but relatively hidden from the world. The old quip, "He who dies with the most toys wins," doesn't apply to them. Instead, they serve as quiet reminders of what constitutes a meaningful and satisfying life.

As Gold puts it, "Especially in this day and age, with all the celebrities and sports players getting all the glory, there are people living quietly among us who are truly touching other people's lives."

"I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you - Nobody - too?" wrote Emily Dickinson, America's most famous homebody, who rarely left her family's house in Amherst, Mass. Although she long ago ceased to be a nobody, she could identify with the invisible and humble.

Every worthy "somebody" deserves recognition. But so do the unheralded "nobodies" striving to make a difference. Perhaps it's time for a new "age of the little guy," spearheaded in part by obituary writers and others who understand the importance and value of turning a nobody - and a homebody - into a somebody, even if for only one day.

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