Lou Pompilio, a lifelong New Jerseyan who was passionate about everything he did – be it working in real estate, playing the tables in Atlantic City, finding the best pizza or celebrating another weekend with his family -- died May 4 at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He was 78. The cause of death was complications from COVID-19.
Louis Walter was born to Ziggy and Dorothy Pompilio in Plainfield, N.J. in 1941. He attended the city’s public schools, including Plainfield High School, where he met his future wife. Patricia Rocco initially balked at this known Casanova’s attempts to woo her, but his natural charisma and determination got him the girl. The couple married in 1966, launched two daughters into the world, and were devoted to each other until her death in 2014.
An accident put Lou on the road to business success. He was working full-time as a barber when he broke his leg while playing baseball. A friend suggested he attend real estate school since he needed to be off his feet. He did, and soon found that sales suited him. He left the barber shop, joining an existing company before branching out on his own. (It was all for the best, Pat often said, because Lou was a terrible barber. He trimmed his daughters’ hair – poorly -- when they were growing up. He was more interested in dramatically snipping the air than cutting hair.) Lou was still working full-time as broker at Century 21 Louis Pompilio in Scotch Plains at the time of his death.
Lou’s enthusiasm for life was infectious – which made him a good salesman, a great entertainer and a fabulous companion. Every holiday gathering featured piles of food and included not only friends and family but an assortment of strangers he’d met recently, be they potential customers or folks he’d encountered on a train ride. He was the consummate host, ensuring glasses were never empty and plates were always full. He loved hearty eaters. After getting to know one potential son-in-law over a crab dinner, he remarked, “I like that kid. He could eat a napkin.”
Despite working long hours, Lou was always there for the big events in his daughter’s lives – dance recitals, softball games, school assemblies. He made even the most mundane things fun. His daughters loved driving with him; he’d hop out of the car at red lights and dance or shout greetings to every pedestrian they passed. He would make sudden turns as if trying to evade another driver. He’d explain that he’d long been chased by two girls who were in love with him. When his daughters would look at the vehicle behind them, it would inevitably be a truck - with a male driver. “They’re in disguise,” he’d assure them.
Someone once told Lou that it was a shame he’d never had a son. His reply: “Are you crazy? No way. I love my girls.”
Lou brought the same sense of fun to his relationship with his granddaughters – Fiona, Luna and Penelope Savarese - a.k.a. “little people.” He’d dance because it made them laugh; sit for facials and pedicures when they played spa; sneak them the sugary treats their parents tried to monitor; pretend to be surprised when they pulled a prank on him. In some ways, he too looked at the world through a child’s eyes: He moved to bucolic Warren 30 years ago yet was still excited every time a deer walked through his backyard.
Lou loved summer vacations to Wildwood; family poker tournaments that lasted ‘til the early morning hours; every dog that crossed his path; all New York sports teams; any movie project connected to Scorsese, Pacino or De Niro; a good joke or a bad one; singing loudly – and incorrectly -- along to his favorite songs including anything by Elvis, Frank Sinatra or Bobby Darin; the childhood friends he spoke to daily, including Chester Puri and Joey Caruso; the co-workers who adored him and happily spent hours with him off-the-clock. He was the guy who always picked up the check, was quick with a quip, always willing to help anyone in any way he could. Everyone considered him their best friend.
He was larger than life in many ways – “I want to live to be 100,” he said more than once -- which is why so many people who knew and loved him can’t imagine life without him.
Lou is survived by two daughters and two sons-in-law, Natalie Pompilio and Jordan Barnett, Tricia Pompilio and Vincent Savarese, all of Philadelphia; his three grandchildren; his sister, Connie Capua, of Palm Coast, FL.; a large cat named D.J. in honor of Derek Jeter; and too many friends and relatives to list. All take comfort in imagining him reunited with Pat, his wife of 47 years; his parents and other family members; and his dear friends, including Al Brick and Opie Brinson. Wherever they are, they’re playing cards and eating well. They probably greeted him with, “Louie! What took you so long? It’s not a party without you.”
Lou’s family will not be holding a memorial service immediately because of the continuing threat brought on by the deadly coronavirus/COVID-19. Instead they hope to gather in New Jersey in August, when Lou would have celebrated his 79th birthday.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s “COVID-19 Better Together Fund” at https://www.givecampus.com/schools/Jefferson/the-covid-19-better-together-fund#updates.
From Natalie and Tricia: We will be forever grateful to the doctors, nurses and staff at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital who took such great care of our father in the last month of his life. They went above and beyond every day and ensured we were with him when he died. In the final hour at Dad’s bedside, we called friends and family members so they could say good-bye and played his favorite songs, including Frank Sinatra’s “My Way;” Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You;” Kenny Rogers’ “Through the Years;” Chris Cornell’s “Ave Maria;” Elvis’ “You’ll Never Walk Alone;” and Bobby Vinton’s “Roses Are Red.” We have no doubt that if Dad had beaten this, he would have invited everyone from Jefferson to his house for a huge party. They deserve such a tribute.