Carmen R. DiRusso, a longtime Teamster and labor coordinator at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, died Thursday of complications from melanoma, more than six years after physicians told him he had just months to live.
As an employee of Elliott-Lewis Corp., he oversaw the labor supply for the center, managing the payroll for the stagehands, electricians, laborers, and riggers unions, and serving as a liaison between them and conventioneers.
A master at making meatballs, Mr. DiRusso would cook 100 at a time, freeze them, and distribute packages to each household in his extended family, said his daughter, Lea DiRusso.
Mr. DiRusso had a burly frame and was widely known as “Chubby,” a nickname he was given during childhood to distinguish him from his lighter-weight twin brother, Girard. He had a soft heart beneath his imposing figure, his daughter said.
When he met someone in trouble, he would offer to help them find a job, once doing so for a stranger whom he overheard worrying about finances while buying a shirt, she said.
Mr. DiRusso also was a supporter of the LGBT community, and was welcoming when his son, Carmen J. DiRusso, married a man. And when he learned that his grandson, Ashton, was a transgender male, Mr. DiRusso taught him to shave, his daughter said.
“He looked like he would be an Archie Bunker kind of guy,” she said. “He was the complete opposite.”
Father and daughter shared a grim connection through cancer, both going to Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center for regular treatments. Five years after Mr. DiRusso was diagnosed with melanoma, Lea DiRusso was diagnosed in 2019 with mesothelioma, which she attributes to exposure to asbestos from working as a Philadelphia schoolteacher in decaying school buildings.
After Mr. DiRusso’s cancer spread to his brain, he underwent brain surgery and later six treatments with targeted “Gamma Knife” radiation.
“He just wanted to keep going,” his daughter said. “He never complained.”
He started the Convention Center job in 2003, and was known for rock-solid dependability, said Bill Sautter, president and chief executive officer of Elliott-Lewis.
“Carmen was truly an institution at the Convention Center,” Sautter said. “Carmen will be remembered for his personality and, most importantly, his ability to provide the best experience possible for each and every person he interacted with throughout his career.”
Years earlier, Mr. DiRusso drove a newspaper delivery truck for the Philadelphia Bulletin and later The Inquirer, and ultimately switched to overseeing home deliveries across South Philadelphia.
He also owned a newsstand at Eighth and Market Streets, and sold programs at Liberty Bell Park racetrack in Northeast Philadelphia and Brandywine Raceway in Delaware.
In addition to his son, daughter, and brother, Mr. DiRusso is survived by his wife, MaryAnn, and grandchildren Ashton and Alysa.