Her name was Marie Antoinette Turzo, but they called her just Antoinette. It sounded more “regal,” they said. Magnificent. Dignified. Graceful.

“We said she was from a different time and ahead of her time," said daughter Elene. ”She was an Earth child."

Born in Italy in 1918, Mrs. Turzo lived with her parents and eight siblings on South Philadelphia’s Wharton Street beginning in 1929. Then she spent her life on the go. She married Antonio Turzo in 1942 and became a mother of three boys and two girls, a homemaker who baked and canned and sewed. Her Sunday gravy was a family favorite.

She had a stage name as an announcer for an Italian radio show when she was young, and she tended pigs and chickens on a small Bucks County farm later on. She built brick patios from the ground up, refurbished houses, and refinished furniture. She adored opera, especially Puccini.

She loved to wear hats and whip up homemade pasta. She spoke Italian, French, and English and flourished at the Free Library. She also lived in Northeast Philly, Roxborough, and Mount Airy, and she left her “graceful and controlled” mark at every stop.

“She was never still for a minute,” Elene said. “She was a Renaissance woman who could do anything.”

Her family considered Mrs. Turzo’s home the "Mecca of all things in Italian culture.”

Mrs. Turzo, 102, died on Saturday, April 25, due to COVID-19. She had been living at Simpson House when she contracted the disease.

Her grandson Christian wrote at length about her on Facebook, and family members added their own poignant memories.

“She was truly a sheer force of nature, exceptionally beautiful inside and out, tough as nails yet delicate as a violet, with a dizzying intellect and a razor-sharp switchblade mind,” Christian wrote. “She was magical to me.”

Mrs. Turzo was called the May Queen by her grandson. Here she poses in her rose garden.
Courtesy of the Turzo Family
Mrs. Turzo was called the May Queen by her grandson. Here she poses in her rose garden.

One relative said in a tribute, “For me, her home and her kitchen were the Mecca of all things in Italian culture.”

In addition to her daughter and grandson, Mrs. Turzo is survived by daughter Laura; sons Vincent, Aldo, and Leonard; three siblings; 14 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; one great-great-granddaughter; and many nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her husband.

Gary Miles