Joseph R. Rizzo, 95, a former Philadelphia fire commissioner and a brother of former Police Commissioner and Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, died Monday, June 8, at his daughter Pat’s home in Schwenksville. Mr. Rizzo had been staying with his daughter since last November.
Mr. Rizzo, who raised his family in Mount Airy before retiring to Avalon, N.J., worked in the Fire Department for 25 years before being promoted to commissioner when his brother was elected mayor in 1972. He served as commissioner for 12 years before resigning in 1984.
For many years while he was a firefighter, Mr. Rizzo held a second job driving a truck for The Inquirer. He served in the Navy during World War II.
“He was tough, but he had a very good sense of humor,” said another daughter, Diane. “One of his favorite sayings was, ‘I almost made a mistake once, when I thought I was wrong.’”
Following his tenure as commissioner, Mr. Rizzo spent 28 years coordinating investigative work for the law firm Cozen O’Connor. Christopher Fallon, a partner at Cozen O’Connor, said Mr. Rizzo was a mentor to a generation of lawyers and was instrumental to the growth of the firm.
Patrick O’Connor, the firm’s vice chairman and a longtime friend of Mr. Rizzo, said he was informed of his death by the family Tuesday morning. O’Connor said that he had lunch with Mr. Rizzo about four months ago, but that he had been sick for the past year, and recently went into hospice care.
“He was a dear friend and a great citizen. He was really an inspiration to me,” O’Connor said. “He was always in the shadow of his brother, but he was great in his own way ... a marvelous man, but humble. Very humble."
Mr. Rizzo was close with his older brother. According to a 1991 Inquirer article, as children the two shared a bedroom in a South Philadelphia rowhouse and their two other brothers, Ralph and Anthony, shared another. When Frank Rizzo was elected mayor in 1972, he tapped Joseph to become fire commissioner, passing over 72 others in the department with more seniority.
“He’s the finest gift God gave me next to my wife and children,” Frank Rizzo said of his brother in 1978.
In addition to his daughters, Mr. Rizzo is survived by children Joe Jr., Theresa, Peggy, and John. Daughter Marie died in 2017. His wife of 42 years, Marge, died in 1992.