ONE OF THE jobs of the FBI's organized crime investigators was listening to endless hours of wire-tapped conversations among mob figures.
Gino L. Lazzari was especially good at transcribing such tapes because of his Italian heritage, but one day he heard mob figure Phil Testa use a phrase that sounded like, "I rose and lost."
How could that be? It didn't make sense.
Only later did Gino realize that Testa was saying, 'La Cosa Nostra," literally "Our Thing," the Mafia's name for its organization.
Despite the FBI's reputation for zipped-up reserve, Gino's fellow agents found his mistake hilarious, and weren't about to let him forget it. They even had T-shirts printed with "I Rose and Lost" on them.
Gino got as big a kick out of his blunder as the other agents, because that was the kind of guy he was, easygoing, laid-back, friendly and funny.
"Anybody who worked in organized crime, knew and loved Gino," said Andrew Sloan, a retired FBI agent who worked with Gino in organized crime. "Nobody was more liked than Gino."
Gino Lazzari, an FBI agent for 25 years who, after his retirement, became an investigator for the Pennslyvania Crime Commission, a devoted churchman, hospital volunteer and decorated World War II veteran, died Saturday. He was 85 and lived in Springfield, Delaware County.
"He was a terrific human being," Sloan said. "Even the mob guys liked him."
Gino was famous for his dedication to detail. He knew the pedigrees of every mob figure, who their parents were, who their children were, and what their connections were among themselves in the criminal organization.
Those were the days when the mob was run by Angelo Bruno, the "gentle don," with whom Gino had a mutually respectful relationship.
"He had a mind like a trap," said Harry A. "Jack" Howell, who became supervisor of the FBI's organized crime squad while Gino was there.
"In the days before computers, we used to refer to him as our computer," Jack Howell said. "We would be chasing Bruno or some mob figure and Gino would remember all the license numbers. He knew how to tie people together in the mob."
Alan Hornblum, an author and former Temple University teacher, was a member of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission when Gino worked there as an inspector after retiring from the FBI.
"He was a sweet, gentle guy who spent his career in a really dangerous arena," Hornblum said. "If you met him, you might think he was a tailor or ticket salesman. But he spent a lifetime in the world of organized crime. It was an odd contradiction."
Jim Nicholson, retired Daily News writer, said he met Gino while Jim was investigating organized crime for the old Evening Bulletin.
"He was built like a weightlifter," Jim said. "He had big shoulders and a big chest. If a door had to be broken down, he went through it first.
"He was the nicest guy in the world, friendly to everybody. A real pro."
Joseph Dougherty, who worked with Gino at the Crime Commission, said Gino brought his vast knowledge of organized crime to the commission.
"He was a bright guy with a great personality," said Dougherty, who later became an undersheriff in Camden County. "Into his old age, he had a full head of black hair. We used to accuse him of dyeing it, but it was real."
Gino Lazzari was born in Washington, D.C., to Frank and Cesera Lazzari. He entered the Army in World War II and fought in Europe and Italy with the 3rd Infantry Division. He was awarded two Bronze Star medals.
He married the former Elizabeth "Betty" Miller in 1951.
After the war, Gino joined the FBI in Washington as a clerk and fingerprint expert. He studied accounting at night at Southwestern University in Washington and became a full-fledged special agent.
He was assigned to various offices around the country and arrived in Philadelphia in the early '60s.
Gino was a devoted member of St. Dorothy's Church, in Drexel Hill, where he sang on the choir and served as a eucharistic minister and lector.
He was very popular with the nuns at Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital where he made himself available for any task that was needed.
"He was an extremely caring family man," said his daughter, Nancy Lazzari, who was her father's caregiver in his final illness. "He was an excellent provider and made sure all his children went to college. He was generous beyond belief."
Gino was also active with the Society of Former FBI Special Agents and was chairman of the local chapter for a time. He attended a total of 23 conventions around the country.
He was a dedicated golfer and played many of the courses in the Philadelphia area.
His wife died in 1986. Besides his daughter, who works in customs at Philadelphia International Airport, he is survived by two sons, Paul, also a retired FBI agent, and Mark, a marine biologist in Maine, and four grandchildren.
Services: Funeral Mass 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Dorothy's Church, 4910 Township Line Road, Drexel Hill. Friends may call at 9 a.m. at the church. Burial will be in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple.