BELFAST — Josephine A. Cooley died July 13, 2022, at the age of 92. Her happiest times were those spent with other people — family, friends, and even those she had just met sitting on a bench. She was an extrovert who loved life, and she worked hard to achieve a good life for herself and her family.

Jo was born in 1930 in The Bronx to Italian immigrant parents Francesca and Alfonso Avitabile. She was the youngest of five, and her family was filled with love. As her wonderful siblings — Edith, Alfonse, Albert and Louis — all predeceased her, Jo’s passing is the end of an era.

Jo spoke affectionately of the old neighborhood on 175th Street near Washington Avenue. When she was 15, World War II ended, and she went to endless block parties all over the city. Her brother Alby advised her to go to college, but instead she trained to be a secretary, a decision she later regretted.

Jo had many secretarial jobs in NYC, starting with the brassiere company “Even Pull Foundations” (no kidding), and ending with working at IS 166, a middle school. She loved that job and played a key role in making the school run well, helping students in this poor neighborhood of The Bronx.

Josephine Avitabile became Josephine Cooley in February of 1954, after meeting and marrying Carl E. Cooley. Carl and Jo had three children: William (Bill), Laura, and Lisa (in that order) between 1956 and 1960. It was a busy time for Jo with a family to take care of as a working mother, but she was a hard worker and managed to keep it all together.

In 1972, Jo, Carl, and her brother Lou bought a piece of land in Maine. The family built their own house in Liberty near beautiful Lake St. George, and this became a well-loved summer place.

In 1978, drawn by life in rural Maine, Carl got his wish — moving to Maine year-round. It was tough for Jo to leave her family. While she had mixed feelings about it, she embraced her new life, quickly finding a job she came to love at Unity College. Her favorite part was working with the students. Jo would run into former Unity coworkers and students around Waldo County, and they often told her how much she meant to them.

While Jo worked at the college, Carl achieved his dream of having a farm — on a piece of land in Jackson. They built another house and raised sheep on the property. They sold lamb at local farmer’s markets.

In 1994, Jo’s first grandchild, Laura’s son Daniel, was born. Laura, husband Steve, and Dan spent time in Maine every summer, and Dan became quite attached to the place and to Jo.

A big change came in 1997, when daughter Lisa, her husband Lindy, and son Eli moved from New York to Jackson when Eli was 2 months old. So began a period of joy for Jo — grandparenthood — with a grandchild nearby. In summers, Dan and Eli ran barefoot up and down the long driveway between their two houses. Lisa’s daughter Francesca (Francie) joined them in 2000. Jo enjoyed the kids and loved being with them. Those were great times!

For Jo, retirement did not mean resting. With her usual zeal, she took up growing and selling flowers. Jo thrived in the social setting of a farmer’s market; she loved talking to customers and other sellers.

The Jo-Carl team did not just sell farm goods. They were an active couple politically, demonstrating for left-wing causes well into their 80s. They spent considerable energy trying to make this world a better, fairer place.

It made Jo and Carl happy when in 2012 their son, Bill, moved to Maine. Later, his help during the difficult period of Carl’s Alzheimer’s disease was immense. Jo was the main caregiver for Carl as he declined. In 2017 Carl had to leave his home and in 2018 he passed away.

After Carl died, Jo moved back to the city; this time the city was Belfast. She made new friends and enjoyed events like live music by the bay. Jo loved getting together with her friends, dressing in her favorite colors of maroon and purple, coordinating her outfit with scarves and earrings. She had a unique style!

This period in Jo’s life was not all joyful, as her beloved son-in-law Lindy Davies passed away in 2019, a terrible loss. COVID soon came about, changing her lifestyle and keeping her from the activities and people she loved.

Carl once said with admiration that Jo fought aging as hard as she could. In her later years, she walked or swam every day until she could do so no longer. She walked the bridge many times in cold weather this year (while she was in chemotherapy), freezing as she was blown from one side of the bridge to the other. Doing this was a point of pride, but she also found it fun.

While she loved to have a good time, she also wanted to know how everyone was doing and what was going on in the world. She read newspapers daily and was saddened by the current state of the country and the world.

Jo was very direct with her feelings about matters from politics to personal life. She always had to know everything that was “going on in the room” which sometimes drove her family crazy but also made her remarkably engaged throughout her entire life.

Jo Cooley was a great friend and a loving mother who would do anything for you. It made her sad when she was too ill to do more. Her presence will truly be missed.

A memorial celebrating Jo Cooley’s life will be held at the Picnic Shelter at Moose Point State Park in Searsport on Thursday, Aug. 11, at 9:30 a.m. (gather between 9 and 9:30) followed by refreshments. All are invited. Feel free to bring a chair if you do not like sitting at a picnic table.

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