It was 10 days before Christmas, and Councilman Gene Gallo’s wife of 54 years, Pat, was out Christmas shopping. Gallo was in his office at City Hall, talking with colleagues who were asking him about what it takes to make a 54-year marriage work. He had no way of knowing that, within an hour, his life would change forever.
Surrounding him in his downtown office are pictures of his wife through the years and his two daughters at various stages of life, from children to married women with children of their own.
“I told them what I told my two sons-in-law,” Gallo recalled. “You’re marrying a Gallo woman and here’s what you need to do to be successful. When they are talking stern to you, look at the ceiling, smile and say, ‘Yes ma’am.’”
Gallo left his office right after offering that sound advice. He typically heads straight home, but he had to stop for gas. When he got to their home around 11:30 a.m., the first thing he noticed was the awkward angle of his wife’s car in the garage. What followed are images that are hard to shake.
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“I thought that was strange,” the retired firefighter said. “But when I pulled up, I saw her hanging halfway out of the car. I ran up to her screaming, ‘Oh no,’ and checked her pulse, but she was cold. I knew she was gone. I ran out calling 9-1-1 and screaming for help.”
Pat Gallo had been trapped by her own vehicle in a freak accident. A 54-year love affair had tragically and publicly come to an end.
But, Gallo quietly reflected, “The Lord has settled me to understand.” Settled to understand that the love he and his wife shared didn’t end that day.
We were listening to the radio and Ray Charles sang, ‘I can’t stop loving you.’ I looked at Pat and asked her to marry me.
Councilman Gene Gallo
“I had a spell the other night,” Gallo said. “I started to cry and I immediately felt my wife say, ‘Stop it. I’m all right. I’m all right.’ And I did. It stopped me right in my tracks. Because of my faith, I know God has a reason and we all have a purpose. In my heart, I believe her mission had been completed and God has another mission for her now, so he took her home. Nobody ever knows the reason why, but God has given me the peace that my wife is in heaven and waiting on me.”
Gallo fell silent for a moment. “But I miss her big time,” he said.
Faith, love, family and friends help Gallo endure
More than 770 people signed the book at Pat Gallo’s memorial service inside the couple’s longtime Baptist church that usually seats 300. Many more attended but couldn’t get into the building.
“To me it testifies to my wife’s life,” Gallo said. “She was that kind of lady and how she impacted others. She had an infectious smile, she was friendly and would call you sweetie or honey. She was a wonderful lady and it was a privilege to share 54 years with her, and I’ll share some more with her when the time is right.”
Like every marriage, they had their fair share of moments, Gallo said. But the couple believed in the golden rules.
“We never went to bed mad, we kissed each other every night and we kissed each other every morning and told each other we loved each other every day, and every time one of us left the house, just like we did that day,” he said. “So my last words to my wife were, ‘I love you.’ I thoroughly believe in my heart of hearts that Pat was a gift for me. She changed my life and I never loved anyone as much I loved her, will always love her and still love her.”
An epic romance
Gene met Pat in the spring of 1962 at the old Fire Station No. 2 where he worked as a firefighter and she was a Bradenton Police Department dispatcher. Pat first drew the attention of a friend of his, but “she didn’t pay much attention to him,” Gallo recalled. “I thought I could do better than he did.”
At the time, there was a big rose garden at the fire station. Gallo devised a plan where he brought out the fire hoses to water the roses in such a way that Pat would have to walk toward him to avoid the hoses. He knew exactly what time and what direction she went every day for lunch. Gallo introduced himself and mentioned that he knew her brother, and the conversation led to the couple’s first date in April.
“Our first date was just a get-to-know-you kind of a thing,” Gallo said. “She was shy and that was a little different for me, because I was kind of rowdy back then and didn’t have the best of reputations.”
We had a good life and I’m so thankful for that. I really am.
Councilman Gene Gallo
Gallo asked Pat out for a second date a week later, but she was baby-sitting an 8-year-old girl for her father’s friend. That didn’t stop him.
“I said, ‘Well just bring her along,’ and I took them to the drive-in,” Gallo recalled. “Back then, they had these big play areas for children, and I spent a lot of time trying to get that little girl to play because she was sitting between us the whole time.”
The ploy eventually worked, thanks to a little prodding from Pat, as well. That date led to a third date of watching “submarine races” at the causeway.
“We were listening to the radio and Ray Charles sang, ‘I can’t stop loving you.’ I looked at Pat and asked her to marry me. That was our third date, and we got married that August,” Gallo said. “In my heart, I just knew because she was so different and so sweet. I just wasn’t used to being around people like her.”
Mrs. Gallo was cremated at her request. The family will split some of the ashes and place them in identical heart pendants to keep Pat with them at all times. The remaining ashes will be kept by Gallo — “And I’ll have them mixed with mine with the time comes.”
Tragedy strikes everyone at some point and, as the old saying goes, “No one gets out alive.” But as the new year approaches, Gallo shares the same advice with us that he gave to his children.
“Life is going to go on,” he said. “Life is beautiful, but it’s what you make of it, so live your life. My wife and I did that. We had a good life and I’m so thankful for that. I really am.”