Roberto La Morticella
Roberto La Morticella
Roberto La Morticella
Roberto La Morticella
Roberto La Morticella
Roberto La Morticella

Obituary of Roberto Camillo La Morticella

For Robert LaMorticella

July 15, 1938- July 11, 2018





When I drive by the places we used to pass

I remember he is not here with me. In this way

he is here with me.


When I’m chopping garlic and dropping it into a green soup

he is so much not here with me

he is here with me.


When I fold his clothes and touch the ragged edge

of his pants, when I leaf through his notes and note

his hand getting feebler and scratchier,


His absence turns to presence and

he is here with me.


When I put away his books and unused art supplies

When I look at his quick sketches and see

all the things he wanted to do


He who was the banks of my river for so very long

becomes my waterfall.


He who was my anchor for 50 years

is now my ocean, my negative space,

my ghost.


Barbara LaMorticella





Robert LaMorticella, my husband of 56 years, was a family man, an industrial welder, and an artist who remained true to his roots. His mother Cecilia was born in Italy; his father Umberto was a second generation Italian. Cecilia was beautiful, strong and accomplished, a devout Roman Catholic, a fabulous cook, a gifted seamstress, and a dedicated gardener.


Umberto-- “Albert”-- stayed close to Hungry Hill, the working class Italian immigrant neighborhood where he was born. Umberto had to quit school go to work in the steel mills in his teens. A brilliant man, he taught himself multiple languages and studied Italian law. For many years he was a teacher and lawyer- “avvocato”- for the many Italian immigrants who came to Chicago Heights. He held English classes in his basement for Italian immigrants, charging 50 cents a lesson. In his old age, despite his lack of formal education, he was hired by the local Community College to teach English to Italians.


Umberto longed for a better world, and his talks to his young son about class and revolution had a profound effect on Robert. Though Robert was offered a scholarship to study engineering, after high school, he chose to work in a steel mill to save money for a year long trip to Europe. Robert’s perspective on things was unique and fearless. People sometimes grabbed pencils to take notes as he talked.


Although Robert loved books, he didn’t read much. He only discovered in his 60s that he was dyslexic. He turned his dyslexia into drawings and sculpture, working with paper mache and steel. He said he was a materialist, but for him that word didn’t mean working to accumulate things, but rather creating them. In San Francisco in the 60s he had been a talented puppetteer, making puppets for street demonstrations, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and Ramparts magazine. He wasn’t a member of it, but the Puppetteers of America wanted to feature his puppets as the centerpiece in their annual yearbook in 1967. He refused. He said he wasn’t ready yet.


In Oregon he worked as a welder in the Carpenter’s Union. In the time between industrial jobs, he gardened and cooked, repaired old trucks, hauled water, chopped wood, cared for his family, and tended a 20 acre piece of forest land. A loner who loved people, he was a lover of life who chose a life of hard physical labor. Life with Robert wasn’t comfortable or easy physically, but it was always interesting.


Robert was always strong and healthy, and when his life of hard work and industrial pollution caught up with him and he had a heart attack and then slipped into Lewy Body Dementia, it shocked everyone, including himself. When he died at the Harvest Homes care facility, his body was completely worn out. But even as he lay dying, unable to move, it was obvious that his spirit was very much alive. When I said “Robert this is hard. It’s labor. It’s as hard labor as giving birth.” He clearly said his last spoken word- “Yes.”


I think he delivered his last living messages by smiling. He beamed broadly when I read him a famous quote from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas to him: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”


Although he didn’t return to puppetry when we moved to Oregon, in his shop in retirement he very quietly began making puppet heads again: happy, pinched, sour, beatific, silly, and serene. I think in fashioning these images, he was working on his spirit. And in his last few years, as if preparing himself for metamorphosis and for the freedom of flight, he drew, carved and sculpted birds and angels in wood, metal and paper mache.


Besides me, he leaves behind his son Dante LaMorticella, daughter Paola LaMorticella-Fox, son-in law Scott Fox, granddaughters Adelina and Carita LaMorticella, grandson Romeo LaMorticella-Fox and granddaughter Cecilia LaMorticella-Fox. He leaves behind 5 brothers and sisters: Marie Estes (George), Martha Panzica (Ron), Flavio LaMorticella (Karen), Camelia LaMorticella, and Anthony LaMorticella (Cyndi).








A week before Robert died, our friend Frank Lambertino wrote to him from Mexico:


Robert, you are the closest thing I have to an older brother. You have had a powerful influence on who I am today.  I can think of many instances where you had an important affect on me.  Once when I saw a Hindu fakir do a stunt on the Jack Paar TV program, I went the next day with Flavio to see you.  You had that basement room on the wall of which I later painted a tarantula.  "Yoga?", and you twisted around in your swivel chair and pulled a book off your shelf and handed it to me.  It was on Yoga philosophy and published by the Theosophical Society Press---the real thing!  At the very beginning you connected me to the real sources.  That was in 1957; how much was out there about yoga then?  Today, everybody and his cousin are yoga instructors.  Back then, a desert.  Without your action, I would never have followed the path I did.  From Yoga to Buddhism, you were the catalyst. 


I had been looking at the generation of my grandparents and their sisters and their families that all immigrated to the US at the same time.  They all were peasants, and I could see a difference between them and my parents' generation.  They had a simple transparency and integrity that we Americans lacked.  My mind was all confused and muddled about that.  And then I heard you declare "I am a peasant!" and it was as if you had thrown a light switch.  All of a sudden it was clear, I'm a peasant, too!  That set an orientation and a value system in my mind that has ended up with me living with Zapotec campesinos and raising pigs in the mountains of Mexico.  A lot of who I am today, I owe to you. Thanks.


I know I've said this before and I'm going to say it again because it is so screamingly true: You should be living down here in rural Mexico, like me.  You'd love it!  You'd fit right in. It takes Italians six months to learn to speak perfect Mexican Spanish.  You would have thrived.  Even in little things.  There is a custom in the village that at fiestas huge 'colinda' puppets are danced and paraded throughout the town.  They are made of cane, cloth and paper-mache---like the puppets you used to make.  I remember once walking down the middle of Market Street next to you.  You had on a large paper-mache eagles head and a yard long, red pecker strapped to your crotch.  A fond memory, hey?


Anyway, Robert, damn! but I sure like you.  And I'm glad to not only have known you, but have had the privilege of being your friend.  We, our circle of friends, are all coming to the ends of our paths.  No tragedy; just sad.  My hope, a Buddhist hope, is we'll get together again in another incarnation.  I'd like that a lot.




And our friend Stella Levy wrote this shortly before he died-- her rendition of his pepper recipe follows:




for Robert LaMorticella 6/24/18


They aren’t just any peppers How could they be?

The children, now gone, knew that Robert’s peppers were slow, so go outside and play awhile.


Robert’s peppers are green and sweet like Robert.

They are Italian like Robert so must be stirred in a pool of olive oil poured from a one gallon baroquely decorated can. Did I say slow and contemplative?

 You will learn a lot about how to cook these peppers if you notice Robert’s playground in the Mission still sturdy after 50 years. Robert’s peppers are working class, anarchist, deliciousness and don’t you forget it!

 We met at the Mime Troupe of LaMorticellas and  Ronnie Davis and John Connell and Jon Roberts when anyone  such as myself who did not pronounce it “Meem” advertised their uncoolness. Robert didn’t care. He was quietly constructing heads and giant puppets for anarchist parades down Haight street announcing the Death of Money. And over at their house we drank red jug wine while Barbara melted cheese on thousands of chunks of sourdough and tried to find me a boyfriend.

Within a few years we all moved to where land was cheap and indoor plumbing non existent. Robert and Barbara to Oregon where he made peppers and pizza as Dante and Paola grew up. John Connell and I to New Mexico where Loha and Brendan grew up and Jon Roberts and Teresa lived in a tipi. I cooked Robert’s peppers on a wood stove and told the story to children now gone.

There are photos to be shared from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and on into the 21st century nightmare where we, now elders, are blessed with fading memories. Nevermind never mind. Let us quietly deliberately cook some Robert’s peppers and gratefully tell the story of  our beloved working class hero.


with love to all



Robert’s Unforgettable Peppers


8-12 Bell or red peppers, can add a few hot peppers as desired

3 or 4 good glurgs of olive oil

Handful of chopped garlic cloves

Salt to taste


Warm oil in frying pan. Stir in peppers and chopped garlic. Add more oil and salt. Cook over low heat for a long time while stirring, talking with friends, listening to music, or simply enjoying the peace of oil and peppers and a wooden spoon.




My children inherited many things from their father. Both of our children cook, and our daughter Paola is an incredible craftswoman. Dante is a deep thinker, a very serious person, and, like Paola, a wonderful parent. When I told him I was putting this together, our son Dante wrote:


“I am, and have always been, proud to be my father’s son. When I was having trouble with my personal relationships and my interactions with people he always knew the way to help me and make me feel better. I hope that I can help people the way he helped me and others in his life”.


And Adelina, Dante’s daughter, felt comforted by writing her grandfather a letter after the pandemic started, two years after he died. She wrote this while he was in hospice, as he lay dying:




Dear Grandpa;


I’ll always remember my earliest memory: I’m in the cabin and you had put on that ceramic mask that hung on the wall (the one Paola made?). I remember believing that you had turned into some other creature, and for years after I was convinced come nighttime, you could transform into some mythical being. My earliest memories started in that cabin with you. I remember summers spent learning about herbs in the garden. Back before the orchard became an overgrown, beautiful wilderness, I remember walking out and picking fruit. When frog catching became a regular summer pastime, you fastened frog catchers using a tin can and a stick. And to this day, my favorite meals are those you cooked us. Polenta with black beans and salsa, spinach pizza, vegetable soups with rice… and of course fresh bread. Fresh bread with so much garlic smeared on that I would give myself a stomachache. You would indulge us and let us help in the bread making process. After kneading it we would hold it like a baby and exclaim: “It’s so cute, it feels just like a new born puppy!” Those days are treasured memories I hold very close. I remember sitting at the dinner table with you during always-heated discussions on politics (the best kind, if you ask me). You could tear down any argument, and your remarks were always poised and intelligent. It was those dinnertime discussions that inspired me to study politics and history.

You’ve had such an impact on all of our lives. We all feel so lucky to have grown up around you. All of the lessons and skills I’ve learned from you I’ll take into the future. I love you.




In 2010, in a letter to Jon Roberts, a friend who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Robert wrote this:


As long as I live, you will live with me. I will treasure out past and our continuing present. -- My parents still influence me. I keep them alive. There will come a time when there will no longer be any people left who knew them as living corporeal souls. They will recede into the matrix.


If I drop a stone into calm water, it will create ripples of concentric wavelets emanating from the epicenter. The wavelets will become fainter and fainter and fainter until, no longer visible or felt, they recede into the universal waters.


I love you Jon. I'll write again. Next time, the matrix.




Robert will always remain for me and for all of us who knew and loved him. Hopefully our lives will intertwine again in the Matrix.


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