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Remembering a man who savored small pleasures

Rosario Urso, a Tampa math professor, knew that the little stuff added up.
Rosario Urso was a math professor at Hillsborough Community College from 1970 until 2003. He then taught for seven years at the University of Tampa before returning to HCC for three more years. His students loved him, said Emilio Toro, a neighbor and UT math professor. "You could not say he was an easy teacher. That’s certainly not the case."
Rosario Urso was a math professor at Hillsborough Community College from 1970 until 2003. He then taught for seven years at the University of Tampa before returning to HCC for three more years. His students loved him, said Emilio Toro, a neighbor and UT math professor. "You could not say he was an easy teacher. That’s certainly not the case." [ Courtesy Josette Urso ]
Published Oct. 12, 2020
Updated Oct. 13, 2020

Rosario Urso liked his shirts buttoned all the way up. So his wife of 59 years, Connie Urso, sewed a tiny snap into each. He’d buy his favorite shoes a few at a time, in case they went out of production. He loved clear-bodied mechanical pencils and things returned where they belonged.

Before the pandemic, when small pleasures like handshakes and coffee with friends were possible, Mr. Urso savored them. He taught himself to play classical guitar, read daily and treasured his three daughters and their families.

“He made the most of every day,” said his oldest daughter, Josette Urso, “and just really enjoyed all the little things.”

Mr. Urso died Sept. 24 of natural causes. He was 85.

Here are a few more of his favorite things.

Rosario Urso grew up in Ybor City. HIs parents immigrated from Alessandra Della Rocco, Sicily, Italy.
Rosario Urso grew up in Ybor City. HIs parents immigrated from Alessandra Della Rocco, Sicily, Italy. [ Courtesy Josette Urso ]

Childhood mornings in Ybor City, a newspaper bike route, baseball practice.

Lou Gehrig, the New York Yankees, Saturdays at the Tampa Theatre.

The stories his Sicilian parents brought home from the cigar factory, the opera they sang to, the value they put on school.

Connie, the young artist he’d admire during his grocery store shift before, finally, tapping her on the shoulder one night at a dance.

Then, later, their children: Josette, the artist; Lynette, the caretaker; and Yvette, the problem solver.

Afternoons with Chekov and Tolstoy.

His record player spinning Joan Baez and Leonard Cohen on Sunday mornings.

Funny patterned socks, which, when he perched at the edge of his desk, his students at Hillsborough County Community College always noticed.

An office drawer full of pens, pencils and notebooks. A big chalkboard his daughters delighted in drawing on. And one he brought home for them.

Rosario and Connie Urso were married for 59 years.
Rosario and Connie Urso were married for 59 years. [ Courtesy Josette Urso ]

Mr. Urso loved authoring his calculus textbooks in pencil.

Studious note-taking at faculty meetings.

Breakfast at Tony’s, coffee at Arco Iris and dinner at Bella’s.

“He liked his coffee a certain way,” said childhood friend Pete Labruzzo — cafecito or cafe con leche.

Weekend trips to the bookstore with Yvette Urso, his youngest. Rides around town together, walks on Bayshore, breaks for sweet treats.

Watching his students' faces during class, said Yvette, who was also one of her father’s students, noticing who was lost, then explaining in a different way.

And that his former students — from HCC and later the University of Tampa and the University of South Florida — would recognize him years later in the grocery store or a restaurant and always say hello.

Rosario Urso with his three daughters, Lynette, Yvette and Josette.
Rosario Urso with his three daughters, Lynette, Yvette and Josette. [ Courtesy Josette Urso ]

The Ursos loved summers in New York at Josette’s.

The museums.

The Columbia University library.

They discovered things around the city she never had.

After his wife’s death in 2014, Mr. Urso slowed down, but he didn’t brood. In retirement, he’d meet with friends, stop at the grocery store each day and visit bookstores.

He enjoyed coffee with son-in-law Peter Schroth and going to games with son-in-law Kurt Dooley.

The summer he spent tutoring his grandson, John Ross, in math.

His grandson’s baseball and basketball games.

The strangers he’d turn into friends in the bleachers.

When John Ross got a hit or made a basket.

“He did that with authority,” Mr. Urso always said.

From left to right, Rosario Urso In New York City at Yankee Stadium with family, from left to right, son-in-law Kurt Dooley, grandson John Ross Dooley, Rosario Urso, son-in-law Peter Schroth and daughter Josette Urso. Top right: Yvette Urso with Rosario and Connie Urso. Bottom right: Son-in-law Kurt Dooley, daughter Lynette Dooley, Connie Urso, Rosario Urso and grandson John Ross Dooley.
From left to right, Rosario Urso In New York City at Yankee Stadium with family, from left to right, son-in-law Kurt Dooley, grandson John Ross Dooley, Rosario Urso, son-in-law Peter Schroth and daughter Josette Urso. Top right: Yvette Urso with Rosario and Connie Urso. Bottom right: Son-in-law Kurt Dooley, daughter Lynette Dooley, Connie Urso, Rosario Urso and grandson John Ross Dooley. [ Courtesy Josette Urso ]

In the last year, Lynette Dooley started driving her father everywhere. He kept his new home, in a senior living apartment, as neat and ordered as he always had. He set up his desk and books. He kept making new friends.

And he still wanted to stop for a coffee, an ice cream or a media noche.

“Let’s go get a treat,” he’d say.

And they always did.

Rosario Urso wrote his textbook, Calculus with Applications, by hand. He also had a drawer full of white-out.
Rosario Urso wrote his textbook, Calculus with Applications, by hand. He also had a drawer full of white-out. [ Courtesy Josette Urso ]

Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

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