TAMPA — One of Tampa's first female television show hosts and a prominent etiquette instructor, Joann Torretta Guagliardo modeled professionalism, on and off the runway.
"She crafted character... not just which fork or perfect posture," said her daughter Gayle Guyardo, WFLA-Ch. 8 morning news anchor and "her ultimate student."
Torretta broke into the broadcast industry right out of college, starting off behind the scenes writing for a television fitness show. By 1957, the Tampa native was on-camera, chipping away at WFLA's glass ceiling as host of Fashions for You.
"She was a driving force who taught others how to be their best," said her son Paul Guyardo at a memorial service for their late mother Aug. 24 at Hyde Park United Methodist Church. Her pioneering spirit and high standards earned respect for women in the workplace.
Pointing out that her passing was announced on Facebook, he cited some of the many sympathy postings: "Ahead of her time… the definition of style and class.... A Tampa treasure."
Yes, he said, "my 85-year-old mother was on Facebook with over 300 followers."
It helped her stay connected to her alma mater, Northwestern University. To honor her collegiate devotion, the family has endowed the Joann Torretta Award to be presented annually to a talented communications student pursuing filmmaking, radio, television or theater.
"Joann studied theater, radio and creative enterprises during a Golden Age," said Barbara O'Keefe, dean of the school of communications, who flew to Tampa to honor the 1953 school of speech graduate.
As the first female dean hired in her position, O'Keefe especially valued Torretta's friendship and wise counsel, she told the gathering of 150 friends, family and longtime Davis Islands neighbors. She noted Torretta's pride in wearing the school color, "Totally purple she was." Both son Paul, class of 1983, and grandson Paul, class of 2020, share her enthusiasm.
Northwestern senior theatre major Alex Kramer accompanied O'Keefe to sing a tribute song at the reception that followed at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club.
Torretta married Joe Guagliardo in 1959. They were married for 57 years until he passed away July 8, 2016, exactly one year to the day of her passing.
With the birth of their two children, television's loss was a win for two department stores.
The young mother worked as fashion director at Sears and Montgomery Wards, including two decades teaching etiquette and modeling at the Wendy Ward Charm School.
Ever entrepreneurial, Torretta opened First Impressions talent and image development studio in 1983. Politicians, TV personalities, pageant contestants and business executives benefitted from her expertise. She was a sought-after speaker on health and self-esteem topics, motivating breast cancer survivors like herself by creating the American Cancer Society's Look Good, Feel Better program. "Ears over shoulders," was her mantra to the models at the many fashion shows she staged for charities, including the Florida Orchestra and the Tampa Woman's Club.
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"One of her Hospice nurses told me, "you die like you live," Gayle said. "My mother knew every precious day on earth was worth fighting for."
Doctors told her she had mere days left but she didn't listen.
"She was determined we go out for dinner on the 4th of July even when she was bedridden."
Four days later, with both children at her side, Torretta died at her beach condo in Longboat Key.