Pittsburgh native Joseph A. Talarico wanted to be an artist, but World War II erased his plans. Instead of drawing on paper when he returned from overseas combat, he wound up carting rolls of it around as a paper handler for three of the city's newspapers.
Mr. Talarico followed his father and other relatives into a paper-handling job, splitting his time among the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, The Pittsburgh Press and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He retired after more than half a century -- most of that time as his small union's president.
After battling liver cancer for two years, Mr. Talarico of Squirrel Hill died Sunday at the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. He was 90.
"Joe was a good people person," recalled longtime friend and colleague Robert Lancia, a longtime paper handler and former manager at the Post-Gazette. He described Mr. Talarico as someone who kept a cool head in the face of adversity.
"If I was Joe I probably would have been jailed or in the electric chair because I was at meetings with him and he would let people talk to him unmercifully," Mr. Lancia said. "I said, 'Why do you take this?' He said, 'I'd rather have them blow their steam at the union hall than down at the building.' "
Mr. Talarico ran Paper Handlers Local 5 for 45 years, said Richard Talarico, one of his four children.
"He rose quickly because of his intelligence and his demeanor," said Mr. Talarico, an aide to former Mayor Richard Caliguiri and onetime president of the Yellow Cab Co. "He had the knack of making a lot of friends."
Mr. Talarico also spent decades as president of the Allied Printing Trades Council of Western Pennsylvania, an industry group that had 3,500 members when he took over in 1968.
The group defends the union label trademark and encourages printing industry customers to patronize union shops.
Mr. Talarico was born in the city's Bluff neighborhood. His father, Dominic, was an early union member.
"All my relatives worked for the Press, Post-Gazette or Sun-Telly. My dad, my four uncles," said another son, Joseph D. Talarico of Upper St. Clair. "I worked my way through law school down there and college."
After graduating from Fifth Avenue High School, Mr. Talarico received a scholarship to study art at the old Carnegie Tech thanks to his drawing prowess, his family said. But World War II soon intervened and Mr. Talarico shipped out to the Pacific Theater.
During a break from action in the Philippines, Mr. Talarico served a stint at Fort Ord in California as an amphibious landing craft instructor. By war's end, he had married the late Julia Barone, a neighborhood girl whose cousin was a family friend. They were together until her death in 2006.
After the war, the couple returned to Pittsburgh. Mr. Talarico took a job at the old Sun-Telegraph, where he steered the blank newsprint that came to the building, unloading the rolls, maneuvering them through the facility and feeding them onto the presses.
After becoming active in the union, Mr. Talarico -- then the vice president -- eventually got his chance to rise to the top when the former president joined management. He retired from the Post-Gazette in 1996 and his union -- which dwindled over the years from several dozen to fewer than 20 due to automation and other changes -- was folded into another.
Mr. Talarico was an avid reader in his retirement, spending up to eight hours a day reading books on history and World War II.
"My dad never had a bad word for anyone, but whenever we asked him about [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur he would say, 'No comment,' " Richard Talarico said.
In addition to Joseph and Richard, Mr. Talarico is survived by son Ronald of Fox Chapel; daughter Juliann Talarico of Squirrel Hill; seven grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and brothers Robert and Frank.
Brusco-Falvo Funeral Home on Mount Washington handled arrangements.
Contributions can be made to the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 200 JHF Drive, Pittsburgh 15217.
Jonathan D. Silver: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1962.