In March, when a $320 million Powerball jackpot fueled dreams of tropical escapes nationwide, JoAnn Palmieri told her husband, Anthony, the only thing she would buy with the windfall is a chauffeur to take her to and from work.
Noting that most people's lottery fantasies involve gleefully voluntary unemployment, Mr. Palmieri prodded the Veterans Affairs of Pittsburgh nurse practitioner for an answer to why she would stay on the job.
"I said when you win $320 million you don't have to go to work," said Mr. Palmieri. "She said, 'I don't have to go to work now. I don't go to 'work' now.' That's how much she loved what she did."
Mrs. Palmieri, of South Fayette, died in her sleep Thursday after a lifetime dedicated to mending the physical and emotional wounds of the nation's veterans. She was 67.
Mrs. Palmieri, an Ohio native whose father served in the Army Air Corps and the U.S. Air Force, attended schools in France and England as a child before graduating from Washington Lee High School in Arlington, Va.
After moving to Pittsburgh and earning a nursing diploma, Mrs. Palmieri met her husband and kicked off a lifelong journey as a caretaker.
She began her nursing career with St. Clair Hospital, where she worked part time so she could raise her two children, Claudine and Matthew. When the children grew to school age, she decided to further her own education at age 43 at Penn State University.
After earning a B.S. in nursing, Mrs. Palmieri went on to earn a master's in nursing from the University of Pittsburgh while teaching nursing at Ohio Valley Hospital.
Her dedication to the field shined through as a student, with induction to the Sigma Theta Tau National Nursing Honors Society and membership with the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and the American College of Nurse Practitioners.
At Pitt, Mrs. Palmieri was a graduate research assistant and one of six students to graduate in the first class of the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program.
Once on the job, Mrs. Palmieri's commitment toward patient and family care was evident in every position she held. She worked in Allegheny General Hospital's oncology department and in UPMC Presbyterian's cardiology department. But family members said she found her calling with Veterans Affairs.
Mr. Palmieri said she was known at work for coming in early, leaving late and refusing to step away from the job until a patient and their families knew she had done her best to meet their needs.
"It would be almost 9 in the evening and I'd ask her what she's still doing there and she would say 'I'm waiting for this family to come in so I can be here for a patient's discharge,'" said Mr. Palmieri. "It made me angry at times because I had to share her love with her other love."
Regardless of how many hours she would work, Mrs. Palmieri put her family first at the end of the day, said Mr. Palmieri.
The travel aficionado was known for planning national and international trips for her family, including a dog sledding jaunt with Matthew and Claudine and a recent trip to Normandy, France, with Claudine.
And while she never did snag that $320 million, Mr. Palmieri said the greatest gift she could have left behind is the legacy of love she has shown family, friends and patients.
"She personally knew the sacrifices families went through with the military. She would want people at the VA to continue to care for patients with the same respect, compassion and love for them she had for them," he said.
In addition to husband, Mrs. Palmieri is survived by daughter Claudine Palmieri, of Pikesville, Md., and Matthew Palmieri, of Manassas, Va.
Visitation will be from 2 to 6 p.m. today at Warchol Funeral Home, 3060 Washington Pike, Bridgeville.
Memorial donations may be made to the VAPHS Voluntary Services/Fisher House Fund, 1010 Delafield Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15215.
Deborah M. Todd: email@example.com or 412-263-1652.