NAUGATUCK — Robert Genovese was remembered as a man whose life centered on service to his country and community.
“In one word, Bob was a giver. He lived his life for community service and to give back to others,” Naugatuck Veterans Council Chairman John DeBisschop said.
Genovese, 77, died on Nov. 14.
Genovese was a lifelong Naugatuck resident. He attended St. Hedwig’s Grammar School and graduated from Naugatuck High School in 1960.
Shortly after graduating, Genovese enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was trained as an accounting and finance specialist. He served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967 and was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant in October 1968.
During his service in Vietnam, Genovese received numerous accolades and medals, including the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm, which was awarded to specific military units that distinguished themselves in battle.
Genovese’s desire to serve didn’t end when he returned home. He became active in several veterans organizations and was a staunch advocate for veterans.
Genovese was a member of VFW Post 1946, serving as commander in the late 1980s, and American Legion Post 17 in Naugatuck. He also served as commander of the Union City chapter of the Disabled American Veterans.
Genovese cofounded the now-defunct Veterans Who Care Committee, which for more than a decade assisted veterans in need.
“Bob was without question one of the most respected men in the borough of Naugatuck. He was loved and admired by every person he ever met, and he had the unique ability to convince anyone of the merit of his position. His loss creates an enormous vacuum in the veterans’ community as well as the entire borough of Naugatuck,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said.
DeBisschop said Genovese’s work could be felt throughout the borough.
“His largest impact was the years he ran the Veterans Who Care. The sole purpose of that organization was to help vets in need,” DeBisschop said.
DeBisschop said the organization raised money to help veterans in whatever way it could, which included assisting with bills and delivering food baskets.
“His most noticeable direct impact was all the veterans throughout the years that received direct help from Bob and his committee,” DeBisschop said.
Genovese worked with the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs from 1995 to 2003, helping veterans and their families file claims for service. He was inducted into the Connecticut Veteran’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
After he was inducted, DeBisschop said, Genovese worked hard filling out applications to nominate veterans he knew. He was the driving force behind Robert Burns of Naugatuck and Bill Mason of Prospect being inducted into the Hall of Fame, DeBisschop said.
“He wanted to ensure his fellow vets got the same recognition he did,” DeBisschop said.
Genovese was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1986, which was determined to result from exposure to Agent Orange. The cancer went into remission, but he retired in 2003 when the cancer returned.
Genovese never let cancer hold him back from helping people, DeBisschop said.
“He would back away for a month or two and then get better and jump back in with both feet,” DeBisschop said. “He didn’t stop.”
Throughout the years, Genovese was also recognized for the work he did in the community at large. He was named the Naugatuck Exchange Club’s Citizen of the Year in 2007 and received the Franklin E. Johnson Sr. Citizenship Award in 2011.
In 2013, the Naugatuck Alumni Association created the Robert L. Genovese Patriotism Award, which is given to individuals for their outstanding devotion and service to their town, state and country.
“His community service is deep and wide,” said Kevin Knowles, a member of the Naugatuck Alumni Association. “Whoever he could help out he would help.”
Knowles said the association created the award to honor Genovese’s service to the community and veterans, and to recognize that he was a graduate of Naugatuck High School.
“I have great respect for his work,” Knowles said. “We just felt it was appropriate.”