When you walk into the lobby of Vince Frangipane’s building — 4455 Bathurst St. — it is neat, tidy and bursting with green plants from the apartments of tenants who have died or moved into nursing homes. Just down the hallway, there is a community room with a row of scooters, exercise bikes and an embroidered wall hanging: Happiness is yelling bingo.
This was the room where close to 200 people gathered last week to say goodbye to Frangipane, the Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) superintendent who died unexpectedly in January. For close to ten years, Frangipane, 50, helped the seniors who lived here create a building they were proud of. He was calm and patient, even if it was his lunch break. “Yeah, I’ll get to it later,” he’d say — and then he would leave his coffee and get to it right away.
Tenants were devastated by his death and held a memorial on Feb. 8, his 51st birthday. There were flowers, snacks and speeches. TCHC president Kathy Milsom was there, and so too, were nearly all of the building’s residents.
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The building is very diverse, and many told stories in different languages, including Russian. “With the emotion and pounding of the heart, you didn’t need to understand the words,” said his sister Cathy Di Santo, who was there with her mother and sister. “To hear all the wonderful things . . . has been absolutely overwhelming.”
To his family, Frangipane was a deliberate guy who loved sports, especially football, and enjoyed cooking exquisite meals that were always worth the wait. He was single, loved his family, his nieces and nephews, but never made a fuss about himself. He hadn’t been feeling well in January — and one Sunday while watching football, his breathing became laboured, so he called paramedics. At the hospital, he had a heart attack and died the next day.
When his sister went to his home, she saw “tons of Kleenex,” and other signs that “he should have called for help two days prior.” But that was her brother. He didn’t want to bother anybody.
He worked with Toronto Community Housing for close to 30 years, in buildings at Jane and Finch, and Parliament St. It was at Sheppard Place where he felt most at peace.
On Saturday, as the snow fell gently outside, four women played canasta in the lounge.
“If I have some headache, I’d say, ‘Vince, please!’ ” said Lea Srajer, 90, laughing as she kept one eye on the game. She said she delayed her trip to visit her daughter in Florida she could attend the memorial.
“I am really sorry about him you know, because it is so young and so many old people are living,” she said, “And he really was a man who helped everybody, and who was friendly.”
In his navy TCHC sweater, Frangipane was well known to sons, daughters and caregivers of many in the building.
“He was so gentle and patient,” says Tanya Souslova, even with tenants who were difficult. When Souslova stayed overnight to take care of her mother, she’d see Frangipane arriving at 6 a.m. to shovel. He was up anyway, he’d say. He didn’t want anyone to slip.
Souslova’s 90-year-old mother was in hospital when he died. “I had no courage to tell her until I was driving her home,” she said. “My mom, she loved him as I do.”
Souslova attended the memorial: “Thank you for raising such a beautiful person,” she told Frangipane’s mother.
Anita Dressler, the tenant rep who organized the memorial and teamed up with Frangipane on many building initiatives, always thought he should be an instructor for superintendents in both the private and public sector — because he had a way of making people feel heard and respected. Some of the seniors who live at Sheppard Place are isolated, and many don’t speak English. It is a close-knit community where people rely on site staff and other tenants.
Every December, Frangipane would break out the Christmas and Hanukkah decorations and play carols in the hallway. “It’s music,” he’d say, when anyone gave him a hard time.
When a tenant died, he was always compassionate. He’d give his condolences and tell the families to clear out the big stuff, but not worry about the little things left behind — he’d take care of that.
“TCHC has a policy that you have to pay if (the room) is not totally cleaned and I think he overlooked that in a lot of cases,” Dressler said.
She noted that TCHC get a lot of bad press, but this building is phenomenal, and “It’s a tribute to him.”
“He was the guy you want to be friends with,” she said, as the smell of percolated coffee drifted through the lounge.
“He was a man who had a very good heart,” said Lady Tonoli. “We were happy to have him here.”