Joseph M. Caruso, who inspired a legion of well-wishers as he fought a three-year battle against cancer with grace and grit, died Wednesday morning at home. He was 45 and leaves a wife and three young children.
Mr. Caruso, a longtime resident of Newport who worked in the hospitality industry and was an avid surfer, became a high-profile figure locally in a campaign to raise awareness and funding for cancer research. Drawing from natural athleticism and a positive outlook, Joe inspired countless individuals as he completed numerous athletic events that were organized for cancer awareness and other charities.
In December 2009, he was diagnosed with Stage IV non-smoker’s lung cancer that had metastasized to his bones, lower back and liver, and was given one year to live.
Joe was told by his doctors not to surf or run, advice he promptly ignored even as his treatment commenced.
Not being able to complete two lengths of the pool at the Newport Y in April 2010, by July he had completed the 1.7 mile Save the Bay swim across Narragansett Bay. Not having any experience on a road bicycle, in August 2010 he completed the Lance Armstrong Livestrong ride in Philadelphia. Not being able to run without continuous back pain, he completed many road races, including the Newport Pell Bridge Run in November 2011. But Joe’s achievements were limited to neither traditional triathlon events nor cancer-specific causes.
In 2011 and 2012 he climbed One Financial Plaza in Providence to complete the Fight For Air event for the American Lung Association, as Joe sought in his own way to give back to all those who were supporting him and his family. Perhaps the pinnacle of Joe’s post-diagnosis athletic achievement came in June 2011 as he completed the Mooseman Olympic-distance triathlon in New Hampshire, a four-hour feat that included a 1.5 kilometer swim, a 40 kilometer bike and a 10 kilometer run. Most recently, in July 2012, Joe completed the 25 mile ERRACE Cancer bicycle ride in Avon, Conn. and the Navy Base Sprint Triathlon in Newport, RI.
Mr. Caruso was born September 9, 1967 in Hartford, Conn., the son of Robert and Nydia Caruso, and grew up in Simsbury, Conn. He graduated from Simsbury High School in 1986 and later from Northern Arizona University with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management.
Joe was a long-time Food and Beverage Manager at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Newport and then at the Newport Grand Casino. In 2002 he was named the Rhode Island Hotel Employee of the Year, and in 2007 he was named Foodservice Employee of the Year, both by the Rhode Island Hospitality and Tourism Association.
On September 27, 2003, Joe married Linda Waidler in South Kingstown, RI. They had three sons, Mason, Tyler and Noah.
No matter the weather or the season, Joe was frequently found sitting on his surfboard alongside his friends from Water Brothers in the surf off Ruggles Ave., awaiting the perfect wave. In his younger days, as a veteran of some 130 concerts, Joe could be found traveling the country with some of his oldest and closest friends to see the Grateful Dead. And as a husband and father, he was seen throughout Newport walking with his wife and boys, playing at the beach, and attending the school and extracurricular activities of his sons, including gymnastics, soccer and tee-ball games.
Mr. Caruso leaves behind a legacy of courage, tenacity and inspiration that stretched from Aquidneck Island to his hometown of Simsbury, Conn., and all the way to the triathlete community competing in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, HI this month. As a husband, father, son, brother and friend, he will be remembered as a man who implored all to “Get busy living”. And he led by example.
Of the many triathlons, road races and other events he competed in, Joe said, “I enter these races to let my family know, to give them some assurance, that ‘Daddy’s okay’ and that there are other things to focus on that are bigger than cancer: to work as hard as you can and do the best that you can.”
Besides his wife and children, Joe leaves his parents, of Simsbury, Conn.; a sister, Laura Caruso, of Manchester, Conn. and her husband Eric Johnson and son Samuel Johnson, and a large extended family. The Caruso family would like to thank the entire community for their support, especially John and Jennifer McCabe and family, Mitch and Lynda Turner and family, Frank and Kristen Martucci and family, and Mary Pat and Richard Woodward and family.
Calling Hours will be Sunday, October 7, 2012 from 4-7pm at Memorial Funeral Home, 375 Broadway, Newport.
Mr. Caruso’s funeral will be celebrated on Monday, October 8, 2012 at 9am at St. Joseph’s Church, Broadway and Mann Avenue, Newport. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, the American Lung Association, or the Newport County YMCA.
Swimstrong, Bikestrong, Runstrong, Livestrong, Headstrong, Always!