This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
Grace Meo could thread a needle with surgical precision, a skill she retained into her 80s. She could also feed a crowd with no notice and dress down the nuns in her son’s Roman Catholic school.
When she learned that her son Vincent, who was dyslexic, was forced to sit in a corner for two hours at school one day as punishment for his inability to read, Ms. Meo marched into the school, picked up the nun in charge by her collar and threatened her life if Vincent was ever treated that way again, another son, Frank Meo, said.
Ms. Meo was known for her eggplant, simply prepared with oil and garlic, and, in her later years, for her star turn at the close of the annual Octoberfest party held by Frank Meo and his wife, Sylvia Laudien-Meo. As the party died down and the guests, red-faced and stuffed with sausage and beer, began pulling on their coats, Ms. Meo would almost invariably halt the exodus by saying, “I’ll drop a pound.”
It was her version of “Wait, what about another round?” — except it was spaghetti that was on offer, not alcohol. Grace would proceed to drop more than a pound into boiling water (more like five or six pounds) and toss it all with garlic and oil, and the guests would shed their coats and settle in for another couple of hours.
Ms. Meo died on Sept. 26 at Somerset Woods Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Somerset, N.J. She was 93. The cause was Covid-19, her son Frank said. She had been at the center since December. As of Sept. 28, Somerset Woods had 43 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among its patients, 17 among its staff and four deaths, including Ms. Meo’s.
Grace Marie Russo was born on Aug. 5, 1927, in Flatbush, Brooklyn, to Emanuela (LoCicero) Russo, a homemaker, and Vincent Russo, a carpenter. One of nine children, Grace was a skilled seamstress, and for a few years after high school she worked at Milgrim’s, a well-known dress shop on 57th Street in Manhattan, near Fifth Avenue.
Milgrim’s was a go-to spot from the 1930s through the 1950s. Sally Milgrim, the proprietor, made Eleanor Roosevelt’s gown for her first inaugural ball in 1933, as well as clothes for Ethel Merman and Mary Pickford. Wedding dresses were a specialty, and the young women who worked there had a habit of sneaking a strand of their hair into the hems to earn good luck in love.
One summer while on vacation in Catskill, N.Y., Grace met a local boy, Frank Meo; they married in 1948. (The hem hair effect on this romance is unknown.)
Once married, the couple opened a dry-cleaning business, Cameo Cleaners, on Ocean Parkway and Church Avenue in Brooklyn, with Grace handling the alterations and tailoring and Frank the pressing and everything else. The Meos sold the store in the late 1980s; in the ’90s, Ms. Meo took a job as an aide at Santapogue Elementary School in West Babylon, N.Y., on Long Island, where she stayed for nearly two decades.
Though Ms. Meo’s métiers were sewing, cooking and her family, her heart belonged to Frank Sinatra. She once skipped a day of high school to see him in a movie at the Rialto Theatre on Flatbush Avenue — and felt lifelong guilt for lying to her mother about it. She made sure to see him live whenever he was in town.
Ms. Meo’s husband died in 2010; her son Vincent died in 2013. In addition to her son Frank, her survivors include five grandchildren.
A decade or so ago, the family had gathered at Frank Meo’s for Thanksgiving. As usual, Sinatra was playing, and Ms. Laudien-Meo was ribbing her mother-in-law about the crooner’s philandering ways. “You know he slept with a lot of women,” she teased.
Grace’s comeback was swift, but said with a sigh: “Yes, but not me!”