Michael Garbesi, 53, Celebrity Photographer

Posted: December 02, 1994

Michael "Mike Reno" Garbesi, 53, a freelance photographer of political, entertainment and sports stars, died Tuesday at his home in South Philadelphia.

Mr. Garbesi, known throughout Philadelphia as "Mike Reno," often cruised the city with cameras hanging off his neck and a press pass identifying him as a representative of the Philadelphia Exclusive News.

"He was a self-employed freelance photographer and sold advertisements for the paper," said J.J. Palumbo, owner of the Exclusive News. "He was a street-smart guy."

Mr. Garbesi was an admirer and friend of the late Mayor Frank Rizzo.

"My dad loved him and treated him like a son," Frank Rizzo Jr. said. "He worked hard at political events, with three or four cameras around his neck.

"But he never showed the pictures! So my dad began to tease him and say he didn't have any film in the camera."

That's when Mike Reno began carrying a photo album of Rizzo pictures around with him. He began snapping pictures of Rizzo when he was the city's police commissioner and continued taking them throughout Rizzo's political career.

Mr. Garbesi was also known for his good-heartedness.

"He was a loyal person, always there to do a favor," said Jody Della Barba, former personal secretary to Mayor Rizzo.

"One night about three years ago, my son won a Little League baseball trophy," Della Barba said. "He got to the awards dinner too late to take the picture, so he (Mr. Garbesi) came to our house, took the picture, and included it in the paper."

Mr. Garbesi also took pictures at Variety Club fund-raising events.

"He would take the pictures, develop them, and would not accept a dime," said Edward D. McBride, manager for community and city affairs for the Philadelphia Electric Company.

Mr. Garbesi had a knack for getting close enough to snap pictures of presidents, judges, mayors, movie stars, athletes and even the Pope.

His friend, Mario D'Adamo, described Mr. Garbesi as "a colorful character who was very intelligent, with the canny ability to judge people."

"He was fond of genuine greatness, was very dedicated to his mother and a very loyal human being, especially to Frank Rizzo," D'Adamo said. "He was born on the Fourth of July, loved to eat and drink, loved Ben Franklin and his quotations, and was full of good deeds."

Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Garbesi graduated from South Philadelphia High School. A tenor, he sang with the City Hall Court Yard Singers.

At the time of his death, he had been organizing photos he had taken through the years. He had planned to publish a pictorial book on Mayor Rizzo.

He is survived by his mother, Anna Reno Garbesi; brothers, Anthony and Salvatore; and sister, Catherine Williams.

There will be a viewing from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial, at St. Rita's Roman Catholic Church, 1164 S. Broad St. Burial will be at SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple Township, Delaware County.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the Mike Reno Fund, c/o IGA Federal Credit Union, Teller No. 52, 213 Street Road, Feasterville, Pa. 19053.

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