Joseph A. D'Alessandro, 85, master plumber and city inspector

Posted: January 14, 2014

JOSEPH D'ALESSANDRO was often the despair of car salesmen and real-estate agents.

If family members or friends were in the market for a car, they would take Joseph with them, knowing he would wheel and deal for them.

"He was such an aggressive negotiator, he would get under the salesmen's skin," said his daughter Mary-Rita. "He would try to get the price down and insisted they throw in this or that. Some salesmen hated to see him come through the door."

And if a family or friend was out to buy a house, they would take him along. He never listened to the salespeople's pitch about the beauties of the decor and other attributes that he considered unimportant.

"He would go straight into the basement," Mary-Rita said. "He would analyze the plumbing, check the fittings, the heater, the electrical system, looking for discrepancies, asbestos contamination. He never got above the basement."

The results of Joseph's bargaining and sharp inspections were that the shopping could drag on interminably. But the purchasers got a good deal.

"One real-estate salesman asked me if my father would be willing to work for him," Mary-Rita said.

Joseph A. D'Alessandro, a master plumber who ran his own contracting business for 20 years, an inspector in the mechanical-services unit of the city's Licenses & Inspections Department for another 20 years, a former Marine and a devoted family man, died Jan. 5 of heart failure. He was 85 and lived in South Philadelphia.

He married the former Rosina Potalivo in September 1949.

In 1957, Joseph was buried alive when a trench he was working in at a construction site in Penn Valley caved in. When he was dug out, his photo made front pages and TV news. He suffered a back injury and neurological damage.

The accident helped persuade him to start his own business. "He said if he was going to be buried again, he wanted it to be for himself," his daughter said.

Joseph and the late Albert Ferraro, a carpenter, joined up in 1959 and handled many building projects, mostly in the Center City area.

He closed the business around 1980 and went to work for the city. When he retired in 1998, he was asked to say a few words at his retirement party.

"He said, 'Can I work another year?' " his daughter said. "He loved his work."

After his retirement, family and friends knew that Joseph would not only help them buy cars and houses, but also deal with any plumbing problems they had, often on the phone.

"He would tell them just what to do, what wrench to use, how to use it," Mary-Rita said. "He would even come to your house to help you do the work."

Joseph D'Alessandro was born in Philadelphia to Nicolo and Caroline D'Alessandro. He attended Southeast Catholic High School and graduated from Dobbins Vocational High School.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1946, and was stationed at Parris Island and Camp Lejeune.

One of Joseph's favorite pastimes was crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay at Tilghman Island in Maryland. His family enjoyed many a crab dinner.

Joseph suffered a number of serious health problems over the years, and spent so much time in Thomas Jefferson University Hospital that he could have voted from there, Mary-Rita said.

"He always insisted we bring him the Daily News," she said. "We would go into his room and if he was sitting up reading the Daily News, we knew he was feeling better.

"My father was a giant of a man with big hands and a gentle spirit. He was quiet and humble, even shy, a man of few bombastic words but possessed of abundant common sense and a loving heart."

Besides his wife and daughter, he is survived by two other daughters, Joanne Wells and Regina Sheehan, and two grandchildren.

Services: Were Saturday. Burial was in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple.

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