Fulvio Perini, Ph.D.
August 7, 1932 – August 18, 2020
Our beloved Fulvio Perini, devoted husband to his dear wife of 57 years, Elizabeth, and loving father, grandfather, and brother, Army veteran and cancer researcher, passed on August 18, 2020 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was a hard-working, un-selfish, loving man, introverted but open, unfailingly honest, kind, playful, silly, and very funny. His story speaks to his character.
Fulvio Perini was born on August 7, 1932 in Trieste, a city in northeastern Italy at the head of the Adriatic Sea. He was the son of Roberto and Yolanda Perini. When Fulvio was young, Roberto’s job called him to relocate to the beautiful Adriatic resort town of Abbazia, and so the family moved there.
School was sometimes a challenge for Fulvio, in part because he was left-handed, which was frowned upon. Teachers would whack his hand with a ruler if he tried to write left-handed, so he tried to use his right, at least while they were watching.
World War Two brought changes to Abbazia in 1943, and things became harder for the Perini family. Food was rationed. They raised rabbits for meat and grew their own vegetables and a few fruits. Fulvio was going out into the fields to pick up grass for the rabbits.
In the last days of the war, in 1945, artillery fire sent the family fleeing back to Trieste, where they would live above the bookstore of Fulvio’s maternal uncle Floriano, and the family struggled financially.
Fulvio would continue to have some challenges in high school, but he persevered, graduated, and attended the University of Trieste.
In 1951, Fulvio, his parents, and Fulvio’s brother Florian and sister Maria, emigrated. They boarded a US Navy transport ship, the General Heintzelman, with some twelve hundred other émigrés, and sailed to New York Harbor to start a new life.
Once they arrived, Fulvio’s father and other émigrés were nearly lured away by a man who promised jobs but was actually planning to lure them to work on a farm under harsh conditions. Fortunately, one émigré spoke English well enough to catch on, and convinced the man to leave them alone.
The family settled in Buffalo, New York, and Fulvio learned enough English to enlist in the US Army in 1954. He was very interested in science and medicine, but an injury during bootcamp prevented him from serving on the front line during the Korean War. He was assigned to Hawaii, where his lifelong devotion to taking care of people manifested itself in his job at a hospital. He loved the weather there and enjoyed much the down time he had, but his job included the challenge of watching over polio sufferers who were in iron lungs. After serving three years, he received an honorable discharge and a National Defense Service Medal for Korea.
His interest in science grew, and he attended Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. This handsome man was working in a university lab when he met an enterprising and beautiful young woman named Elizabeth English, who was working in an adjacent lab. They hit it off and started dating, enjoying musical concerts and other activities in the Boston area. A year later, in 1961, they were married. Fulvio’s education at Brandeis culminated in a PhD in biochemistry.
And so Fulvio and Elizabeth began a new family, first with son Bobby, then with Kathy, Mike, and Eddie. Fulvio worked very hard to provide for his young children, brilliantly working in nutritional science and developing analytical methods, and family photos showed joyous moments. Jobs didn’t always last, sometimes because a place went under or underwent layoffs, sometimes because a research job relied on government grants that did not always last. But Fulvio persevered. This search for a financially secure job took the family from Massachusetts to California to Illinois, back to California, and to Maryland in the mid-seventies, where he started doing cancer research, and eventually, this brilliant man started running a cancer lab for Doctor Raymond Rudden. He would continue his cancer research, also conducting some AIDS research. This would at last provide the key to solid jobs with Doctor Rudden, first at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and then at The University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, where he retired.
Fulvio loved his family so deeply. His joys also say a lot about him! He had an enormous love of classical and many other kinds of music, attending many concerts and folk festivals with Elizabeth. He was a great cook, specializing in burgers, always looking for new ways to combine flavors. He loved looking for just the right church for him and attending every Sunday. He loved debunking information, political or otherwise, that he felt was false or misleading (he was a Debunker, but he was no Archie). He loved language, constantly playing with it (like calling a spatula a “dispatcheler”), crossword puzzles, Huskers and Wolverines football, shopping for bargains, watching TV crime and detective dramas with Elizabeth, laughing at comedians and comedy shows.
But so much more than anything else, he was a loving husband to Elizabeth. He regularly bought new flowers for her and set them in the vase on the kitchen table for her. One day during August of 2020, he heard Elizabeth’s voice and asked, “are you singing”? She said yes. “Sing to me”, he said.
He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth M. Perini; his children: Robert (Karen), Katherine “Kat” Anderson (Dana), Mike, and Edward; his grandchildren: Natalie and Nate, Michael, Megan, Thomas and William; his sister, Maria Aguzzi (Fabio); and nieces and nephews.
Dearest Fulvio, dearest husband, dearest dad, dearest grandpa, dearest brother, dearest uncle, we know you are watching over us, ever loving and curious, and we will look for signs of you in Monarch butterflies, and flavorful food, and silly TV shows, and this world that you made better.
The family will receive friends (observing CDC guidelines) on Monday, August 24th from 4pm to 6pm at the West Center Chapel, with VIGIL SERVICE at 6pm. MASS OF CHRISTIAN BURIAL: Tuesday, August 25th at 10am at St. Gerald Catholic Church, 9602 “Q” St. Interment with military honors: Wednesday, October 26th at 11am at Omaha National Cemetery. Memorials will be directed by the family. The family requests that everyone wear masks at the services.
To view a live broadcast of the Vigil Service and Mass, please go to www.heafeyheafey.com and click on the “View Live Service” button on the home page.