Peter John De Palma—always Peter, never Pete!—was born on June 5, 1944 in Albion, New York to Gene and Juanita (Passarell) De Palma. He joined a family which included his sister, Karen and was completed two years later with the arrival of his sister, Cherie.
Theirs’ was a large and loving family and Peter had the gift of remaining in close contact with most of them throughout his lifetime. This followed the example of his parents who were warm and welcoming, offering food and drink to visitors within moments of their arrival in to their home. Their hospitality extended to college friends of the siblings who often spent enjoyable week-ends from college with the De Palma family. To be a friend, was to be welcome for life!!
Peter graduated from Holley Central High School in 1962. He was a class officer and student leader while there and active in many organizations including the State Championship band, National Honor Society and the Hollyleaf Yearbook. He had been accepted at Niagara University and was to begin in the Fall of 1962, but before that time, he went to Ecuador as an exchange student for the summer and then is when he met the Paz family who were to influence much of the rest of his life.
Peter majored in Economics at Niagara but instead of immediately beginning a career in that field when he graduated in 1966, he joined the then newly-minted Peace Corps which would take him, as a volunteer, to a foreign country for two years to use his talents. Following the requisite Peace Corps training, Peter was assigned to Colombia to work in rural La Plata with agricultural coops. He was several hours from Bogota and would often go months without speaking any English. He never lost his fluency in Spanish and even while living in Atlanta, Peter listened to Mexican novellas daily to retain his language skills.
Following his two years of service with the Peace Corps, Peter returned to his home in Fancher and accepted a job teaching 3rd and 4th grades at St. Mary’s School in Holley. His teaching career was cut short when he was drafted into the Army. After basic training, he was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco, the 6th Army Headquarters. The Presidio is now part of the National Park Service. After Peter’s service, he ventured to Atlanta, GA to begin a new life. Peter lived in Atlanta for many years, not leaving until his final home destinations of Holley and Quito, Ecuador.
Peter’s life was in most ways defined by painting, gardening, landscaping, collecting friends, antiques, building/making/fixing and travel. His skills with a hammer and saw were recognized when he was in grade school. He was secure in his knowledge of how things went together or how they could be repurposed. He was never without a project meant to beautify his home in some way.
Travel was his first career: he was Project Director for Latin America and the Orient and China for American Express Travel. That division was eliminated after 20 years. Personally, Peter never stopped traveling and added many countries to his passport over the years. He had a special affinity to Latin America and travelled there often. Perhaps his most exciting accomplishment was completing the 500 miles walk on the Camino of Santiago de Compostela, a month devoted to walking, with a backpack, to that traditional pilgrimage site.
Peter was a man of character; he had enormous self-respect which translated to loyalty to family and friends. He was also respectful of others and generous which partly translated as loving to give gifts for every occasion. And Peter was very, very funny with a wit that was spontaneous and entertaining. He loved children, any child, and found them amusing at any age.
Peter loved his home, wherever he was, and captured that spirit of welcoming others in to it whether in Holley, New York, where he always had projects to do, Atlanta, GA where he lived for over 40 years or, his newest home in Ecuador which he furnished using the arts and crafts of their Ecuadorian creators. Wherever they were, his homes were tasteful, interesting, personal and a joy to visit.
To have called Peter a friend diminishes the importance that he had in our lives. His relationship with so many of us fell somewhere between good friend and almost family! He was a gift to so many of us and we are still reeling from the suddenness of our loss. We were all planning to meet him again, somewhere, to do something fun and interesting, as always.
Peter left us very suddenly on February 16, 2020. He was in his home in Ecuador.
There is no replacement for him either to his family or his friends.
Peter was preceded by his parents Gene and Juanita (Passarell) De Palma, Fancher, NY.
Peter’s is survived by his sisters Karen (Robert) Christopher, Burke, VA. and Cherie De Palma, Elma, NY. Nieces and nephew Kevin (Carla) Christopher, Reston, VA, Kim (Bill) Carlstrom, Plymouth, MN, and Kelly (Mark) Greenfelder, Clifton, VA. Great nieces and nephews Caitlyn and Erica Christopher; Christopher, Tyler and Kerry Carlstrom; Kelcie, Kyle and Keith Greenfelder. Peter never missed an occasion in their lives.
He also leaves behind many cousins and friends.
The Paz family in Ecuador became his family from the time he spent with them in the summer of 1962. It was that relationship that brought him back to live there where he was an integral part of that large and loving family.
Celebration of Peter’s Life will be held at St. Mary’s Church, 9 S. Main St., Holley, NY 14470
on Sat. June 12 at 11 a.m. followed by interment at St. Joseph’s Cemetery Route 31, Albion, NY.
Peter’s arrangements have been entrusted to the Christopher Mitchell Funeral Homes, Inc. of Albion.
For those who asked, you may contribute:
Murray/Holley Historical Society, P.O. Box 346, Holley, NY 14470
or a charity of your choice.