BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Queen City is mourning the loss of one of its most beloved community members. Joe Giambra passed away at 86-years-old , after a hard-fought battle with Covid-19. News 4’s Gabrielle Mediak looks back on the life and legacy he leaves behind.
“People called him the renaissance man and he truly was,” said family member, Vincent Lotempio. “Acting, writing, producing, playing music.” While music was his first love, picking up the trumpet at age seven, it was just one of many talents that came to define Joe Giambra.
Just weeks before he was diagnosed with Covid-19, Joey as he was affectionately known , was sharp mentally and healthy physically.
“He would always say his best days were ahead of him,” said Lotempio. “The day he died, he had just signed a gig with a national television show.”
Giambra made a name for himself in the Buffalo Film Community. He was featured in Buffalo 66, Marshall, Hide in Plain Site and more recently in Cold Brook by Cheektowaga native and personal friend, William Fichtner. “I really believe he in a lot of ways is the reason films come here to this day,” said his business partner and friend, Harry Lipsitz.
Giambra brought a wealth of life experiences to his roles. He worked as a detective sergeant with the Buffalo Police Department, owned restaurants and enjoyed cooking. “Food was a big part of his life,” said his niece, Maria Dines. “I mean I can’t make sauce without hearing him.”
But his greatest love may have been the place he called home. His song “I love you Buffalo,” is a testament to that. “He just had so much pride for this city,” said Lipsitz. So much so, that he even ran for Mayor in back in 1973.
He was a born story teller, whether it was on the big screen, on stage, in a book or in a song. “He could capture the imagination of any audience,” said family member, Mark Dines. “Even when there was a group of people he felt like he was telling that story specifically to you.”
And what most seem to remember him for , is the way he made them feel. “That’s what his gift was,” said Dines. “He made you feel important, capable and worthy.”
Due to social distancing, Giambra’s family held a virtual ceremony in his honor, Sunday night. More than 200 people registered, sharing memories and music.
“He spanned relationships with people of all races, all ages, all cultures,” said Lipsitz. “It was just a real testament of how he was and his ability to connect with so many different people.” His niece, Maria Dines added, “To know him is to love him. He was a people person.”
Dozens spoke at the zoom ceremony. “I loved the guy, he was a brother to me,” said Russell J. Salvatore. “We were friends for the last ten years.”
And those who knew him say the legacy he leaves will live on.
The Joseph G. Giambra Fund for Arts and Culture had been created in his honor.
Gabrielle Mediak is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.