By Jim Norman and Aaron Morrison The Record
When Robert Zampieri’s oldest son Robbie died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the Fort Lee dentist knew exactly what he needed to do in his son’s memory.
“He loved golf and he loved bringing people together,” Michael Zampieri said of his father, who died Saturday at the age of 72 after a long struggle with cancer. “So he organized an annual golf tournament to pay for scholarships for kids at St. Anthony’s High School.”
In the four years that the tournaments were held at Knickerbocker Country Club in Tenafly, Mr. Zampieri raised more than $1 million for the school, Michael Zampieri recalled Sunday.
The reason he chose St. Anthony’s, a financially struggling Roman Catholic parochial school in Jersey City, was because the students who attended that school needed more help than children in the more affluent areas of Bergen County, Michael said.
“He could have chosen Bergen Catholic, where my brother and I went to school, but he chose St. Anthony’s because he wanted to make a difference, and because Robbie lived in Jersey City when he passed away,” said Michael, who took over his father’s dental practice.
Robert Zampieri put himself through dental school by driving the delivery truck for Zampieri’s, a well-known neighborhood bakery in Greenwich Village, Michael said.
One day in 1968, Mr. Zampieri was having a drink in a bar in West Orange when a young woman sitting on a stool caught his eye.
“He spun her around and looked at her and said, ‘I’m going to marry you,'” Michael said.
“I’ve heard that one before,” Patricia Burck said, giving him the brush-off.
“Six months of phone calls later, they were married,” Michael said. “My dad was not a man who ever took ‘no’ for an answer. He always got what he wanted, and he wanted my mother.”
They lived in Saddle River, where they raised their three children.
Mr. Zampieri “loved to be surrounded by friends,” his son said, “and he was always the life of the party. We had a weekend house in Normandy Beach, and there had to be 15 people there every weekend. My father put in a boccie court and he loved to play the host.”
Michael also said his father “knew how to make a good thing out of a bad thing.”
“When he first started his practice in Fort Lee, he had his office in the basement of his parents’ home,” Michael said. “He wanted the latest equipment, so he took out a $7,000 loan to buy an X-ray machine. When the machine was delivered, it wouldn’t fit through the door and down the stairs.
“They tried it every possible way, and they couldn’t get it in. Well. my dad had the $7,000 and he was not about to give it back, so he went out and treated himself to a lemon yellow Jaguar XK-E convertible.”
But his father also understood family responsibilities, Michael said, and when his young wife became pregnant with their first child, he traded in his sports car for a new station wagon.
When Mr. Zampieri made personal appearances at St. Anthony’s to award the scholarships his golf tournaments supported, Michael said, he would tell the students he required three things: “Always look people in the eye, always give a firm handshake, and when you make a success of yourself, you start to give back.”
In addition to his wife, Patricia, and his son Michael, of Fort Lee, Mr. Zampieri is survived by a daughter, Jeannie Schlesinger and her husband Stuart, of Asbury Park.
A wake was scheduled for 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at Guardian Angel Church in Allendale, followed by a funeral at Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday.