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In Loving Memory of Les Pillitteri
August 19, 1955 - March 17, 2023
“My limitations become my freedoms.”
There is nothing traditional to say about Les Pillitteri and his life. He defies ordinary biography and took little interest in convention. He was a visual artist all of his life, as well as a consummate conservatory musician, composer, singer-songwriter, vocalist and guitarist. To add that he was a Master Soul doesn’t mean a great deal unless you’ve known one—and if you have, you would know everything that mattered already. He was the oldest tree in the forest—and the strongest; he was wise and quiet, peaceful and kind, funny and humble. He shared everything he had freely, but many missed his gifts. He taught by example, and that’s a hard path when the world wants noise, not impeccable action. And he endured his long disease with more grace than most embrace their fortune.
To know Les was to know an original. In addition to music and art, Les had practical expertise in everything from electricity to construction to cycling. He knew the ways of the world, and so he stayed at a distance from its foolishness—all that was not real. His biography is simple: from an early age he used everything at his disposal to make beauty and order. He left everything else behind. He knew his worth, and he chose his friends accordingly. He gave of his knowledge freely, and he had a soft spot for all animals, treasures of the earth, and gifts given of the heart. He may have had a Sicilian’s hot temper, but he also forgave quickly. His hearty laughter and earthy humor came from his heritage, as well. He learned his way around a kitchen from his Grandmother Ida Pillitteri, and his green chili, hummus, frittatas, shells, meatballs and sauce, and eggplant parm are sorely missed. He kept a tidy home like his mother Marie—a place for everything and everything in its place. Perhaps it was his musician’s mind, but order came naturally to Les and was essential to his balance.
He loved music first, although she broke his heart a time or two and the business was never easy. The musicians he played with were his family, collaborators and admirers, and he never stopped loving the sound of stringed instruments. As a dedicated and disciplined musician, he played his Fender Telecaster or Gibson J-200 for hours every day until his disease took that away too. And then he turned to creating an inspired collection of 72 found-object lamps that have gone out to both coasts as gifts. He was spreading light even as his own started to ebb. so when the light went out and he lost that inspiration, he moved on to jigsaw puzzles and worked the worlds beneath his hands piece by piece. Bisons and Van Gogh, Chihuly and Andy Goldsworthy, Escher and Charles Wysocki images came to life in his eclectic multi-function room. In the last two years of his life, he once again took up pipe smoking because it is a proven Parkinson’s therapy and the smell of Captain Jack Black reminded him and his wife of their childhood. He delighted in choosing a pipe and tobacco and having a smoke on the patio with Woody and Mindy.
When Woody crossed over in late 2022, the family changed, although everyone knew the 20-year-old white wizard was making the way ready for his father. Les and Woody walked the neighborhood two to three times a day for decades. Les’ tall, thin frame and Woody’s white feather of a tail were a familiar sight to every neighbor. At night, Mindy would join them and the trio would go for a midnight stroll.
Les could transplant and grow anything as his gardens attest—and that skill extended to people, especially his work study students at Johnson & Wales. From students to friends to confidants, Les attracted good souls like sage plants attract bees. He enjoyed the same relationships when he worked at a popular hardware store on Colfax for many years. Although he ordered 110,000 inventory items a week and ran several departments, to most customers, he was the man in glasses with dog treats in his pockets or the one who would stop by to fix a screen or a light for a neighbor. He loved walking to work, whatever the weather, and used it as a time to decompress and ground and observe the changing seasons firsthand.
He gave back in other ways too. He was a 20-gallon blood donor, and only his disease forced him to quit. He played guitar weekly at every Denver Hospice location for 17 years. He also volunteered at the Denver Zoo in the Biofacts education department where he catalogued and prepared restricted animal artifacts for educational enrichment.
A true minimalist, Les carried the world in his heart, not his possessions. He loved his wife Mindy for nearly 50 years, through good and bad, with enough joy to keep the house merry with friends stopping by for scrabble, music, food and conversation. The couple met as two East Coast teenagers attending the University of Denver, and they remained best friends, musical and artistic collaborators, and pains in each other’s sides for decades—more importantly, they never left the other’s side. And, as he wished, Les crossed over at home with Mindy (by his side, of course) after years of home hospice and her caregiving.
It was Les’ dying wish that those he loved now think of Mindy and help her navigate the financial and emotional difficulties of his premature illness and passing. Of all that he had to leave behind, her hummingbird heart came first in his.
A celebration of Les’ life, music, humor, and gardening prowess will be held on his birthday on August 19th at the Pillitteri residence in South Park Hill, Denver. Additional details forthcoming.
Cremation arrangements by Mile High Family Funeral and Mortuary under the direction of Gerard Guesnier.