Paul Constantino passed away in his sleep Dec. 19. It was a peaceful and painless exit he deserved. Paul was always doing good for his country, his community and his family. He was the consummate teller of jokes, corny jokes, so corny it made them funny. And as he aged, the jokes kept coming but also got cornier.
That’s how I was introduced to Paul. He would call me every week or so to tell me one of those jokes. And despite the fact that they were corny they made me laugh and brightened my day. He also liked to give me tips for my column and tell me how proud he was of his five children, three of whom serve in the military. His daughter graduated from West Point and joined brother Patrick in service in Afghanistan. Patrick told me they didn’t sign the same agreement which his dad and twin brother, Tom Constantino, had signed when they both were drafted during the Vietnam War when both were at the University of San Francisco Law School.
Paul signed the sole survivor letter, a policy created after the death of all five Sullivan brothers, whereby the two brothers could not be sent to battle in Vietnam at the same time (shades of “Saving Private Ryan”). So Paul joined the Army in July 1968 and served two tours in Vietnam with the 8th Battalion 4th Artillery. Tom, meanwhile, went into the Marines, became an officer and retired as a colonel. During Paul’s second deployment, he developed a program to help 400 fellow soldiers earn their GED. Paul retired from the U.S. Army Reserve as a lieutenant colonel in 2002.
But it was his service in Vietnam surviving trauma and death which ironically led to his positive outlook later on in life. He survived because of his faith and sense of humor. Because God spared him, he vowed to devote his life to helping others and doing good.
I asked Patrick to share with me a favorite memory of his dad. And after consultation with his siblings, they said it was the annual decoration contest with the children of the Boys and Girls Club. Each Christmas season, the Constantino family would join the Boys and Girls Club members and sponsor a trip to each of the local hotels to view the decorations. The kids would take notes, tally their scores and pick a winner. The hotels loved it. So did the children. And so did Paul and his family.
He was a active member of the community, a member of the Elks Lodge 112, American Legion, post 409; the Rotary Club of Burlingame; the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 4103. He taught the California Hunter Education Training Program and was on the faculty of the College of San Mateo from 1975-1995.
When you mention the Constantino family, you are not talking about the average family, especially today. Paul and twin Tom were two in a family of 12. The Constantino children, all born at Mills Hospital, grew up in Burlingame in a lovely Spanish-style home on Carmelita Avenue. The large lot has since been subdivided.
The mom, who died in 2010, outlived Tom who died of Parkinson’s disease in 2008. The dad passed away some time ago.
The family owns real estate in downtown San Mateo and in Burlingame. I didn’t know the other 10 but Paul and Tom were as American as apple pie. If there was a movie about them, you could envision Tom Hanks playing either one. I knew Tom through his service on the San Mateo County Community College District board. And we served together on the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury until he had to leave because his Parkinson’s disease was making it more difficult to get around.
He was definitely a good guy. And his twin brother Paul, maybe not as well known, in his own way was definitely a good guy and brought joy into so many people’s lives. And he loved organizing groups to search across California for the perfect apple pie. I wish I could remember one of those jokes to share with you. But they are only funny if you hear them from Paul.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at email@example.com.