Five days before Rosemary “Ro” Cerulli Smith of Vero Beach, Florida, passed away at the age of 63, a few of her closest friends and family members gathered in her hospital room as she sipped a McDonald’s chocolate milkshake and cracked a sly smile at one of the legendary one-liners she’d heard Tom, her husband of 37 years, deliver a thousand times before. It had only been an hour since her doctors had confirmed the worst. Her 25-year-long, on and off battle against seemingly every cancer imaginable would soon come to an end. Cervical, thyroid, lung, bone — you name it, Ro had wrestled with it. But as her loved ones slowly trickled out of room 574, they quietly marveled at the fact that not once during their stay had they heard her ask, “Why me?” She had every right to complain, of course. But that wasn’t Ro’s style. In fact, the only serious question Ro posed that sunny afternoon, her friends later bemused, was slightly less existential: “Did you remember the fries?”
Perhaps the greatest gift Ro gave to all who loved her was the opportunity to share in her constant appreciation that, in spite of the many marks and scars she bore, her world was filled with many more of the blessings that truly make life worth living.
Ro’s illness robbed her of old age. But after she and Tom moved from New York to their dream home in Vero Beach and retired in their early 50s to spend more time with one another, Ro added immeasurable life to the years she had left. She was there in the front passenger seat, rescue dogs on her lap, each time Tom needed a companion for the long drives to their cherished vacation home on Sanibel Island. Ro was there to hold her daughter’s hand on the day Cait married the love of her life, Anthony, and he officially became the son-in-law who could do no wrong. She was there to welcome her first grandchild, Alex, into the world, and she was there to comfort her beloved sister, Gerry, as she succumbed to cancer herself in 2018.
Ro never amassed an impressive fortune. Instead, she considered the countless friendships she forged along her journey in life as being among her greatest treasures. In her final decade, her weekends were filled with raucous laughter on her neighborhood beach, sipping cocktails in the sand with friends whom she considered family. And many a weekday was spent giving back to her adopted hometown, particularly at the Hibiscus Children’s Center of Indian River County, where she held almost every Guild officer position over her many years of service. Ro would say her favorite part of volunteering at Hibiscus was the opportunity to spend each Christmas season choosing just the right presents for the center’s teens in need. But her fellow volunteers will tell you Ro’s wicked humor, creative talents, generous personality, and noble heart made the simplicity of her presence a gift to them all.
Ro’s doctors credited the longevity of her battle against cancer to her steadfast commitment to her Peloton tribe. Even in the months before she died, Ro could double the power output of male competitors half her age. But while the strength of her bones eventually gave way, the strength of her spirit never wavered. She doubled down on her self-made promise to leave behind a crocheted menagerie of stuffed animals for newborns and toddlers of friends and family members alike, especially Alex and the coming granddaughter whose arrival she anticipated so dearly, Sofia. On her final morning of consciousness, as her pain levels surged and her motor skills began to fail, Ro’s primary concern was crystal clear: She needed a helping hand to determine whether the next row of yarn for her latest creation should be yellow or pink.
There are many “Ro’s” in this world. Kind and caring souls who never boast but always stand ready to quietly lend a hand. Too often, their service and sacrifices go largely unnoticed until their presences fade. When the beach falls silent, the hook ceases to thread, and the smiling face fails to walk through the kitchen door just one last time. After all Ro had given us, the greatest gift those who loved her most were blessed to grant in return was simple and true. It was the chance to tell her, before her light began to vanish from our world, how she had conquered her cancer so bravely, completed her duty so faithfully, and lived her life so beautifully that as soon as her body gave out, her soul would surely take flight.
Ro is survived by her husband, Thomas Smith; her daughter and son-in-law, Caitlin and Anthony Puppo; her two grandchildren, Alexander, 2, and Sofia, due on Easter weekend; her mother, Catherine Cerulli; and a few close friends who considered her a sister and have promised to carefully guard her famous cheesecake recipe. She is joined in Heaven by her father, Giro Cerulli, and her sister, Geraldine Ryan, who we believe welcomed her with eager arms and a margarita in each hand.
Her friends and family members would like to especially thank every angel at the VNA Hospice House in Vero Beach, particularly her dedicated team of nurses, who so tenderly cared for Ro in her final days and brought immeasurable peace to all her loved ones who came to say their final farewells.
Donations in Ro’s honor may be made to the VNA & Hospice Foundation of the Treasure Coast and the Hibiscus Children’s Center of Indian River County.
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