STAMFORD – A good thing that Phil Giordano did 30 years ago came back to him in spades Thursday, a month after his 96th birthday.
During a gathering in the playground of Hart Magnet Elementary School, speakers repeated, again and again, two words nice to hear in the twilight of life.
They said it while explaining how Giordano saved the Hart school playground, which they named for him Thursday; how he devotedly cleaned up litter at his go-to place, Cummings Park; how he worked with groups that aid veterans and seniors and needy neighbors; how he coached baseball teams and became a firefighter and a city representative and got to be known as the guy who helps people.
Before the unveiling of a sign with a drawing of children hand-in-hand under the words City Representative Philip J. Giordano Playground, Anthony Socci described the day in the 1990s that Giordano, who lives in an apartment building across the street from Hart school, saw workers in the playground taking measurements.
It was the beginning of Giordano’s lifelong effort to protect the playground, Socci told the crowd, which included Hart schoolchildren.
Giordano asked the workers what they were doing and they told him that plans were afoot to expand the school building into the playground, Socci said.
“He asked them, ‘What about the children? They won’t have a park anymore?’” Socci said. “But the workers didn’t know.”
Giordano went to the Board of Education and city hall and asked officials, “Isn’t there a better way?” Socci said.
No one had an answer. So, at age 68, Giordano sought an endorsement from the Democratic Party and began the arduous process of running for a District 10 seat on the Board of Representatives, said Socci, who got to know Giordano earlier this year, when Socci was completing a book about the history of Stamford’s considerable Italian-American population.
Kim Sushon, author of a book on the same topic who got to know Giordano for the same reason, told the students how Giordano fought for them before they were born.
“He knocked on doors to tell people about the playground and get them to vote for him. Not everyone liked his idea” to move the expansion to the other side of the school, Sushon said, “so he held meetings and listened to people and made sure they were respectful of each other. He treated everyone well.”
Giordano built a consensus, and eventually city officials devised a way to expand the school and keep the playground, Socci said.
“If he did not ask why, this playground wouldn’t exist today,” Socci said. “He served as an inspiration for other people in government to ask why, and to consider the effects on the people they serve.”
Giordano worked hard all his life, Socci said. At 5, he shined shoes and sold newspapers because his father had died and the family needed money, Socci said.
Giordano then attended Hart school, where he graduated in 1937, the year the infamous Hindenburg burst into flames. One of Giordano’s clearest memories is of the day the principal called students out into the schoolyard to watch the giant German airship fly overhead on its way from Boston to New Jersey, where it crashed.
Giordano graduated Stamford High School in 1945, when he was drafted into the Army just as World War II was ending. He returned to Stamford and became a firefighter, Socci said.
Sushon said Giordano’s heart is explained in the lyrics of his favorite song, “The House I Live In,” recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1945:
The house I live in
A plot of earth, a street
The grocer and the butcher
And the people that I meet
The children in the playground
The faces that I see
All races and religions
That’s America to me
Sometimes, Sushon said, “we have to work to make a better neighborhood, a better city, a better country.”
Throughout his life, Giordano volunteered, said city Rep. Mavina Moore, who served District 10 with Giordano during the final eight of his 26 years on the Board of Representatives, 1995 to 2021.
Giordano was a volunteer coach in the American Legion Baseball league, and worked with an anti-poverty agency, the Holy Name Society, a West Side citizens’ anti-crime group, and others, Moore said.
Mayor Caroline Simmons told Giordano it’s good to “celebrate your incredible legacy” and thanked him for being “a true public servant.”
City Rep. Sean Boeger, who is Giordano’s great-nephew, said he ran for office, in part, to honor Giordano’s example.
His great-uncle is always looking out for the playground, Boeger, a Stamford police officer, told the elementary schoolers.
“His apartment faces the playground, so if he sees someone doing something they’re not supposed to do, he makes a call,” Boeger said. “He makes sure the park is taken care of.”
Giordano, who worked to improve housing, traffic, parks and public safety while a member of the Board of Representatives, considers saving the playground his greatest accomplishment, said Brian O’Neill, who once represented District 10 with Giordano.
“He was always dedicated to Stamford’s future, to make it better for you once you came along,” O’Neill said. “It shows how one person can make a tremendous difference.”
At the end of the ceremony, Moore offered Giordano the microphone and asked him to say a few words. But Giordano said he would rather hear from the children.
Moore asked the students if they would like to speak. Dozens of them dashed for the podium.
They got in line, took the microphone one by one, and showed that they had heard Giordano’s story.
“Thank you for being a good person,” a girl said.
“I have never met this man in my life,” a boy said, pointing to Giordano. “But I want to be just like him.”
A boy, perhaps a second-grader, told Giordano, “I have such great memories since kindergarten. Thank you for putting us first.”
An older boy said, “I am so grateful because, without you, I would be so bored at recess.”
“Thank you, Mr. Giordano, for keeping the place alive,” another boy said. “Without this playground, the kids would go insane.”
“Every day I set foot on this playground, I have such a good time,” a girl said. “Thank you, Mr. Giordano.”
“I think everyone will want to be like you when they grow up,” another student said.
Moore offered Giordano the microphone again. This time he took it.
“I am overcome,” he said. “Every day I hear you out here playing and shouting. It sounds good. I like it. You’re getting good exercise and learning to get along with your fellow classmates, who come from all over the world.”
He thanked them for saying nice things.
“God bless you all,” Giordano said. “Have fun.”