Obituary: Jim Pirlo
A memorial service for Jim Pirlo is planned at 10 a.m. on Saturday, December 16 at Claremont United Methodist Church, 211 W. Foothill Blvd. Mr. Pirlo died peacefully at home on the morning of November 20, 2017.
Jim was born on June 21, 1946 in Buffalo, New York to parents Reno and Laura Pirlo. The family moved to California when he was 10, settling in Pomona. He graduated from Pomona High School in 1965 and shortly thereafter attended beauty college. He was a hairstylist for more than 40 years in the Claremont area.
His long career in the beauty industry came as no surprise to his many friends and family. Mr. Pirlo was drawn to elegance, from his love of elaborate Christmas decorations to finding the perfect lace tablecloth or wearing his finely-pressed Tommy Bahama shirts.
“He was a sharp dresser,” his husband Pete Serrano shared with a smile. “And he loved to shop.”
Mr. Serrano recalled a recent night when illness required an emergency visit to the hospital. As Pete tried to rush to the car, Jim calmly headed to his bedroom to first put on his jewelry.
He delighted in decorating for Christmas, hanging dazzling lighted garland, swapping out everyday throw pillows for those with an embroidered Santa Claus or reindeer, and putting up six lavishly decorated trees in the couple’s home.
His niece Julie Janke shared, “Most of my memories of him were from my childhood and him being silly, fun and goofy all the time. I recall his decorations and thinking as a child, ‘One day I want to decorate my house like that!’ He loved Christmas and had a knack for decorating as if the president was going to visit.”
He had a good sense of humor, Mr. Serrano related, but most importantly he was a giving person to his family, friends and the community. His friends and family are what he held most dear.
Claremont resident and longtime friend Marilyn Bidwell met Jim in 1978. Their group of friends had planned a birthday party for Ms. Bidwell in 1987 at a comedy club at the Montclair Plaza. She had recently met Pete, and invited him specifically to meet her friend Jimmy, believing the two might form a friendship.
“Little did we know it would last 30 years,” she said. “They just clicked and that was it. It’s been a wonderful partnership for them. Jimmy was really outgoing and Pete is very quiet, but they held each other up. It was the perfect combination of personalities.”
When it became legal for gay couples to marry, an intimate wedding was planned at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, where Mr. Pirlo was receiving treatment.
“That was one of the proudest days of my life,” Ms. Bidwell said.
Mr. Pirlo was a people magnet, she said. Wherever he went and whatever he did, people gathered around him.
“We called him a social butterfly,” she shared. “Even people in Stater Bros—I told a checker that he passed away and she started crying. No matter where he went, people just loved him.”
The greatest gifts resulting from their 40-year friendship were his quick wit, outgoing personality and his heartfelt generosity. After Ms. Bidwell’s mother got dementia and came to live with her daughter, Jim was first in line to offer support.
“He would come over and just love my mom—he would wash and set her hair. Jimmy was so giving to everyone he met. He was an incredible human being.”
With his health declining the last few weeks, Mr. Serrano said Jim had one final request—an illuminated Christmas tree decorated by friends.
“He was a great host and loved to entertain,” Pete said, “especially at Christmas.”
Mr. Pirlo is survived by his husband of 30 years, Pete Serrano; his mother, Laura Pirlo; his brother, Louis Pirlo; his sisters Sherry Thacker (Harold), Nancy Birdsong (Sam), Denise Jordan (Dale); his sister-in-law Liz Smithmeyer; longtime family friend Bob Sparks; and many nieces, nephews and grand-nieces and grand-nephews. He was preceded in death by his father, Reno Pirlo, and his brother Ron Smithmeyer.