Joseph “J.J.” DellaVecchio, Jr. was the resident go-to man in his Virginia Beach retirement community, so when an elderly neighbor downstairs fell in a bathtub on Oct. 21, he received the call to help. Naturally, DellaVecchio didn’t hesitate, his wife, Susan, said.
There, Susan and others close to him said, DellaVecchio suffered a heart attack and died doing what he loved: helping someone.
The 62-year-old had a long history of serving others, beginning with his time in the Air Force in the 1970s as a sergeant. He then served almost three years with the Hampton Police Department as a patrol officer, 25 years with the Virginia State Police, where he was a sergeant, and the last 11 years of his life with the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office as the supervisor of the Background Investigation Unit.
Sheriff Ken Stolle said DellaVecchio did more to shape the agency than anyone. He vetted applicants to the sheriff’s office and worked to ensure those who were hired were a good fit for the department.
“Everyone who came in had J.J.’s stamp of approval,” Stolle said.
That included Kathy Hieatt, the sheriff’s public information officer. She said DellaVecchio made her feel like part of the family the minute she was hired.
“His desk was right in the middle of the admin office,” Hieatt said. “He was the heart of the office.”
Law enforcement was only a small part of who DellaVecchio was, though, said his son, John, a Virginia Beach sheriff’s deputy.
John DellaVecchio said he spoke regularly by phone with his father, and their ease of conversation often had others wondering if he was talking with a friend. For John DellaVecchio, they were one and the same — his father was his best friend.
“He was always leading in the right direction, encouraged me to do well, set me on the right foot,” John said.
Susan DellaVecchio talked about her last weekend with her husband as one that was full of memories to cherish. He played with his granddaughter, Ava, at Busch Gardens, swinging 15 feet off the ground on a rope. There was also the Sunday men’s breakfast, a couples’ Bible study and a victory by his beloved Philadelphia Eagles.
“If I had asked God to orchestrate a last weekend, I couldn’t have done it any better,” Susan DellaVecchio said.
DellaVecchio, whom Susan described as an incredibly happy man, also persuaded his wife to get him a meal from KFC and cancel his November cardiology appointment. His cardiologist had wanted DellaVecchio to change his eating habits, his wife said. When the Italian spaghetti-lover chose not to, his cardiologist said it was more about quality of life than anything else, Susan said, and his happiness was most important to her.
In the wake of DellaVecchio’s death, his family is planning a trip in his honor, one that will continue a tradition he helped start: They’re going to Disney World.
The DellaVecchios went there annually, beginning when John was young and continuing into his 20s. It became “like a second home to us,” John DellaVecchio said.
Such traditions, of course, always start with two people in love.
Susan said she and her husband met when she was working as a registered nurse at Hampton General Hospital. He spotted her across the room, turned to his partner at the time and said, “I’m going to marry that girl.”
Susan, who was particularly health conscious when they met, laughed when she remembered their first three dates. They were all at a pizza parlor where DellaVecchio enjoyed bowls of spaghetti. He didn’t believe in eating anything green, his wife said.
At their wedding five years later, Susan felt incredibly safe, she said. There were 100 state troopers there for the groom and 150 doctors and nurses there for the bride.
During married life, when DellaVecchio’s stubbornness came out, Susan knew the best way to smooth over a disagreement with her husband was over a bowl of spaghetti.
DellaVecchio’s services were held Tuesday at Altmeyer Funeral Home, with a burial at Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery. During the funeral procession on Interstate 64, a motorist took a photo of a state trooper saluting while stopping traffic for the procession. The motorist posted it on Facebook and it was shared by thousands online.
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