Born Giuseppe Giacomo Bonino on May 18, 1927, Joseph “Joe” G. Bonino was the only child of Antonio Bonino and Maria Bonino Ramazotto from the tiny commune of Balangero –Torino (Turin), Italy. He passed on Nov. 19, 2013.
His mother was born in Lehigh, Okla., to Italian parents who travelled to America to work in the mines. The family returned to Italy, but because of his naturalized status, Bonino sailed to the U.S. in June 1948, just after his 21st birthday. It was on that journey that he learned his first words of English: apple pie and ice cream.
During his first month in the San Francisco area, Bonino realized that there was no market for a new immigrant who only knew how to design auto parts, as he had done for the Fiat Corporation in Torino.
Bonino married Louise Toso in December 1949, with whom he had a son, Anthony John, born in 1953. He later married Loa Kay Houggard and helped to raise her two children, Ron and Theresa. He was married for the final time to Pamela Francis (nee Milner) in August 1977 for 36 years.
For a time, Bonino moved pianos and refrigerators up and down the treacherous stairwells of San Francisco flats. But he had higher aspirations. Gradually, he built his transportation business and set his sights on the fledgling Silicon Valley. Three Way Van Lines (Three Way) incorporated in October 1954, formed by Bonino and his partner, Joe Migliozzi.
Three Way became a highly respected specialty moving company for such items as spacecraft, steppers for silicon chip production, clean room equipment, satellites and transport of fine art.
Bonino became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1957, but he never stopped being the consummate Italian. He was admired for his strong character, generosity, gracious manner and Old World charm. Bonino retained his distinctive Italian accent and used it to good tactical effect.
He loved soccer, playing for his hometown of Balangero, the Juventus Youth League of Torino and the San Francisco Athletic Club. When he first arrived in the U.S., he was dismayed that soccer balls were rare and resorted to kicking a tennis ball around to keep in practice, a true testament to his resourcefulness in everything he undertook.
Beloved by his many loyal Three Way employees, Bonino could be sweet or ferocious by turns, as the occasion demanded. He loved to play chess and had a gift for the strategic thinking the game requires.
As an intrepid competitor, Bonino undertook the challenge set forth by health guru Jack LaLanne after hearing of his failed attempt to waterski from the Farallon Islands to San Francisco. Bonino completed the 31-mile run in October 1959 with his landing at the Golden Gate Yacht Club.
A fittingly larger-than-life biographical sculpture of him by Robert Arneson resides in the Sculpture Garden of the Palm Springs Art Museum. Bonino was the gentle, yet powerful Taurus from Torino.
Bonino is survived by his wife, Pamela, and her family, Deb and Ed Drouin and daughters Erica Keberle and Geneva Drouin; son, Anthony; stepson, Ronald Houggard; “Godson,” Joe Witt; grandchildren, Michael, Christopher, Stephen, Nicole, Alexandra, Dominique and A.J; cousin Frances Bianco; and his cousins in Italy, Maria Teresa Camandone, Miranda Peretta, Gianni and Alessia Brero, Lorella Peretto, Dario Camandone, Mario Maddaleno, Miriam Bertolotti and Inez Bonino.
A Public Vigil and Funeral Services will be held at Green Street Mortuary, 649 Greet St., San Francisco in North Beach on Mon., Nov. 25 at 7 p.m., open casket viewing from 6-6:30 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to one of your favorite charities in Bonino’s honor and memory.