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Gary J. DiSano dies at 62; Tournament of Roses Assn. president

September 22, 2009|Dennis McLellan

Gary J. DiSano, whose more than 35 years as a volunteer member of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses culminated in January when he became president of the Tournament of Roses Assn. for the 2010 Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game, has died. He was 62.

DiSano, who had a rare form of thyroid cancer, died Sunday at his home in San Juan Capistrano, said a Tournament spokeswoman.

A volunteer member of the Tournament of Roses Assn. since 1972, DiSano was elected to its executive committee in 2002. As is customary, he became the association's president eight years later.

For the 121st Rose Parade on Jan. 1, DiSano chose the theme "2010: A Cut Above the Rest."

Now both the Rose Parade and the 96th Rose Bowl game will be held in his honor.

DiSano is the fourth president of the Tournament of Roses Assn. to die in office. According to the association's bylaws, Executive Vice President Jeffrey Throop will take over as acting president.

"Gary was totally dedicated to our organization," Throop said Monday. "He loved it. He personally sacrificed to carry out his responsibilities, and he was always supportive of the people he supervised. Gary brought a strong sense of decorum and congeniality to every meeting he was involved in."

Even when he joined the Tournament's executive committee in 2002, DiSano knew he might not live long enough to wear the president's traditional red coat and ride in an official car down Colorado Boulevard on parade day.

DiSano, according to a 2002 Times story, was diagnosed with Hurthle cell carcinoma in December 1999 and had his thyroid and hip removed in February 2000.

Because the cancer does not respond to chemotherapy, The Times reported, "DiSano began an aggressive therapy that used massive doses of Vitamin A to literally change his cells."

Although his treatment was progressing well at the time, The Times story said, 85% of people with his form of thyroid cancer die within five years.

With his pending presidency of the Tournament of Roses eight years away, DiSano told The Times, "I guess you could say I'm an interesting choice."

As president, he presided over 32 committees and 935 volunteers in addition to 25 to 30 paid staff members.

Ronald Okum, a past president of the Tournament of Roses, said DiSano continued to participate in executive committee meetings either through video conferencing or in person until recent weeks.

"Gary epitomizes the type of volunteer we have in the Tournament of Roses organization," Okum said. "This was a driven, directed, highly compassionate individual that took his responsibilities seriously and gave an awful lot to his community.

"He was just an outstanding individual, who was clearly loved by members of the organization."

In 1972, DiSano was a recently discharged Navy officer who had served in Vietnam. He was living in Arcadia and feeling lonely and bored when a neighbor, who was a Tournament of Roses member, suggested he volunteer.

Over the years, DiSano served on and chaired numerous Tournament of Roses committees, including Community Relations, Formation Area, Football, Float Entries, Special Events and Tournament Entries.

He was born Dec. 23, 1946, in Los Angeles and attended La Salle High School in Pasadena. He received a degree in marketing from USC and completed the Program for Management Development at Harvard Business School.

DiSano, who was director of heavy-duty purchasing for Century Wheel & Rim in Montebello and RGGL Corp. in Newport Beach, was active in numerous community organizations.

He served on the planning commission for the city of Newport Beach in addition to being a member of the city's Environmental Quality Affairs Committee and the Economic Development Committee.

He is survived by his wife, Sabina; and three children, Christina, Stephanie and Dominic. Funeral services will be private.

A celebration of DiSano's life will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at Tournament House, 391 S. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena.


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