Ten years ago, Mike and Mary Rizzo experienced a great loss with the senseless killing of their oldest son, Jonathan.
They honor him by putting words into action.
The Rizzos will never forget their son and want to keep his memory from fading from people’s minds as as an individual rather than simply as another victim of another senseless murder or death.
The creation of the Jonathan Rizzo Memorial Foundation and the good deeds it supports pays tribute to Jonathan.
“Mary and I wanted to do something to keep Jonathan’s spirit alive, and his spirit was one of kindness,” Mike Rizzo said. “He believed in being kind and good to people and helping people who couldn’t help themselves.”
Mary said Jonathan’s foundation honors goodness and gives hope.
“I love to hear when those who have been helped share their food with a neighbor or pass on thoughtfulness to others who are struggling,” she said. “It’s the ripple effect of kindness and how one gesture can change multiple lives. It’s an amazing tribute to the people who plan and run the tournament, to those who donate and support, to people who care about others and especially to Jonathan, our beautiful son.”
Jonathan’s life was cut short 10 years ago this week at the age of 19 at the hands of convicted killer Gary Sampson. Sampson sits on death row for the murders in July 2001 of Rizzo, Philip McCloskey, 69, of Taunton and Robert Whitney, 58, of Concord, N.H. The murders took place over the course of a week.
His family has often said that Jonathan was a herder of stray cats, according to his dad. He always wanted to help people. Mike Rizzo hopes Jonathan would be proud of all the foundation has been able to accomplish.
This year marks the 10th and final year of the Jonathan Rizzo Memorial Foundation Golf Classic, but the foundation’s work isn’t done. The Rizzos look for new ways to raise funds for it. Among the ideas being considered are a black-tie dinner, comedy night, concert or car raffle rather than one major event.
Friends who wanted to help the Rizzos during their time of grief were and continue to be instrumental in running the golf tournament. While it has been decided it’s time to move from the tournament, it is considered an overwhelming success, having raised about $920,000 in nine years. Mike Rizzo said they hope to top $1 million this year in Jonathan’s name.
Mike Rizzo said he’s excited about this year’s tournament and hopes for another sellout. The rate of registration is higher than in previous years, and it has outstanding support. At least 60 percent of the same people golf in the tournament each year.
Golfers circle the date on their calendars in anticipation of this fun event, he said. The golf tournament will be held Tuesday, Oct. 11, at The Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth.Activities include golf, a putting contest, a dart tournament, dinner, live and silent auctions and a helicopter ball drop.
Register online at www.jonathanrizzofoundation.org or make checks payable to the Jonathan Rizzo Memorial Foundation.
Jonathan was supportive of organizations that helped underprivileged children, so it was the wishes of his family early on to support organizations like Boston-based Christmas in the City and Project Head Start.
“It became contagious, with his personality,” his father said. “It’s what we think he would have done had he lived.”
That was just the beginning. The Rizzos have also reached out to the guidance counselors at the Silver Lake schools to offer assistance to students in need of anything from clothes, food and Christmas presents to help with their families’ electric bills and rent. Through the foundation, the Rizzos have also helped pay the funeral expenses of more than half of a dozen families. And the foundation offers college tuition assistance to seniors graduating from Silver Lake and Boston College High School, Jonathan’s alma mater. A good education, Mike Rizzo believes, protects from ignorance.
Mike Rizzo said Jonathan’s brothers, Nicholas and Elliot, honor their brother by becoming the kind of men he knew they could be. Rizzo said he remembers Jonthan returning home from George Washington University after his freshman year and commenting on how much his brothers had grown up in his eyes.
That summer was Jonathan’s last. He would not live to see how much his brothers would continue to grow, but Mike Rizzo said he believes Jonathan would be proud of them. Both have huge hearts, like their brother, and a desire to help people in need as part of their personalities, also just like Jonathan.
Nicholas graduated from Harvard and works for a design consulting firm. Elliot is entering his final year in the criminal justice program at Northeastern University. The CIA or FBI could be in his future, his father said.
Ten years ago sometimes feels like a long time ago to Mike Rizzo. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday. He continues to seek justice for Jonathan as legal proceedings – appeal after appeal – go on. He supports the death penalty for Sampson and awaits that day when the end of the legal challenges comes.
Mike Rizzo said Jonathan’s strength of character and his goodness inspire his family. With help from the community and friends, the Rizzos honor Jonathan.
“I think the way he approached things made us think we could do more and be more,” he said.
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