Joseph Paul Arrigo, a retired steel worker, amateur boxer and martial arts expert, died Wednesday of complications from diabetes and kidney failure at Bay Medical Center in Panama City, Fla. The longtime resident of the Eastpoint section of Baltimore County was 78.
Born in Edgemere, Mr. Arrigo left school after the eighth grade and worked odd jobs until he found a position with Bethlehem Steel Corp.
"It was a time, when you learned to read and write and then went to work," said a nephew, Rick Catalano of Panama City. "He started on the mill floor at the steel plant and worked his way up to foreman."
He was active in the Steelworkers and Seafarers International unions and was a member of the Port Council of Baltimore.
Mr. Arrigo retired in 1985 after 34 years of service and then began a second career in public relations with Martin's Caterers.
"They called the job public relations, but, basically, it meant if there was a problem, Uncle Joe would fix it," Mr. Catalano said.
Mr. Arrigo had a lifelong interest in boxing, participated in semipro bouts and was a member of Ring 101, a professional boxers union. He also played semipro football.
He studied and taught martial arts for more than 30 years.
His sports experience made him an ideal coach for his sons and nephews as well as other children, Mr. Catalano said.
"He set up boxing and martial arts programs for underprivileged kids," he said. "He touched thousands of lives with positive motivation. He really made you want to do stuff."
He also passed on his knowledge and sportsmanship to the next generation of his family.
"He taught us to box, play football and do karate," Mr. Catalano said. "He didn't just say, 'Do this.' He would show us how to do it."
A staunch Democrat, Mr. Arrigo supported local candidates and worked the polls with his wife. He also was active in Variety Club children's charities and the Sons of Italy.
"He was a walking heart who gave of himself incredibly," Mr. Catalano said. "Whatever needed [to be] done, we knew we could call Uncle Joe."
He and his wife of 56 years, the former Louise V. Sobotka, retired to Florida about a year ago.
Services will be at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at Zannino Funeral Home, 263 S. Conkling St.
In addition to his wife, survivors include a son, Michael Arrigo of Parkton; a sister, Phyllis Warburton of Armistead Gardens; and two granddaughters. Another son, Joseph P. Arrigo Jr., died in 1995.