Joe Zeppieri, lawyer, doctor, veteran who served two terms on Groton Town Council, dies
Groton — Joseph Zeppieri, an attorney, retired surgeon and Navy veteran who served two terms on the Groton Town Council, was remembered this week for his concern for others, advocacy for issues in Groton and multifaceted career.
Zeppieri died Saturday at the age of 77. The cause is believed to be a heart attack, according to his wife, Paula.
Groton Town Manager John Burt called his death "a great loss to our entire community."
Zeppieri's knowledge was invaluable to the Town Council and he was always a gentleman and brought a level head to discussions, Burt said. "His experience in both the legal and medical fields touched countless people. He was a very generous man who was dedicated to helping others."
Zeppieri was elected in 2017 to his first two-year term on the council and then reelected in 2019, and was the highest vote-getter both times. He previously had served on the Zoning Board of Appeals in the City of Groton.
In addition to his career in medicine and law, Zeppieri served as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. He was a graduate of Robert E. Fitch High School, Providence College, Tufts University School of Medicine, University of Connecticut School of Medicine and Western New England University School of Law, according to his obituary.
Former Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky called it an honor to have served with Zeppieri for two terms and said his advocacy for schools, the environment and fiscal responsibility were notable. "He was hardworking, honest, straightforward and a man of his word," she said. "Groton lost a true public servant who always questioned the impact of Council actions with his eye on improving our community."
"Joe was a man of many talents — medicine, law, government," she added. "He was a lover of the arts and a kind-hearted family man. He will be missed by many. My condolences to Paula and the family."
His wife, Paula Zeppieri, said she first met Zeppieri in third grade at The Broadway School in Mystic. The two bonded over both being new kids, and Paula said he was kind and gentle and was an altar boy at their local church.
"I always thought someone who would bother to do that must be different, must be special, and he was always very kind to me and that meant a lot, and he worked very, very hard," she said. He was helpful to and proud of his parents, who ran a bakery in Mystic.
He was her first date — at a Boy Scouts dance in eighth grade — and though they saw each other less when they went to different high schools, they later reconnected at the end of his first year of medical school.
They married at the Coast Guard Academy chapel on July 1, 1967.
In his service in the Navy, Zeppieri served as a doctor on the USS John Marshall and as chief medical officer on the USS Fulton, Paula Zeppieri said. He became an orthopedic surgeon, later deciding to specialize in hands, she said.
In the early 2000s he retired from medicine, since his physician was concerned he could become faint during surgery due to a medical condition, she said. He soon after decided to go to law school and enrolled at Western New England University School of Law, returning home on the weekends.
Before opening his own law office in Groton, Zeppieri had an office at the law firm of Stephen M. Reck and Scott D. Camassar. Attorney Stephen M. Reck said while it would take most lawyers years to master medical malpractice law, Zeppieri was determined to do it and went head-first into the toughest legal practice of representing plaintiffs in medical malpractice suits.
Reck called Zeppieri "a loving bulldog who fought for what he believed was right."
Sarah Thorp, a paralegal at the firm, said Zeppieri always was jovial and nice and a pleasure to work with: "He was a gentleman."
Zeppieri also was a parishioner at St. Mary Mother of the Redeemer Church in Groton, according to his obituary.
"He was deeply spiritual and very, very concerned about others," Paula Zeppieri said. He was always picking out people who needed a little attention or concern, and he set up monthly contributions to the church, St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen in Norwich and the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center in New London.
Zeppieri and his wife, who raised three children and have nine grandchildren, lived for 42 years near Eastern Point Beach before moving a year and a half ago to a house in Mumford Cove.
"Joe was a loving and devoted husband, father and grandpa, a trustworthy and faithful friend, and a man that followed his faith," his obituary states. "He will be greatly missed."
Zeppieri was remembered and honored at Tuesday's Town Council meeting, in which the new council was sworn in. Zeppieri did not run for reelection and had said he felt he made his contribution to his community over the past four years and had other commitments.
Former Town Councilor Lian Obrey told The Day that Zeppieri was giving and was the type of person who, if someone was down, he would take them into his home. Over the last year, people particularly saw the compassion he had.
When councilors gave their reports at the beginning of meetings, Zeppieri took the time to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. He also worked on a committee to get the word out about programs available to help people, who had retired or were financially strained, with their taxes.
"The things that were important to Joe were the things that truly affected people in a personal way — and that was just Joe," Obrey said.
Councilor Juliette Parker said Zeppieri provided a way of looking at agenda items that allowed her to see a different perspective. "He may have disagreed with some choices but he was respectful," she said. "I worked with him on the Rules Committee four years ago and was glad for his expertise."
She said he was a nice complement to the council and will be missed.
Democratic Town Committee Vice Chair Natalie Burfoot Billing called Zeppieri "a treasure in every way." She said he was open-minded, listened to facts and details, and paid attention. He wasn't shy about asking challenging questions and disagreeing. His integrity was unquestioned.
"He was warm, and caring, funny and generous," she said. "He particularly advocated for public health and infrastructure improvements, libraries and schools. He always balanced concern for taxpayers (and) fiscal responsibility with the importance of maintaining quality town services. He was a people person, dedicated to public service who stepped up to serve the town at a crucial time. He will be sorely missed."