Thomas Puorro

Obituary of Thomas A. Puorro

After a long and eventful life, Thomas Anthony Puorro , 94, passed away peacefully at Sunny View Residential facility in Cupertino on August 7, 2020, after a five-year struggle with Alzheimer’s. He leaves behind his beloved wife of 71 years, Jeanette, their seven children, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts to an Italian immigrant father and American mother, Tom was the epitome of the American dream, grew up poor yet earned a college degree (the first in his family), traveling the world and eventually settling in Los Altos Hills where he and Jeanette lived for 42 years before moving to Sunny View. 

Tom enrolled in the Navy at 18 years of age in 1943, and joined the WWII effort. He was assigned as a gunnery officer as part of the inaugural crew on the U.S.S. Darke, an attack transport ship that unloaded cargo and received wounded soldiers at the battle of Iwo Jima and many other locations during the war. Tom witnessed many wounded troops which had a profound effect on him.  He was extremely proud of his service. He identified himself as a “navy man” for his entire life. After the war, Tom attended Tufts University on the GI bill, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering, and later went on to earn a Master’s in Electrical Engineering from Northeastern University. 

He met the love of his life, Jeanette McCue, at St. Clements Catholic Church in Somerville, MA and married her in 1949. That same year, Tom was hired by IBM which, at the time, was on the leading edge of the fledgling computer industry. Tom rose through the ranks at IBM, where he enjoyed a thriving 32-year career and worked on some of the greatest projects of the time: the first 911 system in New York City, the space program in Houston and the early days of computing in Silicon Valley. His time at IBM involved moving the family to multiple states including Maryland, Texas, New Jersey, and California. They fell in love with California and eventually settled in Los Altos Hills in 1973.

Tragedy hit Tom’s life in 1979 when his middle son, Gregory, had a diving accident which left him a quadriplegic. Seeing firsthand the plight of disabled people and the lack of meaningful jobs for them, Tom saw an opportunity to help the handicapped community. With his knowledge of the computer programming industry and recognizing the overwhelming and unfilled demand for computer programmers in the early 1980s, Tom decided to leave IBM and start a non-profit training center to provide the training and experience for disabled people to become computer programmers. The company, Disabled Programmers Inc (DPI), continues with that mission today under the name Expandability (one of the programs of Goodwill of Silicon Valley).

Helping the homeless and disadvantaged was also a central theme in Tom’s life. In addition to starting DPI, Tom often hired day laborers to help him with yard work, painting and general clean up at his houses. He respected hard work and paid well for it.  He wanted to help those who were willing to work hard to better their lot in life.

Tom was a devout lifelong Catholic, and his faith was central to his life. He was an active member of St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Los Altos for over 40 years, where he was an usher, volunteered for many fundraisers and also ran the program for donated vehicles, under which he fixed them, sold them, and returned the proceeds back to the church. Tom also helped to start the Jesus, Mary & Joseph house in Santa Cruz, CA, a transitional shelter for homeless women, children and the terminally ill.

Always quick to offer a smile, a handshake and a glass of wine, Tom was also the life of the party. He loved to gather with family and friends – no one was a stranger for long – and always organized some kind of oddball game or contest, with the winner getting the prize of some patched-up oddity that he usually had picked up at a flea market. 

Combing flea markets and rummage sales for “perfectly good” items that just needed a little repair (usually in the form of epoxy or duct tape) was another of his hobbies. This was what earned him a reputation as the ultimate “fix-it” guy. He was fond of saying that he could fix anything but a broken heart. His engineering background and his humble beginnings made him always want to fix things rather than throw them away. To that end, he had a hobby of buying old fixer-upper houses in Santa Cruz – his home away from home – and renting or selling them. Not one for rules or regulations, he was always building things “under the radar” of local planning departments.

Tom is survived by his wife, Jeanette Puorro; seven kids: Thomas Puorro Jr; Rosemary (Puorro) Ryan; Mark and Kim Puorro; Gregory Puorro; Bruce and Jane (Puorro) Bailey; Richard Puorro; and Mark and Suzanne (Puorro) Golden-Riley; 15 grandchildren, 6 great-grandchildren and dozens of nieces and nephews. Tom was preceded in death by his parents, Anthony Puorro and Teresa (Sheeran) Puorro; brother Edward Puorro, sister-in-law Kay Puorro, brother Robert Puorro, sister-in-law Mary Puorro,  sister Claire (Puorro) Laspesa and brother-in-law Larry Laspesa.

A private burial will be held on Friday, August 21, 2020 in Los Altos, California.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to St. Anthony’s Dining Room in San Francisco, CA or St. Francis Catholic Kitchen in Santa Cruz, CA. 


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