Lisa, a Life in the Service of the Community

Lucia Pasqualini (February 18, 2016)
My experience in New York would not have been the same without the precious assistance and supportive guidance of Elisabetta Calello, or Lisa, as everybody knows her.

When facing a new job, we may feel a bit disoriented initially. That is how I felt when I arrived in New York. At the time, I was not completely aware of what my new role entailed.

I had just spent four years in Beijing where I served as chief of staff to the ambassador, and
was still enchanted by this extraordinary experience and felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to live in China during a period of great change.

Although I learned many important lessons during my “Chinese years,” once in New York I realized that I was about to face quite different challenges.

After completing two assignments abroad, I am now aware that this initial feeling of estrangement is an intrinsic component of being a diplomat. In a way, it is also a healthy thrill...

An authentic public servant
In New York I encountered a very special person who took me by the hand and gently and patiently guided me in my new life. I am extremely grateful for this encounter, for I know for certain that my experience in New York would not have been the same without the precious assistance and attentive and supportive guidance of Elisabetta Calello, or Lisa, as everybody knows her.

Lisa has been the personal assistant to the Consul General of Italy in New York for more than 40 years. During that time, she has been the priceless link between the Italian-American community and the Italian Consulate.

She knows everybody in the Community and everybody knows her. She dedicated her life to her community and country, Italy, as an authentic and genuine servitore dello Stato (public servant). The very first formal events that I was invited to attend I did not exactly know either what to expect or what to say. I never had public exposure in China, and official ceremonies were strictly formal and just different.

Lisa was the person who helped me the most in my new assignment. Day after day, event after event, Lisa became a very important person to me. She knew every detail about a particular event, association or person.

She was always able to give me the right suggestions to help me face any situation. She always enthusiastically supported me and was by my side during each project and in every consular matter, even if it was not her assignment. Lisa has always been naturally zealous and passionate about her job. I could always count on her, and she was always the one who encouraged me to take on a new initiative and make an idea a reality.

When we were raising funds to help instate Italian subtitles for Italian operas at the Metropolitan Opera, I discovered that Lisa had incredible relationships with colleagues across the board. It is thanks to her that we managed to involve persons I did not even know at the time. She was the one who mentioned me about Paul Montrone and his previous role as general manager at the Met.

She arranged an appointment with him despite the fact that he no longer lived in New York, and it is his support that led to an official recognition of the project on the playbill of the Met for 3 years!

A precious link to the community
Lisa introduced me to extraordinary people and their stories. Many had a major influence on my personal and professional growth, and many have earned my profound affection. Thanks to her patient guidance and wise assistance I managed to discover the inner side of the Italian-American community. Lisa came to the United States with her family at very young age from the Italian region of Calabria.

She knew firsthand what lay behind each immigrant’s story. At the same time she is an example of that American culture in which everything is possible. In a very gentle yet persistent way, Lisa always invited us to get to know more about every aspect of our jobs.

I vividly remember how much she cared about a meeting with Professor Mario Mignone, the Director for the Italian Cultural Studies at Stonybrook University, with whom I have worked very closely to promote the Italian language during my tenure in New York and I am still in touch with now.

She knew that I was very involved with La Scuola d’Italia and she always gave me ideas and proposals about promoting and supporting it. She was the one who often talked to me very highly about Jack Spatola, the inspiring leader of the FIAO (Federation of Italian-American Organizations) in Brooklyn. And I remember her words when I wanted to start the first Dual Language chapter in Brooklyn.

I knew I could not make that happen without Jack’s help. It was thanks to his great commitment and charisma that we managed to involve the Italian-American community in this important project, and it was also thanks to Lisa, because, as always, she knew exactly who to contact and involve to bring a project to fruition.

At first I did not completely comprehend the full extent of Lisa’s suggestions, but they always came in a manner so polite and persuasive that it was impossible to say no to. Only after a while I truly understood Lisa’s tips and I could not imagine having to do without her precious advice. Lisa’s role was undoubtedly very instrumental for our work in many different ways.

Thanks to her very special sensibility, over the years Lisa has been able to build solid relationships and acquire a great respect. Lisa was there for everybody, without any difference of status. She cares about people and everybody knows that. She interprets her role as a true servant of the community.

I remember she once told me “to understand the community, you must love the community!” I did not immediately understand what she meant but that sentence made a great impression on me and I carried it inside myself and often pondered its true meaning, a meaning that I deeply comprehended the last year of service in New York. That was her secret: Lisa knew the community because she has loved and loves the community profoundly.

A sincere mentor
Lisa taught me many significant lessons by her impeccable yet humble example. She was my greatest source of inspiration in my professional growth and in my personal life. Her discreet guidance taught me the beauty and power of paying attention to each and every one. She gave me the courage to look inside myself, which allowed me to discover who I was and who I wanted to be.

She encouraged me when I needed to be encouraged and consoled me when I was upset. She acted as a true and sincere mentor. I owe her so much and I will always be grateful to her for inspiring me tremendously.

Last but not least, she taught me one of the most precious lessons that I will always carry with me: the power of genuineness. She once told me, “Don’t worry, Dr. Pasqualini. There is no need to beanxious: youwillbegreat! Speak from the heart and everything will be fine!” She was right. I suddenly realized that people did not care if I made mistakes during my speech: they caught the sincerity of my words and became spontaneously tolerant and friendly. You opened my heart, my eyes, my ears and, most of all, my mind! Grazie Lisa, you are and will always be in my heart!                    

*Lucia Pasqualini is Former Vice Consul in New York