Joseph Jay “JJ” Damato passed away suddenly and tragically on October 3rd, 2020.
He leaves behind his two daughters, Giovanna and Gabriella; his fiancée and love of his life, Audrey Rector and her daughter Meredith; his mother, Joanne Vega; his father, Robert Damato; his stepmother; Tara Damato; his brothers, Robert and Kenneth Damato; and his sister, JoAnn Mazzia.
JJ lived a full life, growing up in Sayreville, NJ, where he was known as one of the best-liked students who ever went through the Sayreville school system. He may in fact still be the only person in Sayreville history who ran unopposed twice for high school student council. A star athlete in his youth, he participated in football, baseball, wrestling and soccer, the latter when he was banned from pee-wee football because of his imposing size. After graduating high school, he attended Northeastern University in Boston but after one year transferred to St. John’s University in Queens, NY, because he could not stand to be around so many Boston sports fans. It was while at St. John’s that JJ took an internship at the NHL corporate office which led to a second career in sports, this time on the business side instead of the playing field. After two years of internships he was offered a full-time position with the NHL. Almost immediately, JJ turned that professional triumph into a legendary story when he accidentally sent an obscenity-ridden email, intended for a friend, to the entire league offices. In a classic “JJ was there” moment that repeated throughout his life, JJ was at the NHL when his beloved New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994. He was a loyal and fierce supporter of the Rangers, the Yankees, and the Giants. Family lore says that there was a Damato at every Yankees World Series since the 1970s, including 1977, with a 5 year old JJ falling asleep while Reggie Jackson hit three home runs. His love of sports, as well as his love of music and movies, (particularly movies featuring Italian-Americans), was memorialized in his man cave, which featured sports, music and film posters, tickets, pennants, and memorabilia. Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel were favorites, and JJ had a song lyric or movie line for every occasion. Famed for his story-telling and recollections of his youth, everyone who knew him through the years had their own “JJ story,” even if it just meant repeating JJ’s own stories. Much of his repertoire dealt with his family and upbringing. Although his parents were divorced, JJ was never uncertain of their love, and he returned that love many times over. His mother Joanne doted on him, and his father Bob was the protagonist of many of JJ’s self-deprecating tales of his childhood. It was all very funny, and always told with love. He and his older brothers Rob and Ken kept an eye on each other after school and learned how to help cook and care for the house. The resulting experience and maturity undoubtedly benefited them all. JJ was a beloved uncle to his brothers’ boys, and when he himself became a father, he made his daughters the center of his universe. He was so proud of all their accomplishments, and as their primary caregiver worked hard to attend all their events. Providing stability for his girls was his primary objective. In a career move in his late 20s, he went south to Charlotte, NC, to become a licensing manager with NASCAR. It was a dream position for a man who loved items branded with his favorite teams. After nine years, JJ joined Joe Gibbs Racing, where he rose over the course of 12 years to the rank of Vice President of Marketing. He loved working at JGR, which fostered a family atmosphere and strengthened his religious faith. A constellation of friends and colleagues will remember his friendly and thoughtful nature. JJ never forgot where he came from, or the people who helped him on his journey; each year on the anniversary of his hiring at the NHL, he contacted and thanked the person who had made the introduction that led to his internship there, kicking off his career. A few years ago, JJ took part in a podcast discussing his professional success. His advice - the same advice he gave Gia and Ella each day when he dropped them off at school - was simple: “work hard and be nice.” JJ’s final day was spent doing something he loved- playing street hockey. To honor his memory, the players in his hockey league are wearing the same memorial “JJ” emblem that the Joe Gibbs Racing Team displayed on their cars in Talladega. That is perhaps the most fitting testament to JJ; from childhood friends, to a local hockey league, to a championship NASCAR team, JJ both fit in and stood out in every circle he travelled in.
JJ Damato’s family held a private graveside service on Saturday, October 10th, 2020 at the Rocky Hill Cemetery in Skillman, New Jersey.
In lieu of Flowers, if you feel compelled to do something to help the family, please consider a donation to the Joseph J. Damato Children’s Education Trust. Contributions should be made to the name of the Trust and mailed to: Joseph J. Damato Children’s Education Trust, 189 Wall Street, Suite B, Princeton, New Jersey 08540. You can also make a contribution online by going to www.ourfriendjj.com.
The last thing we would like to say is if you have any special stories about JJ, want us to know who you are and how you know JJ, if you want to share pictures, videos, whatever, just keep sending messages to OurFriendJJ@gmail.com or post them on a special Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/josephdamato.