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Shelter Island Reporter obituary: Williette Johnston Piccozzi

Williette Johnston Piccozzi was born August 3, 1925 on Shelter Island in the farmhouse of her parents, William Johnston Sr. and Phoebe Simons Johnston, with her twin brother William Johnston, Jr.

Williette died in her sleep, at her home on Shelter Island, on December 30, 2021.

Billy and Willy, as they were affectionately known, were twin Hareleggers who celebrated 86 birthdays together, until Billy’s passing 10 years ago.

Williette was raised on Shelter Island with her six siblings: Francis Johnston, Isabelle Bowditch, Rosemary Griffing, Janet Zabel, William Johnston Jr., and Gracie Silvani. All of Williette’s siblings, her husband, Jake, and two of her grandchildren, Corine Runyan and Phoebe Fairweather, predeceased her.

Williette graduated from Shelter Island School in the spring of 1945. Her Class motto was: “If we rest, we rust,”  and there was never any rust on Willy.

She met the love of her life when she started working for Jake Piccozzi as a bookkeeper in 1948 at Piccozzi’s Service Station, Garage and Heating Company, and they courted for two years. Williette proclaimed that she did not want to get married until she was 25, and kept Jake waiting until May 7, 1950 to tie the knot.

Over the years, five children followed: Prudence Fairweather, Willette Hoffmann, Joann Piccozzi, Angelo Piccozzi, and Eleanor Labrozzi, plus 15 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Williette was an avid golfer, winning many trophies and awards at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club, Shelter Island Country Club’s “Goat Hill,” and Island’s End Country Club, among others.  

Known for her great overall game and remarkable putting skills. Williette could consistently sink 20- to 30-foot putts, leaving her competition in awe. Her putting skills were carefully honed while she was a young child tending her father’s 18-hole Minature Golf Course. The “Manhanset Recreation Park”, as it would later become know, started as an 18-hole minature golf course behind the family homestead on West Neck Road, and was later relocated to its present location on Manhanset Road.

Just up the road from the present mini-golf course are two parallel roads. Her father named one road Williette and the other Johnston. The roads were built by her twin, Billy, who built most of the roads on Shelter Island from the 1940s on.

She was also extremely good at bowling. When the American Legion Hall installed two bowling lanes in 1964, Williette was in the first bowling league and remained an active bowler for 52 years. Winning many league championships, notably with the “Jake’s Gassers,” a team sponsored by her late husband Jake, and lastly, at the age of 91 with the “Momma P’s Chicks”. Williette’s bowling abilities were known on both the North and South forks as well, earning her bowling awards and trophies from East Hampton Bowling Lanes and Mattituck Bowling Lanes.

Her father, Bill Johnston Sr., also had a furniture moving business. He would often take Williette, who was only about 8 or 9 at the time, all the way into New York City to “guard the furniture” in the truck, while he was inside the building. Williette would later recount how she would often say to her dad; “Don’t leave me in the truck. They’ll steal me with the furniture.”

As though Williette’s life was not entertaining enough, when her brother-in-law Johnny Piccozzi decided to become a professional golfer and retire from running the Bridge Street Market — formerly known as the “Island Food Centre” — Williette decided, with the help of her daughters, to step up and run the grocery/deli from 1969 until 1989.

While operating and managing the Island Food Centre, Williette perfected her baking skills and became widely known for her chocolate chip and pizzelle cookies. No holiday would be complete without a visit from Williette, who would single-handedly deliver cookies to everyone’s stockings in time for Christmas, a birthday or just to say, “Hi”.

She loved to sing and play her organ. For many years, starting as a young child, she would sing in the choirs at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and Our lady of the Isle. All the church hymns, as well as, “Lady of Spain,” “Young at Heart,” and “You Are My Special Angel,” were a few of her favorite tunes, along with just about anything sung by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Doris Day, among others.

When it came to fashion, Williette was one of the most incredible color fashionistas bar none. Hours and sometimes days would be spent choreographing what to wear. Everything had to match; the shoes to the dress, the accessories to the jewelry, the lipstick to the earrings. Once she put herself together she was a beautiful walking work of art.

Like all her sisters, she loved to decorate her home inside and out for the holidays. Calendars were not needed to know what holiday it was, just drive by, or, stop inside the family homestead, and you would see it decorated for each holiday. The family often said, our Mom missed her calling, she could have done incredible window displays for any major department store in the world.

Being born in a small town, especially one surrounded by water, peace, tranquility and love become part of your DNA. Throughout her life, Williette,  aka “Momma P,” was always there to lend a helping hand.

She freely volunteered her time to help others and was a member of just about every volunteer organization that Shelter Island had to offer: American Legion Women’s Auxiliary, Shelter Island Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary, Daughter’s of the American Revolution (Col. Finnis Fanning who fought in many battles in the Revolutionary War on Long Island was related to Williette), Shelter Island Red Cross, Cub Scouts of America, Shelter Island Garden Club, Shelter Island Historical Society, St. Gabriel’s Monastery, Shelter Island Chamber of Commerce, Nature Conservancy, Shelter Island Library, St. Mary’s Episcopal and Our Lady of the Isle churches. 

Although Williette is not here to say it herself, her caregivers, Mimi and Chelita, are two of the most remarkable women the family has ever met. Their professional care, and love for Williette were without bounds. We love and thank them dearly for their five-and-a-half and one-and-a-half years service, respectively.

Over her 96-year frolic on Shelter Island, Williette, Willy, Mom, Momma P, Grandma, “Pees” and Great Grandma touched the lives of many. Whether it was a bird with a broken wing that needed mending, or a baby needing a hug, she was there to help. A true friend to all who knew her. God bless, and thanks for being our Mom.

A private Mass will be celebrated at Our Lady Of The Isle on Friday, Jan. 7 at 10:30 a.m. for family members. Immediately following the church service, a graveside service, where all our welcomed, will be held at 11:15 a.m. at Our Lady Of The Isle R. C. Church Cemetery.

Those who wish to make a donation in Williette J. Piccozzi’s memory, please consider any of our wonderful Shelter Island volunteer organizations.