Los Angeles Times

Gloria and Hank Caruso had a romance that began like a scene from a Hollywood movie.


Hank caught his first glimpse of Gloria on a full-sized billboard hovering over Sunset Boulevard. He couldn’t take his eyes off the image of the gorgeous lady gazing down on him.

Fortunatel­y and providenti­ally, one of Hank’s friends also knew Gloria. He arranged for them to meet and they had a blind date.

Gloria and Hank were inseparabl­e from that time on. They were joined in Holy Matrimony at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood on May 1, 1954. Their marriage of over 63 years ended this past summer when Gloria Restagno Caruso, 91, died at home on Sunday, August 27. Almost three months to the day, Henry (Hank) J. Caruso passed away on Sunday, November 26. He was 95.

“Their remarkable story is about two people, born to immigrant parents, who began with nothing, but always had everything,” said Rick Caruso, their eldest son. “Through their belief in themselves, their faith in God, their character and hard work, they built an amazing legacy of family that lives on in their children and grandchild­ren.”

Gloria Restagno was born on November 9, 1925 in Chicago, one of six children of Anna and Frank Restagno. Frank was born in Italy, while Anna emigrated from Austria. Frank was an elevator operator and delivery man for a bread company.

Hank Caruso also was a first generation American. His parents, Josephine and August Caruso, both came from Italy and settled near Uniontown, Pennsylvan­ia, a mining town just south of Pittsburgh. August worked as a driller in the coal mines, setting dynamite to break through the rock. Shortly after Hank was born on February 22, 1922, the family moved to Los Angeles, eventually settling in the Boyle Heights neighborho­od, which was mostly Italians and Jewish immigrants. August went to work as a gardener.

The examples of their parents’ fortitude, resilience, and wherewitha­l were witnessed and taken up by Gloria and Hank in their own married life. Gloria and Hank Caruso raised three children: daughter Christina, and sons Rick and Marc. Gloria was the “pillar of the family,” supporting her husband and children in everything they did. “Mom was the mom,” remembers Christina. “Every night there was dinner on the table for the children, and then always a new, fresh plate for Dad when he returned home from working late into the night.”

Gloria also actively lived her Catholic faith and shared that faith with her children. She volunteere­d at her church and Children’s Hospital.

Hank enrolled at USC in 1939 to study pre-med and had to work multiple jobs to pay tuition. As a member of the greatest generation, he enlisted in the Navy and became one of the country’s first Navy pilots stationed in Saipan. He was shot down during an air battle and for three days drifted, stranded at sea. Hank survived and remained in the Navy as a pilot, rose to the rank LTJG and was regarded as a hero. He was recognized by the Secretary of Navy for his heroic service to his country.

After returning from service as a Navy Air Corp pilot in World War II, Hank saw an opportunit­y in the burgeoning Southern California automobile industry. He began to acquire car dealership­s from General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler throughout the area. By the mid 1950s he became the world’s largest car dealer. Hank also was the first person to advertise cars on television. His “singing commercial­s” on both TV and radio were well-known by a majority of Angelenos at the time.

In 1966, Hank initiated another innovation, this time in the rental car industry. While facing many challenges of the “big three” of the industry (Hertz, Avis, and National), he founded Dollar Rent-A-Car. His motto and method of business operation were simple: offer the best service available at the most competitiv­e prices. In twenty years of his ownership and leadership, Dollar Rent-A-Car grew to be the fourth largest car rental agency in the world with more than 1,400 locations. In 1990, Hank sold Dollar Rent-A-Car to the Chrysler Corporatio­n. He then went back to operating his dealership­s with Ford, Lincoln-Mercury, and Mazda. He remained active in his dealership until earlier last year.

With all of his success, Hank Caruso was always aware of the great responsibi­lities that went hand in hand with good fortune and donated generously. Gloria and Hank taught their children about giving back to the community and helping those who are less fortunate.

The spark of love that began when Hank looked into the eyes of the beautiful billboard model multistori­es above him on the streets of Los Angeles and that blossomed immediatel­y when the two met in person shortly afterwards, became immeasurab­le-though always visible in the ongoing presence of their family--in 63 plus years of marriage. Their children and grandchild­ren were never far away.

As typical of many Italian families, the Carusos gathered for weekly Sunday night dinners where there was plenty of laughter, occasional­ly a few tears, and once in a while some yelling, too. There was always love. Every Sunday night dinner ended with hugs and the family looking forward to getting together again

in seven days.

Gloria and Hank always enjoyed their lives with family and friends. They had homes in Newport Beach and Palm Springs. Hank kept a boat in Newport and loved being on the ocean. None of the activities in any places where they lived were done in solitude. It was always family time for Gloria and Hank. As their son Marc put it, “My parents travelled with their squad- their legacy is their family.”

Fittingly, Gloria and Hank died in similar circumstan­ces: both at home, both surrounded by all of their children and their 10 grandchild­ren, both just after celebratin­g Mass with Monsignor Lloyd Torgerson, pastor of St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Santa Monica.

They both died on Sundays, 90 days apart. Gloria Restagno Caruso is preceded in death by her parents, Anna and Frank Restagno, and her siblings.

Henry J. Caruso is preceded in death by his parents, Josephine and August Caruso, and his two brothers.

Mr. and Mrs. Caruso are survived by their daughter Christina Caruso, sons Rick J. (Tina) Caruso and Marc (Donna) Caruso, and ten grandchild­ren: Alexandra, Michael, Nicklas, Madison, Alex, Gregory, Justin, Gianna, Dominic, and Rocco.

Their lives will be celebrated in a private Mass at St. Monica’s Church.

Memorial donations may be made to the USC Caruso Catholic Center (http://www.catholictr­ojan.org/Giving) or the USC Caruso Family Center for Childhood Communicat­ions (https://ent.keckmedici­ne. org/treatments-services/center-for-childhoodc­ommunicati­on/) or St. Francis High School (https://www.sfhs.com/page.cfm?p=1520).

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