John (“Jack”) Louis Fillio, age 84, of Sanford, NC, died on May 8, 2023, at Parkview Retirement Village, Sanford, NC.
Born on October 31, 1938, he was the second of three children of Newman and Irene Fillio of Pittsfield, MA. An oft-told anecdote was that his father, upon first observing his new child—born on Halloween—remarked that with his son’s obvious absence of hair, he resembled a Jack-o'-lantern. And thus, a life-long nickname was established.
He graduated from Pittsfield High School and later obtained degrees from Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts (Amherst). Though not the service he predicted in his high school yearbook (“Ambition: To make a career… [in] the Coast Guard”), he honorably served six years in the United States Marine Corps while his yearbook bio gave an early glimpse of his dry sense of humor (“Destiny: To guard coasts”).
As we previously reported here, he met the love of his life, Beverly Amelia Radke, one evening at The Green Door in Lanesborough, MA; they were engaged at Puffers Pond in Amherst, MA; and married on February 22, 1960. He joined the Department of the Interior / US Fish & Wildlife Service in 1965 and embarked on the whirlwind tour of exotic destinations which he’d long promised his new bride, making stops in Medina, NY (Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge), Guys Mills, PA (Erie NWR), Brigantine, NJ (Brigantine NWR ), Kenai, AK (The Moose Range), Basking Ridge, NJ (The Great Swamp) and East Kingston, NH (Parker River NWR/Newburyport, MA).
While three children gradually joined the fold, the family thrived under the unique experiences offered by Jack’s ‘offices’: counting endangered barn owl populations, saving goslings from hungry snapping turtles, digging for clams on Kenai Beach, banding noisy Canada geese, enjoying evening drives in an airboat, restoring aging beachfront boardwalks, and sheltering all manners of stray animals including cats, dogs, turtles, racoons, and turkeys. In later years their compassion extended to stray children as well when they took in occasional teenagers in need of a safe harbor for a few days, months, sometimes years.
He was a man of great integrity and high moral principles, and no belief was stronger than his Catholic faith. He shared this unwavering commitment with his family through regular Mass attendance and sacraments, and at each stop along the way he invested his talents in numerous parish ministries. His values further manifested in the many times he helped his young adult children navigate through a litany of personal crises and turbulent times, mixing a balance of strength and firmness with kindness and compassion.
Working as a wildlife biologist and refugee manager mirrored his lifelong zeal for the outdoors. Beginning at an early age, he accompanied his father on frequent hunting trips in pursuit of rabbits, ducks, and pheasants, while his adult years included chasing deer, caribou, and moose. None of these adventures could rival his true passion of fishing, yet another enduring pastime introduced to him at an early age by his father. At points across time, he could be found ice fishing for pike on Pontoosuc Lake, casting for bluefish on Atlantic City shores, enjoying a campsite dinner of rainbow trout by Tustumena Lake, pulling a bounty of salmon from the Kenai River, or hooking a bonefish off the rocky Bonaire coast. Prior to his retirement in 2000 after 35 years of civil service, he resumed flyfishing in earnest and was so engrossed by the sport that he joined two friends in purchasing a rudimentary cabin in Pittsburg NH as the base camp for their frequent excursions. Ironically, despite many, many fishing trips, they rarely returned with any fish—but plenty of empty beer cans.
He is survived by his daughter Amanda Mix of Sanford, NC, his son Christopher Fillio of Holly Springs, NC, his 5 grandchildren Ashleigh Rolfson, Haley Lamb, Alex Fillio, Zoe Fillio, and Dahlia Smith, and his two great-grandchildren, Makenzie Lamb and Milo Lamb. He was preceded in death by his incredible wife of 62 years, Beverly Amelia Radke Fillio, and by their daughter, Constance Marie (“Casie”) Fillio Smith.
When asked recently about how he would like to be remembered, he said "He could not have been happier than to have lived his life with Mom next to him." While mental and physical infirmities accelerated his departure from us, it is conceivable that after the passing of his wife last year he ultimately died of a broken heart.
Final arrangements are being handled by the family with a private interment ceremony to be held at St. Stephen the First Martyr in Sanford, NC. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
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