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'A True Love Story to the End'

Naugatuck man dies four days after his beloved wife, on what would have been their 53rd anniversary.

Donald and Eleanora Mongillo. Contributed photo
Donald and Eleanora Mongillo. Contributed photo

By Paul Singley

He was the quiet, fresh-faced soldier looking to make his own way in the world.

She was the outgoing beauty who dabbled in modeling and caught the eye of many a young man in her hometown of Bridgeport.

His father, Anthony Mongillo, worked in the same building as that young lady, Eleanor Smackey, and the two became friendly. Anthony thought she would make a marvelous daughter-in-law.

“Eleanora and Donald belong together,” he would say in his thick Italian accent. 

He didn't know it at the time, but Anthony Mongillo found a match made in heaven. 

His son, Donald, wound up marrying Eleanor and the two were together, nearly every day, for the next 53 years. And, as fate would have it, the two were destined to be together — whether in this life or the next. 

Eleanor died last Sunday, Aug. 18, at age 79 after a long illness. Just four days later, on what would have been the couple’s 53rd wedding anniversary, Donald died.

“This is a true love story to the end,” said Eleanor’s sister, Thelma Laeffer. “They died the way they lived their life — together.”

The Definition of Dedication To Family

Shortly after they wed, Eleanor experienced severe back and spinal problems that led to other health complications: she walked hunched over and often complained of severe headaches, said her only son, Jeff, of Naugatuck. 

From the beginning, Donald was by her side. He cooked, he cleaned, he took her to doctor’s appointments, and he took care of their only son. Through trying times, Donald was the family’s rock, Jeff said.

“I don’t know anybody on this planet who is more dedicated to a spouse than my father was to my mother,” he said. “…When you take your wedding vows you say, ‘Until death do us part.’ Well in the book where it says that, they should put a picture of my father. My father followed through with everything he said he was going to do.”

Through the years, Donald had his own health problems: heart attacks, triple bypass surgery, cancer. Each time he was hospitalized, he would soon demand to be discharged. “I need to be home to take care of mama,” he would say.

“He’d tell me, ‘Kid, if anything happens to me, take care of your mother,” Jeff said.  

Due to their respective health issues, Jeff moved his parents to Naugatuck about five years ago to be closer to him, his wife and their four children. Donald often had trouble moving around the house and getting in and out of bed. But if ‘mama’ needed something, he was right there, Jeff said.

Over the past month, the couple’s health had deteriorated fast. Donald had multiple myeloma that progressed quickly, even though he vowed to return home to Eleanor.

Not Just A Coincidence

On Friday, Aug. 18, Donald lay in a hospital bed telling family that he had an important event at 3:30 that day. There was nothing on his schedule, though.

Later that day, Eleanor was rushed to the hospital. She died just after 3:30 p.m.

“I am not a really religious person, but that was unbelievable,” Jeff said.

Donald was not coherent and was in and out of sleep for several days when his wife passed. Jeff said he talked about his mother’s passing in his father’s presence, but did not directly break the news to his father. Still, Jeff believes his father knew.

“They were inseparable people who always wanted to be near each other every minute of every day,” he said. “I think they lived and breathed each other.”

On Monday, the soldier and the model were together again. Surrounded by friends and family, Donald and Eleanor, the couple that belonged together, were laid to rest, side by side, at the State Veterans Cemetery in Middletown.

To help the family of Donald and Eleanor Mongillo pay for funeral expenses, send donations to Naugatuck Valley Memorial: Fitzgerald-Zembruski Funeral Home, 240 North Main St., Naugatuck, CT, 06770. 

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