Home Argentina community Family of five, including 7-year-old girl, dies in Surfside

Family of five, including 7-year-old girl, dies in Surfside

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A GoFundMe fundraiser was created to raise donations for the family of Gino and Graciela Cattarossi, their daughters Graciela and Andrea, and the 7-year-old granddaughter Stella, the daughter of Graciela and a Miami firefighter.  They all perished in the Surfside condo collapse.

A GoFundMe fundraiser was created to raise donations for the family of Gino and Graciela Cattarossi, their daughters Graciela and Andrea, and the 7-year-old granddaughter Stella, the daughter of Graciela and a Miami firefighter. They all perished in the Surfside condo collapse.

Courtesy of Nicole Mejias

In the mosaic of people who lived at the Tours Champlain Sud, the Cattarossi were a multigenerational family whose mutual love made life pleasant: the elders took full advantage of retirement; their daughter, a working mother, had a brilliant career as a photographer; and her daughter was just beginning to discover the world.

Gino Cattarossi, a retired engineer from Argentina, 89, and his wife, Graciela Ponce de León, 86, a former Uruguayan diplomat, were “happy parents and grandparents” to Graciela, 48, and Stella, 7. years old, living at their “Peaceful Ocean View Condo”. His 56-year-old daughter Andrea had come from Buenos Aires to help Gino as Gino had to undergo heart surgery to replace a pacemaker.

They all perished in the building collapse in the early hours of June 24, leaving friends and families in Uruguay, Argentina and Miami heartbroken.

“We miss them a lot,” said Nicole Mejias, daughter of Marcelo, who is the brother of Graciela and Andrea. She organized a GoFundMe campaign to help the family and in particular Andrea’s three sons, who live in Pilar, a town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Andrea’s husband was due to come to Miami to take Andrea’s remains for funeral services in Argentina.

The bodies of the five family members were found in the rubble. Stella and Graciela were both found on July 2, Andrea was found on July 5 and Gino and his wife were found on July 6.

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The Cattarossi family, three generations, lived a happy life in their beachfront condo, according to a family member.

Gino and Graciela have been described as adventurous, fun-loving and curious about all that life has to offer. They were also the generous parents of four children who shared their love of travel, good food and the arts. In addition to Andrea, Marcelo and Graciela, the couple had another daughter, Joanne, who lives in Buenos Aires with her husband and four children.

Married for almost 60 years, Gino and Graciela were passionate about culture and history. They loved the art and travel books, which filled the shelves of their Surfside condo. Gino began painting after his retirement and has learned to do stained glass in recent years, according to La Nación, the Argentine newspaper. Graciela was an avid reader who loved French literature and wrote articles for travel publications.

Their love affair began in New York City in the late 1950s.

Ponce de León was an adventurous pioneer who, as a young Uruguayan diplomat, moved to New York to work as part of her country’s mission to the United Nations. This was in 1958, and she was assigned to a human rights commission that worked closely with the Uruguayan ambassador to the UN, Enrique Rodriguez Fabregat, a key figure in the creation of the State of Israel. (A street is named after him in Tel Aviv, according to his obituary in the New York Times.)

Fabregat later became an influential voice in the struggle for human rights in South Africa. While at the UN, Ponce de León met with key leaders of the time, including Nikita Khrushchev, then Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, and Golda Meir, on the verge of becoming Prime Minister of Israel.

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Graciela Ponce de León was a diplomat in the Uruguayan Mission to the United Nations in the late 1950s and 1960s. Courtesy of the Cattarossi family

Around the same time Ponce de León started his job at the United Nations, Cattarossi, fresh out of engineering school in his native Argentina, landed in New York City to improve his English. With the construction industry booming in the United States, Cattarossi quickly found employment with Bechtel, Halliburton, Kellogg Brown & Root (now KBR). They met, fell in love and got married, settling in Long Island, according to El País, the Madrid daily.

Their first daughter, Andrea, was born while the couple was staying in Buenos Aires for some time in 1965. They returned to New York in 1967, when Marcelo was born.

A year later, Cattarossi decided to work in Argentina, where he worked on energy and mining projects across the country. Graciela was working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Montevideo, Uruguay, around the time her daughter Joanne was born. After the couple reunited in Buenos Aires in the early 1970s, Graciela was born in 1973, according to La Nación.

A friend who was quoted in the report said that Cattarossi was restless and full of energy, and that Ponce de León was happy to accompany him on his adventures. Their children grew up to be successful professionals: Andrea and Marcelo became architects, Joanne has an online furniture business, and Graciela was a lifestyle photographer.

“We all had a love for the arts, and it came straight from mom,” Joanne told La Nación.

His sister Graciela was also passionate about design and architecture and had a successful photography business in Miami. But his greatest love was his daughter, Stella. The single mom lived for the happy blonde Stella, according to her friend Kathryn Rooney Vera.

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Graciela Cattarossi, a lifestyle photographer with Argentinian-Uruguayan roots, with her 7-year-old daughter, Stella. They both died in the Surfside condo collapse, along with Graciela’s parents, Gino and Graciela Cattarossi, and Graciela’s sister, Andrea, who was from Argentina. WITH THE AUTHORIZATION OF THE CATAROSSI FAMILY

“Her dedication to her child was unparalleled,” said Vera, who has known Graciela since they were neighbors of the Grand Venetian in Miami Beach in 2008.

Vera, whose children dated Von Wedell Montessori with Stella, said Graciela’s generosity extended to her friends as well as her family. The photographer took photos of Vera’s motherhood and presented them to her as a gift to commemorate what she believed to be Vera’s last child. Then Vera got pregnant with her fifth.

“She was so excited for me,” Vera said, describing Graciela as “down to earth” and “a little bohemian”.

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Stella Cattarossi was the center of her mom’s universe. CATAROSSI FAMILY COURTESY

Stella always came first. Mother and daughter were so close that they shared a bed. Vera said she hoped her friend had time to wake up before the calamity, reach out to Stella and bring her closer.

The girl’s father, a Miami firefighter who had watched the site for seven days and eight nights, was able to say goodbye to his baby girl after her body was discovered by her colleagues.

More than 200 workers stopped to greet as Stella was swept away.

Miami Herald staff writer Connie Ogle contributed to this story.

Follow more of our reports on Condo Collapse: The Victims’ Stories

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Adriana Brasileiro covers environmental news at the Miami Herald. Previously, she covered climate change, business, political and general news as a correspondent for the world’s largest news agencies: Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones – The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, based in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Santiago.


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