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January 2nd we lost a man who touched the lives of many in Tacoma and beyond.
John Louis Messina was a lifelong Tacoma resident. He loved his hometown and did not appreciate it being disparaged. He grew up in the Hilltop neighborhood surrounded by an Italian immigrant community and echoed their values throughout the rest of his life. He learned Italian and could still sing and speak the language until his last days.
His childhood consisted of hanging out with the Aquinos, Messinas, and his many friends, attending St. Rita of Cascia Church, and Bryant Elementary. His cousins were like siblings and his friends were family. Like many Italian/Catholic sons of his day, he thought he would devote his life to the priesthood, so from ages 13 to 18 he was educated at St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore.
Deciding the priesthood was not for him, he went on to graduate from UPS and worked as a teacher. History, Latin, and German were just a few of the subjects he taught high school students. He and his neighborhood friends remained close and frequented haunts all over town, including the New Yorker restaurant. There, he met the love of his life, Guelda Lewis. They were married in 1964 and John had the family he always wanted in Guelda and her daughter, Dana Sue.
According to family lore, Guelda said if he wanted a large family, he might need to make more money than he earned as a teacher. They decided to take Dana and move to Spokane so John
could attend Gonzaga Law, where they offered night classes. He taught school during the day and attended classes from 1966 to 1969. Somehow, he and Guelda also managed to have three more kids: Maribeth Lynn Messina in 1966, John Louis Messina Jr. in 1967, and Megan Ann Bostic in 1969. He also made lasting friendships with his law school colleagues and spent time with his relatives who lived in Spokane.
He and his young family moved back home to Tacoma and John started his law career after he scored highest on the Washington bar exam in 1969. He became a partner at the Manza, Moceri Law Firm, where he practiced until he formed his own firm in 1985.
Using his brilliant legal mind, he set several legal precedents and won top verdicts in the state. The original text of the Washington statute prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace was
derived largely from an appellate brief John wrote. He won the first million-dollar verdict in the history of the Pierce County courts. Then, was voted Washington State Trial Lawyer of the Year
in 1979. Among his other accolades, he was inducted into the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and the American College of Trial Lawyers. The Damage Attorney Round Table (DART) gave him their President’s Award in 2009 and he received the Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association Lincoln Award for 50 years in the legal profession. He taught his many employees, his law partners, and other young lawyers lessons in law and life throughout his career.
John’s devotion to his clients was unmatched and he took cases other lawyers turned down. His “the client comes first” philosophy provided him with loyal, repeat clients and a successful
practice in personal injury law. He was unapologetic, standing by the people he represented and employed.
John’s proudest moments were not only in the courtroom. He played softball all his adult life and coached teams that played at Peck Field well into his 50s. His competitive nature was usually a
plus unless debates with umpires got him kicked out of a game!
John had many interests and he always brought the fun. He traveled to all 50 states and many countries but visited Italy the most. He took friends and family to Italy and was proud to show them the sites and delights in his “homeland”. He loved playing games and trivia, took up golf later in life, and was an active member of the Democratic Party and the Sons of Italy.
John and Guelda’s first Grandchild Lily Beth was born in 1992, followed by 3 more granddaughters and a grandson: Giovanna Rose Peitz, Mary Johanna Bostic, Rey Ann Bostic, and Vincent Jerome Peitz. They made him as proud as any of his accomplishments and he spent many years joyfully challenging them, taking them on trips, and spoiling them!
His final years were shared with Guelda at their condo in Ruston with their caregivers Permi and Loise who kept them healthy and happy. He finally succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s
disease at The Weatherly Inn, where he was also given great care and love. He was surrounded by friends and loved ones in his last moments at the age of 84.
Please help us celebrate the life and legacy of John Messina. Recitation of the Rosary is at 6pm Thursday, January 18th at St Rita of Cascia, 1403 S. Ainsworth.
Funeral Mass will be held at 11 am Friday, January 19th at Holy Cross Catholic Church, 5510 N. 44th followed by a lunch reception.
In lieu of flowers, donations in John’s name can be made to the Jesuit Community at https://www.jesuits.org/support-us/support-our-work/ OR the Crystal Judson Family Justice
Center at https://gtcf.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create/fund?funit_id=1463