SPECIAL TRIBUTE: John Rocco Roberto: 1962-2007
Author: Robert Biondi and John “Dutch” DeSentis
Special Thanks to Robert Troch, Mike Temple, and David Milner
By John “Dutch” DeSentis
My first Godzilla convention ever was G-Con ’97 in New York City. That date was August 31st, 1997. I never had the fortune of going to any of the early (and by all accounts incredible) G-Cons including the trailblazing G-Con 1996. Luckily for me, New York City was a much more reasonable location for a twelve year old kid from Pennsylvania to convince his mom to take him to for something she had already been tired of for many of those 12 years. My only concern walking into that convention that day (besides acquiring some Bandai figures and the soundtrack to Godzilla 1954 from the dealer room) was meeting the men who played Godzilla: Haruo Nakajima and Ken Satsuma.
Upon walking in to the registration table, I asked (being the fanboy that I was) immediately where I could find them. A bearded man said to me “Turn around and say hi!” I turned to see Ken Satsuma sitting right in the main area watching people file in, saying hi and greeting people. I have to admit that seeing Satsuma in person was intimidating. The bearded man encouraged me to walk right up to him. I did and I was speechless as Satsuma, one of the men who played Godzilla, stood up and shook my hand while saying something to me in Japanese (which was probably just a cordial “nice to meet you”).
The bearded man was John Roberto and that first experience was something that I found typified John’s conventions and his guests: accessibility. That first G-Con was an incredible experience. The following two years saw a multitude of great one day shows and good times meeting good friends. I will never forget my trip up to NYC for the Christmas 1998 show. New York during Christmas is one of a kind and to have a Godzilla convention going on? Simply awesome.
The final New York G-Con in 1999 was by far the greatest convention experience I have ever had. The chance to hang out in the suite with Teriyoshi Nakano and Robert Dunham as well as take a walk around the observation deck of the Empire State Building with Hiroshi Koizumi and his daughter Kuniko were moments that will probably never be matched. I also had my first taste of “Godzilla Blood”, the ceremonial drink of the show. Shh, no one knows. It was also at these shows that I made contact with several people who would later become great friends such as Greg Cordaro, Bill Schick, and Mike Temple. I also had the pleasure of meeting other people whom I would see at the various shows over the coming years such as Jay Johnson, Rob Troch, and Jim Cirronella. This was all because of John and the people that helped him make these shows possible. Of course, I also got to know John as a friend.
In the years after the last G-Con, John became scarce. I would see him occasionally at the Chiller shows in NJ every October or so and Mike Temple would keep me up to date with him. In 2006, John showed up at the June Chiller after a couple years of not coming around. It was great to see him and we all had a great time hanging out. I saw him again in August at Monster Mania in Cherry Hill, NJ. Sadly, that was the last time I would see him.
Late in 2006, I was given the terrible news by Mike Temple that John had been diagnosed with cancer. Over the coming year, I was kept up to date on his fight via Mike who was getting his updates from David Milner. We all hoped for the best and prayed for a miracle. This past December brought the heartbreaking news one morning that John had lost his fight with cancer. I spent that day (and many other days for that matter) thinking about the many memories that John left me both as a person and with the great conventions he put on.
While John was not well known with some of the newer members of the fandom, his influence was far reaching. He was the true mover and shaker of the old days when fans didn’t have the internet to connect with one another. His articles, as well as the articles of his contemporaries in the old issues of G-Fan and later in Kaiju-Fan set the standard for serious analysis of the films (“Godzilla in America” anyone?) His passing is a hard-felt blow to a fandom that has lost several noted people over the last few years. I will never forget the incredible times in New York City and the friendships that came from that. I have John Roberto to thank for it.
Rest in peace friend.
The Legacy of John Rocco Roberto
By Robert Biondi
For 15 years, I had the honor to call John Rocco Roberto my best friend. John possessed a rare, warm personality, and he knew how to live life to the fullest. He was never afraid to lose the happy child within; many people described him as being like “a big, friendly kid.” People would instantly be attracted to John because of his kind, magnetic smile, wonderful sense of humor and his larger-than-life, yet easy going, personality. John had a gift for bringing people together, and as others have noted his special place in the Godzilla fandom will be that he created G-Con.
Yet John deserves to be remembered for a great deal more, since Godzilla movies were only one of his many interests. Creating G-Con will form only a part of the greater portrait that will be John’s legacy.
John could sit down with people and converse enthusiastically about a wide range of subjects, from politics, Beatles’ music, Dr. Who, Star Trek, Masterpiece Theatre, Civil War battles, and Godzilla movies. John was highly educated; at the time he was diagnosed with cancer he was close to completing his second master’s degree. He was an extremely intelligent and insightful man, who spoke and wrote passionately about the subjects he loved.
Moreover, John was kind, generous, and honest. His character was untarnished by meanness, selfishness, and arrogance, all qualities that had absolutely no place in his heart. John did not know what it was to be false, for he was a Man of Honor.
John was a far better person than many others, and he was devoted to those who knew him. He was always ready to drop whatever he was doing to help his wife, family, and friends. For John, helping others always came first, and he sought neither credit nor reward. No matter how big or small the problem, John always listened with attentiveness and always gave heartfelt advice.
John taught social studies to middle school students at P.S. 121, and he did this with enthusiasm, imagination, and sheer fun. Whether he took his students on a field trip to historic sites, worked with them in creating a diorama representing the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, or taught his classes wearing a Civil War uniform, John made learning enjoyable. When his colleagues and students asked why he taught in this unconventional manner, John always answered, “It’s my passion.”
In December 2006, John was diagnosed with cancer. He fought a good fight, and faced this horrible ordeal with dignity and courage. On December 6, 2007, John left this world at a tragically young age. Without him, it is a smaller, sadder world.
At John’s wake, one of his colleagues gave his widow Carol sympathy letters from John’s students, and Carol circulated these among his mourners. As I read these letters, the same theme rang throughout each one; John made learning enjoyable and interesting, and his students loved him for this. After reading the letters, I handed them to my wife Kim and said: “This will be John’s legacy. A man who has inspired learning in so many children, and who has touched so many lives in so loving a way, can never truly die.”