Petrina J. (Caruso) Paton
February 27, 1918-October 9, 2011
Petrina Paton passed away peacefully at home after a beautiful day in San Francisco at the Columbus Day Parade.
Petrina Caruso, also known as Petie or Baby Pete, was born at 3220 Folsom Street to Antonio and Jennie Caruso. She had three older brothers: Salvatore (Toots), John, and Joe. The Carusos came to San Francisco from Palermo, Sicily, via New Orleans, where they sold fruits and vegetables, and settled in Bernal Heights after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Three generations of the family lived in the house.
After Petrina's father died in 1925, her mother and grandmother took over the running of the family grocery store on the building's ground floor. Sal used a horse and wagon to peddle fruit and vegetables around the city. Petrina graduated from Horace Mann and Mission High School, class of 1934. She was very proud that she not only had her school ring but another one that indicated she played all girls' sports at Mission High.After high school, she went on to business school. She really wanted to be a nurse, but that would have meant living at St. Luke's -- and since that was about 12 blocks away from her home, it was out of the question! She eventually got herself to St. Luke's in 1991, when she volunteered to hold and rock babies who were born addicted to drugs.
She met her husband, Robert Paton, at a dance upstairs in the Dante Building on Stockton Street in 1938. He had actually lived on Bennington Street, but residents on Bernal's north side never visited the south side, and vice versa. She always liked to tell the story that she went to the dance with one date but left with another: Robert.
Petrina and Robert were married in November 1940 and settled in a small apartment on Appleton Avenue. They bought a home on Colby Street, but when the war came, they sold it and moved back to Folsom Street, living with Pete's mother, Jennie, and sending their children to St. Anthony's, just down the street. Joe lived downstairs in the apartment he built when the family closed the grocery store. Every Sunday, the extended Caruso family gathered for dinner at 3220 Folsom.
Petrina was one of the few women of the era to earn her real estate broker's license. She did this to help her brother Joe sell the houses he was building all over the city and down the peninsula. In 1956, Joe built the Patons' home on Hale Street in the Portola District, where they moved after their third child, Jennie, was born. Petrina founded and then ran the cafeteria at Immaculate Conception Elementary School, across the street from her former home. She ran it like a restaurant, with the best Sloppy Joes and spaghetti with garlic bread. She also worked as a bookkeeper at Western Plastics in the Bayview.
When she reluctantly retired, she began her new careers: babysitting her great-granddaughters Daniela and Alexandra, and volunteering at St. Anthony's Dining Room every Tuesday for more than 15 years. After her shift at St. Anthony's, she took weekly history classes at the Doelger Center, proudly declaring that she was back in school. She was the founder of the Lifetime Members of Immaculate Conception Academy and a past member of the ICA Advisory Board.
Baby Pete, as the Bernal History Project knew her, was a tiny, big-hearted dynamo with a cute wink and an abundance of stories to share. You considered it an honor if she called you "Dolly" or "Hon." Along with her daughter, Patricia Paton Cavagnaro, she was an important collaborator on the Images of America book San Francisco's Bernal Heights. Her generosity in sharing the family photo albums and stories helped BHP build up a detailed picture of Italian-American life on the hill throughout the past century. In addition, because her brother-in-law, Eugene "Pat" Paton, was a labor leader during the 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike, her memories and Paton family scrapbooks helped form the basis for a LaborFest presentation on the history of community activism in Bernal.
Robert passed away in September 2002. Petrina is survived by her children, Patricia Cavagnaro, Robert (Micheline), Jenny, and Shawn Paton; son-in-law Robert Cavagnaro; grandson Robert John Cavagnaro (Pamela); great-granddaughters Daniela and Alexandra Cavagnaro; her sister-in-law Stella Paton; many nieces and nephews from the Caruso and Paton families as well as cousins in New Orleans; good friends Jane Cunningham and Mary and Eva Perata; and a host of friends throughout Bernal Heights, San Francisco, and beyond.
Photo and eulogy courtesy of Patricia Paton Cavagnaro.