An advocate with a giant heart: Joe Tringali spent a lifetime pushing for the rights of people with disabilities

Joseph Tringali of Amherst died Dec. 27 at 71.

Joseph Tringali of Amherst died Dec. 27 at 71. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By James Pentland

Staff Writer

Published: 01-11-2024 11:09 AM

AMHERST — Joe Tringali, a 45-year member of the Stavros Center for Independent Living, is being remembered as a tireless advocate for the dignity and rights of people with disabilities.

Tringali died Dec. 27 at the age of 71.

Stavros CEO Angelina Ramirez remembered meeting Tringali when she started working there in her 20s.

“He mentored me through the ranks,” she said.

He was a formidable advocate, she said. After she first announced his death, she received a number of resaid.sponses from people who talked about how he merged his life passion with his career.

“He was here last week, pushing us to call on the recovery program,” Ramirez said, referring to the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program that reclaims the accumulated costs Medicaid has spent on an individual with a disability from age 55 until their death.

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said she is “bound and determined” to pass legislation to dismantle the recovery program in Tringali’s honor.

“Joe was one of the most important advocates I’ve ever worked with,” she said. “He had a giant heart and a will of iron.”

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Not a week went by that Tringali didn’t email her office, Comerford said, and his wry humor and gentle spirit made him “the perfect advocate.”

She said her whole team was in mourning, and she plans to arrange a date when she adjourns the Senate in his memory.

“None of us can imagine the world without Joe Tringali,” she said.

According to Stavros, Tringali was instrumental locally in developing the first accessible curb cuts and traffic signals at the Pleasant Street/Main/Amity Street intersection in Amherst, the first of its kind in western Massachusetts.

He was equally key to the development of the fully accessible John Nutting apartments at Chestnut Court in the 1970s, another first in the region.

He worked collaboratively with the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) and other entities to promote the development of accessible housing across the state.

The collaborative Home Sweet Home program, Tringali’s brainchild, helps neighbors in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties acquire safe, affordable wheelchair ramps for their homes.

He was a regular contributor to the Gazette’s opinion page, urging awareness of and support for matters of importance to the disability community. His last letter, published in October, was a plea to stop the use of electric shock therapy on people with developmental disabilities.

Tringali, a quadriplegic, also had a great love for the outdoors, Ramirez said,

“He loved fishing and horses,” she said. “He loved to catch that big catfish.”

While he never wavered in his dedication to changing the world, Tringali was not one to trumpet his own efforts, Ramirez said.

“He wouldn’t tell you what he was working on unless he wanted you to advocate for it,” she said with a chuckle.

He recognized that all his advocacy work had to do with his own life, be it access to a racetrack or a restaurant.

“He saw what people needed and he went after it,” Ramirez