July 28, 2002

Joseph Rivelli Jr.: Writer of Sweetie-Pie Notes

He was a charm king, that Joe Rivelli. Confident and comfortable in his own skin, quick with a withering quip, faster still to a fire, the first to volunteer his fists to defend his buddy Tony Portela in a Houlihan's scuffle and, for years, the kind of magnet that too many women tried in vain to stick to.

He had a restless intelligence: taught himself to build computers, started on a stockbroker's license, stayed glued to the History Channel on days off from Ladder 25 in Manhattan, was closing in on a pilot's license.

So who knew, when Firefighter Rivelli finally married at 39, that he was secretly a sentimentalist, waiting to be discovered?

Always close to his parents and three siblings, he now left sweetie-pie notes for his wife, Cheryl, under the pillow, and would call her at their home in Upper Manhattan after big fires, even at 3 a.m., just to hear her voice. Her children from a first marriage, Phylicia and Christopher, whom he introduced as his daughter and son, would find his notes in their school lunch bags. At 44, he was still Joe