Geraldine Messina, entertainer

October 31, 1994|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Contributing Writer

Geraldine R. Messina, a retired hospital supervisor and former Miss Maryland who entertained the troops while touring with Bob Hope and sang with big bands at country clubs and presidential inaugural balls, died Friday of cancer at her Baltimore home with her family at her bedside. She was 55.

"She lost a 14-year courageous battle with breast cancer, but she kept her promise that she would hold on to her daughter's birthday. Victoria [Messina of Baltimore] turned 26 Wednesday, and Jerri died early Friday -- she was very devoted to her daughter" said Ms. Messina's sister, Barbara Harper of Baltimore.

The former Geraldine Fiorilli -- known as Jerri -- was crowned Miss Maryland in 1960. She had won 18 beauty pageants after being crowned "Princess of the Maryland Yacht Club" at age 16.

Ms. Messina sang professionally from age 18 to 50, entertaining the troops in Europe in the 1960s, traveling with Bob Hope. She sang at several presidential inaugural balls, including those of Presidents Nixon, Carter and Reagan.

She appeared with the Zim Zemarel Orchestra and sang with the Morgan Baer Orchestra.

" 'Hello Dolly' was one of her favorite songs. She was a very nice girl," recalled Mr. Zemarel, 77, whose 17-piece band played at the Baltimore Country Club, Elkridge Country Club and the Maryland Club. Other band members recall her singing "Cabaret," "Bill Bailey" and Dixieland tunes.

She also was "Miss Sweetheart Cup" and appeared on posters for Sweetheart Cups.

Until her illness forced her to retire this year, Ms. Messina was an administrative supervisor at University of Maryland Medical Center.

"She was a very beautiful person, an entertainer who loved people and loved to help people," said Dr. George Elias, ` `TC surgical oncologist at the hospital, who was her boss and friend. "She was very brave and courageous. Her attitude never changed, even after she was diagnosed with cancer. She took the news with grace and continued to work. She never was too tired to make people laugh. She was like an angel."

Ms. Messina also was involved in volunteer and community work, including the Paint and Powder Club, a group that raised money for charity. She devoted much time to United Way campaigns and appeared in American Cancer Society television commercials -- "Living with Cancer" -- two years ago.

A funeral Mass was to be offered today at 10 a.m. at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church on Loch Raven Boulevard in Baltimore.

The family asks that donations be made to the American Cancer Society.

In addition to her daughter and sister, Ms. Messina is survived by her parents, Anthony R. and Agnes Fiorilli of Baltimore; a brother Anthony D. Fiorilli of St. Louis, Mo.; and four nieces and nephews, Nicoll Harper, Michelle Fiorilli, Douglas Fiorilli and Christian Fiorilli.

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