"I'm on the Board of Directors of Crown Cork & Seal Company," explained Garibaldi, a long-time resident of Weehawken, last week. "I also serve on the board for the National Italian American Foundation. But I really don't have any daily work at all, except for caring for my mother. She tells me I should still have a secretary, since she answers all my calls. But I think I have the perfect world. I still have a lot of activities, but I never feel like I'm at work, which is what I hoped for."
After her distinguished 40-year law career, culminating in her appointment as the first woman to ever serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court, where she served for 18 years, Garibaldi has settled into retirement with grace. Garibaldi has also received her share of honors and awards over the years, but none like the one she will receive next week. In fact, the organization honoring her, the Dante Alighieri Society of Jersey City, has never before honored a female in its 91-year history.
But the all-male Italian American fraternal organization has chosen Justice Garibaldi to be their Honoree of the Year. Justice Garibaldi will receive her honor at the organization's annual dinner at the Casino in the Park in Jersey City on Saturday, Sept. 30, beginning at 6 p.m.
According to Dr. Frank Rienzo, the president of the Dante Alighieri Society, Justice Garibaldi was selected as the honoree for many reasons.
"She set the standard of commitment to the bench with honor and distinction by serving unselfishly with her time and understanding, and her mastery of law," said Rienzo, who also stated that Garibaldi was selected for her civic-minded associations and her outstanding contributions to the legal profession.
Established in 1909, the Dante Alighieri Society of Jersey City raises funds through its annual dinner to support charitable contributions to churches for the less fortunate and to fund scholarships for high school seniors. The society also aids the Italian-American community by diffusing the Italian language, literature, culture and traditions through schools, libraries, courses, lectures and publications; to award prizes, medals, diplomas and scholarships; to provide the community in general with charitable relief whenever possible; to aid and counsel members in need; and to assist Italian-American immigrants in establishing themselves as citizens of the United States.
Garibaldi said that she is thrilled to be the Dante Alighieri honoree, considering that she still holds her Italian-American heritage near and dear.
"I take my heritage very seriously," Garibaldi said. "I have all the great attributes that Italian women have, except the great hair and being a great chef. I don't have those. But I have the great spirit and the great devotion to the heritage. I think the Alighieri Society is a great group and it's very nice to be recognized by them."
Garibaldi said that she first became associated with the Alighieri Society a few years ago.
"I knew that they were a very dedicated bunch, an old, established group that kept up with Italian culture and tradition," Garibaldi said. "And that they did a lot in the Italian-American community. But I found out that they were teaching Italian lessons. I don't speak Italian, so I figured it would be interesting. So when I was at court, I would stop over to take the lessons. And they were a lot of fun. I turned out to be a very poor student. When I go to Italy, no one understands what I'm trying to say. I don't even have an accent."
Garibaldi has been involved in many groups related to her Italian heritage and the law, with membership in the National Organization of Women Judges; the International Federation of Women Lawyers; the International Women's Forum; National Organization of Italian American Women; and the American Society of the Italian Legions of Merit, as well as the aforementioned association with the NIAF.
She has also received the Cavaliere Officiale, which was an official order of merit from the Republic of Italy in 1995.
Two years ago, the American Inns of Court Foundation established an award in her honor: The Justice Marie L. Garibaldi American Inn of Court for Alternative Dispute Resolution.
Garibaldi didn't realize that she was the first woman to be honored by the Alighieri Society. "I didn't really associate it with being the first woman," Garibaldi said. "I know it wasn't for being the best Italian student."
And retirement is everything she hoped it would be. She insists that she has no immediate plans. "It's turned out to be exactly what I expected," Garibaldi said. "I don't have any regrets about leaving when I did. I didn't think I would. Everything turned out to be just fine."
For ticket information, contact the Michael Ricciardone of the Dante Alighieri Society at 653-0545.