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On Island Profile: Lisa Giorgi

May 1, 2005 – Lisa Giorgi of Rust Op Twist has danced for Martha Graham, helped in Europe's reconstruction and sold airplanes to the government.
At least one of those jobs was difficult to get. Others, she said, "just drifted by," and she reached out and grabbed them.
Giorgi was exposed to the arts as a girl because her mother was, in Giorgi's words, "a Broadway star." That star, though, was only 4 feet, 10 inches tall. Her small size made for a difficult delivery when Giorgi was born two days after Christmas in 1924, she said. The forceps got her in the eye and "almost tore one of my ears off." When her father saw her the day she was born, he said she looked like the "Battling Siki," an African prize fighter of the time. The nickname stuck, and people called her Siki throughout her childhood, she said.
When Giorgi was in high school, Graham, the founder of modern dance, gave a series of lectures in Manhattan. She needed dancers to demonstrate what she was talking about. Giorgi was one of those dancers.
After she earned her bachelor's degree from Wells College in New York, Giorgi went to work for a psychiatrist who had a disabled son. Her exposure to arts and culture broadened as the family took her to Chautauqua and Martha's Vineyard. When she told her employer she was fluent in French, he advised her to go to Europe and get her doctorate. She took his advice and went there in 1946, she said.
In 1947, the Marshall Plan was kicking in to help Europe recover from World War II. The U.S. State Department was advertising for a file clerk, and Giorgi was feeling guilty about what her father was spending to have her attend the University of Paris. Plus, she figured, the clerks knew more about what was going on than anyone else in the bureaucracy. She begged a bit for the job: "I am good at numbers. I know my alphabet," she told them.
She got the job, and it led to promotions. Eventually, she implemented a records-management system throughout Europe and the Middle East. "It was a great way to travel and have the government pay for it," she said.
Sometime in the late 1940s, in either Copenhagen or London – she's not sure which — she met Elizabeth Bang, who was born on St. Thomas. They became friends when Bang began working in the Paris office.
In 1950, the two of them had home leave at the same time. Bang suggested that Giorgi go to New York by way of the Caribbean. So she did.
Bang's father was a friend of Cedric Nelthropp, president of Cruzan Rum. During their visit to the island, they would drive him to work and then use his car all day. At the time, it was one of the few cars on the island. "Ceddie was a doll. He was wonderful to us," Giorgi said.
She fell in love with the island. "This is where I am going to retire," she told herself.
Back in Paris, she married a Frenchman, and they had two children, Fausta and Charlie. Charlie was born with Downs Syndrome. Doctors told the family he would never walk or talk, and that he probably would not live past 12 years. He is now 47 and "doing very well." He speaks four languages and has given a number of talks around St. Croix, she said.
Fausta, her daughter, returned to the island about a year ago. She is working in a law office and hoping to start a petting zoo on the island, Giorgi said.
But Giorgi did not come to St. Croix when she left Paris in 1953. She went to California, where she worked for the McDonnell Douglas airplane manufacturer as publication supervisor. She mostly wrote and edited proposals for the Air Force and NASA.
In 1985, she and her two children took a cruise to check out St. Croix. The next year, she bought her home in Rust Op Twist. "I thought I was going to retire, but it did not work out that way," she said.
One of the first things that happened on St. Croix was a friend asked her to teach English to seniors at St. Joseph High School. While she was working there, people from the "Business Journal" asked her to be their St. Croix correspondent. Then she began to write for "Pride" magazine, published by Earle B. Ottley, "a wonderful man to work for," she said.
"Once I told him that he probably would not want to publish a story. He asked why. I said because he would not agree with what I wrote. He responded, so what, your name is on it," she recounted.
Giorgi also takes part in the community. She was pleasantly surprised to find Caribbean Dance Company, a world-caliber dance company on the island, she said. She has been a member of its board and has taken dance classes. "I want to keep my body moving," she said.
She was also the person largely responsible for getting the Kings Hill Reform Church started. When she first moved to St. Croix, she went around to many churches and found them warm and welcoming, but she did not find one that was exactly her fit, she said. She made a phone call to the Reform pastor on St. Thomas. Now there is a regular congregation in a new building and a small school on top of the hill, too.
However, Giorgi has moved on. Recently she has been attending the Unitarian Church and just organized a program presented by two Muslims at the church.
Now, at 81, she said she has in the last couple months begun to feel her age. But she is hoping to feel better soon, and if the right job drifts by again, she just might reach out and grab it.

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