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EDITORIAL — Tortorice: A path we might all follow

Joe Tortorice Jr.’s earthly mission was longer than many, shorter than some. The Jason’s Deli founder died after a struggle with cancer Saturday at age 70, still a vibrant soul and inspiration to others.

Tortorice’s impact on his fellow Texans and beyond was profound, not only because of his considerable business skills but because of the life he lived.

“He lived the Gospel teaching of our Lord as a servant leader and good steward of his gifts. He not only shared his financial gifts but also his time with the local Church and the larger community of Southeast Texas,” said Most Rev. Curtis Guillory, SVD, bishop of Beaumont. “In recent years, he shared generously of his time with our prison ministry.  Even in suffering he inspired us because he united his suffering to that of Christ and fellow sufferers.”

It was through Kolbe Prison Ministries that Damon West of Nederland, author and motivational speaker, met Tortorice and learned enduring principles of servant leadership.

“His love for some of the most forgotten, most marginalized and most reviled in society was the purest example I have ever seen of the verse, Matthew 25:36,” West said. West himself, a former prisoner, was one of those “reviled” who turned his life around.

A Beaumont native and grandson of Italian immigrants, Tortorice founded Jason’s Deli in 1976 and grew the chain to 250 locations in 28 states. He was a distinguished and loyal graduate of Texas A&M, a member of the Cadet Corps of Honor and an Outstanding Alumnus of the Mays Business School. He served his country in the Air Force and later earned an MBA at Lamar.

He was also part of the Catholic Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and active in his parish. Small wonder, then, that this devoted businessman and servant leader earned a host of honors as he served community, alma mater, business and church.

Tortorice was known as much for his humility and devotion to others as he was for his considerable financial acumen. That’s a legacy to which we should all aspire.

“Joe’s love for his family, friends and fellow human beings was deeply rooted in the love of Christ and nurtured in the Catholic faith,” Guillory said. “… I am certain our Lord and Savior is saying to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”

Come Thursday — the Feast of the Assumption — Tortorice’s family and friends gather at 4 p.m. at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica, 700 Jefferson St., Beaumont, the home parish he faithfully served. Rosary starts at 6, and a Mass of Christian Burial is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.

It’s a perfect time to appreciate not only what Tortorice did, but how we might follow his example.