He knows no strangers and considers you and me a part of his family.
And Bob Gaudio may not even know us, but it’s a mindset he learned while he was a youngster in Follansbee. His perspective on his family travels far past his wife, his teen-aged son, his two grown children from a previous marriage, and his brothers and sisters. One reason for that outlook is Christianity, but another is the life he’s led since being a member of the first graduating class of Brooke High School in 1970.
“I’m a Gaudio, and anyone who had the chance to get to know my parents would understand why I am so big on family, and not just my immediate family either,” Gaudio said. “I grew up in this small house on Jefferson Street in Follansbee, and every holiday my parents would open up our house, and everyone came. Everyone came.
“Nuns, priests, rabbis, everyone came to our house because that’s how my parents felt about family,” he continued. “My father was on city council, he was the mayor, and he was on the county’s Board of Education, too. And that’s why the entire community was a part of our family, and I still feel that way today. I am in the family of mankind and not just the family of Gaudio.”
He’s worked at a drive-in theatre and a liquor store, and Gaudio earned political science and English degrees from West Liberty University in 1974, and a Master’s in American Literature from West Virginia University two years later.
He’s been employed as a tin mill worker and as a short-order cook, and Gaudio even joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Yemen in the Middle East.
At one time, he moved to New York City to be a Broadway actor but ended up bartending instead, and since then Gaudio has collected a long history in the food service industry, including a number of years as a manager in the DeBartolo Corporation. When Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jágr were leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cup titles in the early 1990s, it was Gaudio who was in charge of the food service inside Mellon Arena.
He’s planned kitchens, developed menus, hired servers, opened eateries, and worked the front of the house, but the restaurant business decayed his first marriage into divorce proceedings. During what proved to be a six-year process, Gaudio terminated three divorce lawyers and took over the case all by himself after researching Pennsylvania family law at the library at the University of Pittsburgh.
He made motions, filed briefs, and the judge ruled in Gaudio’s favor.
“Judge R. Stanton Wettick called me into his chambers after the final hearing, and he poured a glass of Scotch,” Gaudio recalled. “He asked me if I was working that evening, and I told him I was off, and then he poured another glass of Scotch and pushed it in my direction.
“Then he said, ‘Now tell me why you don’t want to go to law school, because you should go to law school.’ I told him that my work situation was a good one, and I was earning a good living doing what I was doing,” he continued. “The judge then said that I should be a lawyer because I had just defeated one of the finest family law lawyers in the city of Pittsburgh.”
So Gaudio took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), scored well, applied to the law school at Duquesne University, and was accepted to the evening program in 1992.
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“I was 40 years old when I made that decision, and it was the hardest four years of my life,” he admitted. “Four years of night school after working full-time in the food service industry, but I did it, and immediately I knew I didn’t want to practice in the Pittsburgh area because I wouldn’t have seen a courtroom for years. That’s just the way it works there.
“I knew the person running the Public Defender’s Office here, so I inquired about a position, and I was hired in 1997,” Gaudio said. “I passed the Bar here in West Virginia and got my new career started. On my first day, I had 56 case files on my desk, and I had three hearings … that day.”
After his first 18 months and several high-profile victories in the courtroom, a few law firms concentrating on civil cases recruited him for their staffs, and he even opened his own law firm for a few years.
But that didn’t satisfy Gaudio, a gentleman who sits on a range of non-paying boards for organizations like Youth Services System, Legal Aid of West Virginia, and the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival. He was chair of the Italian Festival for six years (2006-2012), and was honored as the organization’s Italian-American of the Year in 2014.
“I worked my way back into the Public Defender’s Office, first in Brooke County and now in Ohio County, because that’s what I really love to do,” he explained. “And, as long as my brain doesn’t turn into mush one day, I have no plans for retirement because I wouldn’t have anything to do. I play guitar in bars, I act and direct at Towngate, and I am on various boards, but I love serving people. It’s what I do.”
That’s right; he’s become an actor and a director, too, and he is co-director of “Godspell,” the show that debuted on Wednesday and continues through Saturday evening at Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre in Centre Market. His son, David, is an actor in the musical.
And yes, Gaudio is a musician and singer, too. Five years ago at the Italian Festival, a friend of his was a member of the Catch Blues Band, and he invited Gaudio to join them on stage for a few songs. This chef-turned-attorney, a member of a few rock n’ roll bands during his youth, fell back in love with performing in front of an audience.
“And I got up stage after the fireworks, and it was magic for me,” Gaudio said. “It reminded me how beautiful that aspect of life is, and that is why I watch the video from that night from time to time. You go up there in front of people whether you know them or not and you play a song that they enjoy, and the expression on their face changes.
“And when you see people singing along, it’s pretty special, and how do you not like that if you are a family guy like I am? That allowed me to realize that I still had a little talent left, and now I can’t stay away from it. I usually have a gig or two a week, and I love it,” he said with a smile. “It’s great that I get to go to these places, play for a couple of hours and make people happy, and they give you money to do it. There’s just nothing better than that.”