Dr. Pina Mozzani
is honored with a Brick from Rodney E. Miller
Heroine defined “ a woman who commits an act of remarkable bravery or who has shown great courage, strength of character, or another admirable quality.” To some such qualities come with a dramatic act or public display of will against the norm. To me, character and courage are just as readily carried out in the quiet day to day actions of ones convictions. I have known few, if any, in my life whose character and bravery match those of my wife Josephine Ann Pina Popolillo Mozzani Miller. The story of her name is the story of her life.
Born Josephine Ann Popolillo, she was abandoned by her father as an infant and raised as the middle child of a single working mother long before the term acquired a certain social acceptance. When she was ten she acquired a stepfather who loved her enough and believed in her enough to convince her she could do anything to which she set her mind. That she did by becoming the first in her family to go to college, to earn a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State, a performer’s certificate (master’s degree) from the Conservatorio di Santa Cecelia in Rome, and eventually a PhD. from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
In addition to brains and drive, she has talent “a dramatic mezzo-soprano voice that is truly a gift from God.” It was all three that propelled her through Ohio State while working forty hours a week as a waitress. It was all three that propelled her to Europe to pursue her professional opera career on three continents as Pina Mozzani (taken from the Italian Giussepina, and her mother’s maiden name). It was all three that propelled her through her doctorate under formidable odds. She proved her mother and step-father prophetic “ she indeed has accomplished everything to which she has set her mind.”
All of this would be enough to earn acceptance into this hallowed circle. However, it is not what she accomplished to garnish public accolades that makes her a heroine. It is, rather, her willingness to sacrifice her own career and glory for the sake of deeper goals and values that makes her a true heroine. When our children, Rachael and Matthew, were born, it was Pina herself who resolved that their development was more important than a career. She made the commitment to be a full-time at home mother until both of them were in school. Even then, this woman, who could have continued her career to the Met and beyond, or her teaching career to any institution she chose, determined instead to dedicate her life to her family.
I think that is an important statement for a woman to make in today’s society, and one that not only requires sacrifice but the courage to make it in the face of mounting social attitudes to the opposite. Society today says that career and professional success are the highest attainments and the primary focus one should have, male or female. My wife has had the courage to turn her back on such notions and live her life based upon priorities of her own choosing and not those dictated by someone else. Pina Mozzani considers herself a wife, a mother, a singer, a teacher, a researcher, a linguist, and a gourmet cook, but each of them in their place in their own priority in their own time. This, then, is the true nobility of my wife “ she has always lived her life on her own terms.” She has had the intellect, talent and drive to live it any way she wanted, and she has chosen to put family before herself.
In actuality, the care and concern she displays for family extends to everyone. There is an assertive nobility that permeates her spirit and makes people gravitate to her. It also gives her two qualities that make her a superior teacher “ standards and empathy.” The result is students who work hard for a teacher who has the whole student as her top priority. And numerous students have attained professional success in top opera houses as well as Broadway. The commonality among them is an urge to please their teacher and seek her approval, not in a negative way, but because they know that a compliment or approving critique from her is always earned and never given merely for the sake of congeniality.
But her brightest achievement is our children. Rachael is an accomplished artist in almost every aspect of the word “ a superb actor and singer who paints, draws, designs, and throws pottery.” She is a loving young woman with her mother’s inner fire for the stage and communicating with an audience. Matthew is also an accomplished actor and lighting designer who has his mother’s drive and determination to see a challenge through to a successful conclusion. Both of them are loving, honest, forthright, and empathetic, with a sense of justice that runs to their core. They are both, in short, children I never would have dared pray to God for, because I knew I was undeserving. But they are mine, nonetheless, because of their mother’s influence.
So, this is dedicated to one who continues to have immeasurable influence on her family, her friends, her students, her colleagues, and on her husband. With all the love that twenty-five years of marriage can give.
Rodney E. Miller