Joseph Nassif

Born in Cedar Rapids, IA
Born on Sep 15, 1951
Departed on Jul 27, 2022

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There was a child-like countenance and sense of humor about Joe. He laughed, giggled some, and liked to tease. That was Joe in the later years of his life. He died happy and loved in the care of his family and compassionate caretakers. 

Joe faced many challenges. We didn’t know he had schizophrenia; we just knew he was different. Mom liked to say Joe marched to the beat of a different drummer. He was a loner. Making friends was difficult and he was bullied and teased. But, Joe had a purpose in life. He made our world better by deepening our compassion and our empathy for those with mental illness. If his life reminds us of this, then it was a life worth living.

Joseph Adolph Nassif was born September 15, 1951 to Albert G. Nassif and Maheba Nussrallah Nassif, the 8th of 10 children. He was named after his maternal grandfather and first cousin, a WWII hero. He died 70 years later on July 27, 2022 from complications of schizophrenia. 

Like the rest of the Nassif clan, Joe attended Immaculate Conception Grade School, then Regis High School where he ran track and played football. He transferred to Washington H.S. graduating in 1969. He went on to attend the University of Northern Iowa and graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1973. 

After discovering his philosophy degree was not going to land him a decent job, Joe moved to California to attend Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco. He loved the Bay Area with its ethnic diversity, eating at the Chinese deli around the corner as well as the Turkish cafe near school; taking a drive along the ocean; and going to off-beat places like the beatnik bookstore, City Lights. He enjoyed music festivals and the simple pleasure of riding the streetcar. 

Joe graduated from law school in 1981. After passing the bar exam, he became a member of the Iowa State Bar Association in 1982. Like his mother, Joe championed the rights of the underdog. He represented abused women and children while working for the Muscatine Department of Family Services. In Linn County, he represented the elderly and, ironically, mentally disabled individuals. He also represented victims of employment discrimination, auto accident victims and occasionally criminal defendants. 

Active in politics from a young age, Joe worked on the campaigns of many Iowa politicians, including John Culver, Harold Hughs, Tom Harkin, and presidential candidate John Kerry. He relished foreign affairs, particularly Middle Eastern politics, and he studied, discussed, and debated it.

Joe hated racism. He became a member of the NAACP and manned their complaint desk. He was most proud of receiving their award for Volunteer of the Year in 1995. 

Joe’s passion was the law, but he also maintained an interest in the family oriental rug business. He collaborated with his brother, Doug, and traveled all over the country buying, selling and evaluating rugs. He also bought and sold artwork, educating himself and consulting experts in the field. He had a good eye. He often spotted a valuable piece of art which he later sold at auction for a good profit. 

Like so many who suffer from mental illness, Joe was reluctant to seek the help he needed. Consequently, doctors did not diagnose his schizophrenia until later in life. By then, its progression kept Joe from caring for himself and stole his cherished independence. Joe suffered much during these difficult years being shuffled in and out of various facilities that seemed to be available only for mental health emergencies. Resources to either understand or treat the disease were limited. And, long-term care solutions were non-existent. Some day there will be a cure, but until then, we must support and compassionately care for the mentally ill, every bit as much as we support victims of cancer, heart disease, or any other illness.

There’s a lot of people to thank who showed enormous compassion for Joe. First, there is Doug, Joe’s older brother. Doug was the stalwart in Joe’s life. It was Doug that Joe called when he needed something or just wanted to talk; it was Doug that brought Joe to his rug store to be around friends and to “talk shop” several times a week; it was Doug that Joe trusted to always be there. There was also his sister, Jeanne. Jeanne found the wonderful residential facility that took excellent care of Joe and made it possible for him to be close to family. Jeanne often took Joe to church and out to eat. Being a big Iowa, Iowa State and UNI fan, Joe loved watching football and basketball games with her husband, Tom, at their home. 

And, when the pandemic had closed down everything and Joe couldn’t leave his facility, it was Regina, Doug’s wife, that volunteered at Evergreen for many hours per week, at great risk to herself, to be near Joe and ground him. Regina always made Joe’s favorite meals at least once a week, took Joe out when Doug could not, and made him feel special. Then there was our deceased brother, Richard, who lived with Joe after his diagnosis and was his guardian until Richard died. 

Joe is survived by his sister, Mary Batenhorst, of La Crescenta, CA; brother, Douglas Nassif and his wife, Regina, of Cedar Rapids; sister, Jeanne Amosson, and husband, Tom, of Cedar Rapids, sister, Shirley Nassif Hunter and husband, Philip, of Alexandria, LA; and, sister, Christine McCann, and husband, Casey, of Lafayette, CA; several nieces and nephews; and several great nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his brothers, Richard Allen Nassif and Michael John Nassif, and his sisters, Linda Joy Nassif and Alberta Nassif Rogers.

A burial mass was held on August 2, 2022 and Joe was laid to rest at St. George’s Cemetery next to his deceased parents and siblings. 

The family extends special thanks to Pat Giorgio and her staff at Evergreen Estates. For the last several years of his life, Joe resided at Evergreen in Cedar Rapids. We will be forever grateful for not only their excellent care, but also the compassion and understanding they demonstrated. It is truly a caring facility. 

Because of their excellent care, the family requests that all memorial gifts in Joe’s memory be sent to Evergreen Estates I, Pat Giorgio, Director, at 3410 12th Ave., S.W., Cedar Rapids, IA 52404. We also request that the next time you encounter someone “different”, think of Joe and be kind.  Thank you!