Frank and Susan Pastizzo, warm, generous and kind, live the message they bring to others. And the message? In order for any group, institution or business to function at its best, we need to drop some of the colder concepts of professionalism and focus instead on humanizing relationships. When respect, tolerance and kindness define an environment, that space becomes home to productive, loyal and dedicated members.
The Pastizzos' book, "Warming Up the Workplace," not only describes how to go about achieving this, but is an inspirational read for anyone who lives and breathes in these times of frequent intolerance and polarization.
Frank and Susan travel the world over bringing their message to schools, hospitals, corporations and particularly the military. They are dedicated to helping others see interpersonal relations in a new light and improving them through understanding, compassion and good will. Susan is not only the administrator of their corporation but is a contributing writer and editor as well. Frank successfully delivers their message with performances combining theatre, music, humor, philosophy and audience interaction.
Frank and Susan Pastizzo with their cat Carl Sagan
(Photo — Caperton Tissot)
To trace the Pastizzos' background is to follow the line of development that led to their becoming the source of inspiration they are today. Frank's family is rooted in the Adirondacks. His maternal grandfather, Chet Johnson, was a contractor raising his family in Tupper Lake. He built the original Adirondack Museum and Massawepie boy scout camps and his mother lives right in Bloomingdale. Frank was raised in Gouverneur. At age 14, he moved with his mom and brother to Saranac Lake for a year, then moved with his family to Plattsburgh Air Force base where his step-father Peter Day was stationed.
Two years later, Frank accompanied his family on their next assignment to England before also joining the Air Force to become a field medic/ emergency room technician. Working alongside doctors for the next several years in England, then back in the States and finally for four years in Germany was his first exposure to the challenges of helping alleviate human suffering.
While stationed in South Carolina, Frank married an active duty military officer. They moved to Germany where his daughter Danielle was born. They then moved back to Loring AFB in Maine where another daughter, Laura, was born.
He was honorably discharged from the military and attended the University of Maine, Presque Isle, earning a degree in theatre, communications and teaching. In 1987, he and his first wife divorced and he took a job teaching English and theatre for the U.S. Department of Defense, run high schools in England. But, the call of the North Country was strong and by 1990 he was back in the area, settling in Ogdensburg and substitute teaching in the daytime while working for United Helpers, a non-profit agency, taking care of developmentally disabled individuals in the evenings.
He also continued to perform as a comic and musician at several Adirondack resorts.
In Ogdensburg, he met his then soon-to-be-wife, Susan. She had been raised on Lake St. Catherine in Vermont, received her elementary education in a two-room school, attended a regional high school and eventually earned her B.S. and M.A. from SUNY Potsdam.
Divorced and raising her two children, Natasha and Jesse, Susan had been teaching for many years at in the Ogdensburg elementary school. So much responsibility might have overburdened some, but not Susan.
Perhaps it was her quiet but cheerful demeanor that first attracted Frank but it wasn't long before they found they shared a similar outlook on life, one that embraced compassion and understanding. They were married in 1996.
Frank began reaching out, persuading citizens and institutions that mainstreaming the "disabled" into classrooms and neighborhoods would not constitute a threat to the community's well-being.
As Susan put it so well, "We all have disabilities of some kind. We may not be able to carry a tune, draw in three-dimension or play football. However, our culture only labels the lack of certain types of skills as disabilities." Frank's audiences responded well. With success came promotion, eventually to director of communications for United Helpers. In 2001, a position as director of communications opened up at North Country Behavioral Care Network in Saranac Lake. He and Susan had vacationed here many times, loved the area and had always wanted to live here. He took the job.
By this time, Frank's presentations went one step further - for he had come to realize that while problems for the disabled are more specialize, everyone has idiosyncrasies that sometimes make it hard for people to get along with one another.
He began to speak to a variety of audiences, motivating them to understand and work together despite dissimilarities. His reputation as a motivational speaker was spreading.
For Susan, arranging Frank's speaking tours, which he continued to do in his free time, had become a full time job. In 2003, they incorporated their business and Frank resigned his position, devoting more time to spreading his message of compassion and tolerance.
With the recent increase in military action, much of the Pastizzos' work has been directed to helping soldiers, commanders, chaplains, psychologists and families. Both he and Susan have a true appreciation for the duty and sacrifice of military personnel and families. He is an ardent supporter of the troops.
Many of his presentations are about post traumatic stress disorder, which he sees as an absolutely understandable condition developed in order to survive some of the stress-filled situations to which troops are exposed. He likes to quote Col. Eric Olsen who tells the public, "Our soldiers do not have to apologize for what they have become. We have asked a great deal of them." About the possibility of Patriot Hills (a healing program for veterans) coming to Saranac Lake, Frank comments, "It is a wonderful concept to help soldiers transition while at the same time honoring them for their service and sharing our Adirondack tradition of providing healing environments."
Traveling extensively, sometimes presenting two to three times a day at places such as Walter Reed Hospital, Fort Lewis, Wash. and Fort Bragg, N.C., can be exhilarating but exhausting. To refuel their own energies, Frank and Susan enjoy getting outside. They hike the peaks, both high and low, paddle and in the winter, switch to skis and snowshoes. They have found a healthy balance in their lives which they hope to help others achieve as well. Their desire to do this is reflected in the friendliness and compassion extended to all those around them.
Through presentations, their books and monthly newsletters, these messages of tolerance and hope have helped thousands of people.
They are on the web at warmuptheworkplace.com.