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joanne cornell

Photo from Melyssa Cornell

Longtime Belle Terre resident Joanne Wright Cornell passed away on May 16 at 80 years old. 

Born on Jan. 31, 1941, in Staten Island, she leaves behind a vibrant legacy in the Port Jefferson community after decades of service.

Starting off as a model in Manhattan and working on Wall Street with stock and bond traders, she moved to Long Island in the early 1970s where she entered the world of real estate. 

“Her emotional intelligence was incredible,” said her daughter, Melyssa Cornell.

Joanne formed a lifelong friendship and business partnership with Eileen Petsco, together forming Cornell/Petsco Real Estate. The duo started their firm in a modest small office space, eventually growing into a larger building on East Main Street that lasted almost four decades. 

“Joanne was a perfect partner,” Petsco said. “In 37 years, we never had a serious argument. She was a tireless worker and a valued friend.” 

Their friendship lasted long after their firm shutdown. 

Photo from Melyssa Cornell

“A few years ago, we were kidding around about what epitaph we wanted on our gravestones,” Petsco added. “We settled on this for Joanne: ‘My candle burns at both ends, it shall not last the night, but oh my friends and oh my foe, how brilliant was the light.’ The world will be a dimmer place without Joanne to light the path. She will be deeply missed.” 

While building up her real estate business, Joanne was also a single mother who worked hard to create a successful life and business, and gave back to her community in a multitude of ways.

“The early 1970s wasn’t the easiest time for a woman to launch a business,” Melyssa said, “But she and Eileen did an incredible job creating an extremely successful company.”

Joanne was vice president and then president of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, and president of the Belle Terre Community Association. She supported a multitude of the area’s charities and civic functions.  

Along with her other hats, Joanne was a founding member of the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, and chaired the ladies day golf outings at the country club for many years.  

She immersed herself in community pride chairing the Fourth of July committee and was known as the Easter Bunny and Mrs. Claus for years in the parades.  

“She made the community a better place because of the professional and civic leadership she demonstrated over the years,” Melyssa said. “Her legacy is extraordinary — she lived life to the fullest with an incredible zest for life, a mischievous twinkle in her eye and her dancing shoes on. She was always the life of the party, the first on the dance floor and the last one off — life to her was not a dress rehearsal.”

Melyssa added that her mother should be remembered for her strength, fierce loyalty, honesty and that she welcomed all. She was a true friend to everyone — and still had so many lifelong friendships going back to elementary school.

“Joanne Cornell was a professional, a dedicated member of her community, a warm, welcoming and generous friend and a gracious hostess on all occasions,” said Denise Adler, one of Joanne’s closest friends. “She believed in making life more joyful for all those she touched.”

Melyssa said that her mother “knew how to make a moment last and always believed that the best of times is now. … She did what she said she would do — always.”

She is remembered by TBR News Media publisher, Leah Dunaief for her sense of community and service. 

Photo from Melyssa Cornell

“Joanne had a great sense of fun even as she was very good at her job,” she said. “I enjoyed working with her on the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, where she gave many hours on behalf of helping the business community and the village. She and Eileen Petsco were a dynamic duo, personifying successful business executives at a time when not many women were in business. They were the founders of Cornell/Petsco Real Estate, and their race horse weather vane was a frequently seen icon.”

Joanne leaves behind her daughter Melyssa, and a grandson, Ryan Cornell Thorpe, 17, who both live in Virginia. She is survived by her sisters Leslie Ellerbrook and Judy Repage, both of New Jersey.

“We found fun and laughter in every adventure,” Melyssa said. “We loved Broadway, and, to her, life was a cabaret. My mom made every moment special. When I was super young, and she was working hard to make it in real estate, we didn’t have much money, but we would always sit down and have dinner by candlelight — usually Chunky soup. She didn’t wait for the special moments to happen — she created them.”               

A Celebration of Life will be held in honor of Joanne at The Country House in Stony Brook on June 30 from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. 

“A life so beautiful deserves a special celebration and we welcome anyone who would like to come and share in the memories, the love and the laughter of her life that was lived to the fullest with us,” Melyssa said.