By Alex Davidson
Once a month, 85-year-old Frank Valenti would get into his 1976 Chevrolet Malibu Classic and go for a drive.
Valenti, who drove a Medallion taxicab for 30 years and got into the habit of driving people around, made it his business to buy his upstairs and next-door neighbors cookies from Bensonhurst, Italian pastries from Elmont and fresh lemon pies from Richmond Hill.
According to his neighbors in Lindenwood and Howard Beach, this generous gesture was just one of the many things Valenti did with his car as part of his master plan – which started daily with breakfast at 12:30 p.m. at home or at the Waterview Diner on Crossbay Boulevard.
“He would drive up in his car with boxes of cookies,” said Patrick Smith, who lived directly below Valenti 155-17 81st St. for two years with his wife, Mary Smith. “Those were two of the best years.”
Valenti, who previously lived in East New York, died April 8 from complications during surgery, Smith said. He is survived by two sisters who live on Long Island and could not be reached. His wife, Ann, died three years ago and they did not have children.
Valenti was buried April 12 at Cypress Hills cemetery in Brooklyn. He was one of 10 children.
After retiring 15 years ago, Valenti would use his Malibu Classic to chauffeur people around Lindenwood, Howard Beach and other surrounding neighborhoods, taking them everywhere from doctors appointments to church. He kept his car's white-leather interior impeccably clean, regularly visited the auto mechanic and used a car wash twice a week to make sure his Chevrolet stayed clean, said Mary Smith.
“It was his baby,” she said. “He would use it to chauffeur around the ladies.”
When Valenti took a break from ferrying people from one place to another, the Smiths said he still never strayed too far from his well-established routine. Every night that there was a baseball game, Patrick Smith said, Valenti would descend one story to the Smiths' apartment and teach the couple the rules of the game.
Patrick and Mary, who came from Ireland more than 50 years ago, said Valenti would shuffle down in his bedroom slippers, take them off at the door before he entered and then sit on the couch and chat with Patrick about baseball. Then before leaving, he would grab his shoehorn from its permanent place at the door entrance, put his slippers back on and go up to prepare for bed.
“He always had a smile on his face and was always in control,” said Louie DeCrescenzo, another neighbor whose family knew Valenti before he moved to Lindenwood. He said Valenti also had a custom of taking his friends and neighbors out to dinner and, as usual, took them in his Malibu Classic.
“He would plan the time, the place and the menu,” DeCrescenzo said.
And some of those outings with the Smiths included trips to Atlantic City and Aqueduct Racetrack for the upcoming summer.
DeCrescenzo said other parts of Valenti's routine with his car included regular visits to his former church, St. Rita's in East New York, and his new church, St. Helen's in Howard Beach. He also was known for his permanent smile and consistent good tips – even while in the hospital two weeks before his death where he brought a roll of money to give to the nurses.
The Malibu Classic, which neighbors said Valenti could not give up because it was the car in which he took day trips with his wife, will be handed down to Valenti's nephew.
But the Smiths and DeCrescenzo said they will greatly miss the man they described as a humanitarian who always picked up the phone and never closed the door behind him.
DeCrescenzo said Valenti was destined to take care of the people around him. The omen, he said, was that Valenti was born Valentine's Day in 1918.
“Throughout his life, he was everybody's Valentine.”
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.