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Published: Monday, 8/22/2005

Restaurateur's legacy includes a love of family

Geraldine "Jerry" Cousino, 87, who along with her husband, Earl, started and ran what would eventually become five restaurants in the Toledo area, died Saturday from complications of Alzheimer's disease at Parkcliffe Assisted Living Community.

The couple retired from the restaurant business in 1976, but their restaurant legacy is carried on today by their son, Thomas, who took over and now owns several restaurants, including Navy Bistro, Gumbo's, Tango's, and Cousino's Steak House.

Thomas Cousino remembered his mother as the day-to-day manager at the restaurants.

"My dad was the idea man. He came up with the concepts, and mom was the nuts and bolts, they made great partners," Thomas Cousino said. "It takes a special personality to be in the restaurant business for 30 years."

In the 1940s and 1950s, having a woman so involved in business was relatively unheard of, but her son said his mother let people know who was in charge.

"If there was a customer that was being ornery, and remember we were open to 3:30 a.m., she could take a guy 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds and reduce him to a sniveling idiot. She always controlled the situation," he said.

Her husband, Earl, said his wife was "his right-hand gal." The two met while at Waite High School where Earl had the habit of wandering the halls. One day his future wife lectured him for his wanderings; he offered to carry her books home, and four years later they were engaged.

The couple got into the restaurant business by accident. In 1945, Earl had accepted ownership of a restaurant as partial payment for a debt. But the two quickly mastered the restaurant trade, starting with the Whitehouse Restaurant. Earl said he couldn't have asked for a better friend, partner, and wife.

"I'm the first to tell everyone they should have the marriage we had. It was a fun, good life," he said.

Mrs. Cousino's youngest daughter, Lynn Saldanha, said despite her mother being busy with the restaurant she made a point of having the family eat dinner together each night.

"Kids came first. She was last. She was, I have to say, the best woman I've ever met. She loved family, they were everything to her," she said.

After retiring, her mother and father enjoyed traveling the country, visiting all 50 states, and also went on many tours around the world.

"In 1967, I was 9, they went on a European tour that included Lebanon and Egypt. Well, there was a war going on, but we have this picture of my mom on top of a camel. She looked like Jackie O," Mrs. Saldanha said.

Mrs. Cousino and her husband also enjoyed boating on the Great Lakes and she liked tending her many house plants.

Survivors include her husband of 65 years, Earl; daughters Carolyn Vassar, Diana "Corky" Hymore, and Lynn Saldanha; son, Thomas; brother, Frederick Norris; 14 grandchildren; 14 great-grandchildren; and one great-great grandchild.

Visitation will be at the Eggleston Meinert Pavley Funeral Home, Oregon Chapel, starting at 5 p.m. tomorrow and 2 p.m. Wednesday. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. at St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

The family suggests memorial contributions to Heartland Hospice or Alzheimer Memory Walk 2005, Team Geraldine.

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