Tell us about yourself and any relevant information you’d like us to know about your involvement with the Friends, art or Italy.
Mary Jo Zingale: In 1983, my husband and I bought a large farm property just 18 miles northeast of Florence, in a suburb called Londa. The main villa dates from the 1600’s and is filled with antiques and paintings of the aristocratic family who had lived there. The roads from Londa wind into the valleys where the Medici lived, became wealthy farmers, and then patrons of the arts and clerical leaders. This is where the Renaissance was born.
At first we thought of our historic 1600’s villa as a vacation home, but as the years passed and we became more and more attached to it and spent more and more time there for several months a year, it truly became our second home. The children of our village go to high school in Florence and many of the locals work there, and a commuter line just five minutes’ drive from our location takes you to Florence and all of its treasures in just 35 minutes.
My husband’s family were born in Sicily, and we had traveled many times all over Italy. Yet, from the first time we saw Florence in 1967, which was only six months after the “Flood”, it has been our favorite city. And from that time my husband’s dream was to have a home in Tuscany. When our children were nearly grown up and gone from the house we began to live that dream. The property has olive groves, vineyards, beautiful views, clear air and a tranquility that has soothed us for these many years.
What personal experiences have you had with the Uffizi Gallery and the organization that have inspired you to remain committed?
We had always been museum goers, lovers and collectors of artistic things of all kinds, and had a constant curiosity about the history that occurred on the very streets we walked every day in Tuscany. The museums of Florence were a steady source of education and enthrallment. The Uffizi Gallery was then, is now and forever shall be a shining example of the collection of art that was created in that area.
Tell us how you got involved with Friends?
As part of our life in Tuscany we became members of a golf course club called Poggio dei Medici. Manuel Guerra, the present V. President of the Amici degli Uffizi and the Friends in the USA came to us one day at our villa for some business regarding our shares of the golf course. During our conversation he mentioned that he was part of a group that was developing an organization in the United States called the Friends of the Uffizi Gallery. I asked for some information since I had been actively involved in charitable work for many years. Since we loved the Uffizi I was anxious to hear more, so that we could support it. Time passed and then Manuel came again to our villa and I asked about the progress of the organization. He told me that they were having a gathering in Palm Beach, Florida in November and if I was available he would like to invite me. I told him that we have a home in Palm Beach and that I could introduce the organization to friends of mine who were very actively part of the social scene of Palm Beach. Before I left Tuscany Manuel invited me to have dinner to meet Contessa Maria Vittoria Rimbotti, President of the Amici and the Friends, at her home along with some friends from the Uffizi Gallery.
Unfortunately, during that period of time it had become impossible for my husband to travel because of illness, but I felt my involvement would have been something he would have loved for both of us
I went to the first meeting in Palm Beach, suggested friends who would be interested, and an Advisory Board was formed. I was a member of that Advisory Board and began applying my business experience and charitable experience in advising in the best way I could. Within a short time, after many hours of volunteering, I was asked to become part of the Board of Directors as Director of Operations. The work that I do fills my life with excitement and keeps me stimulated and involved.
My dedication has continued through several years, working very hard to stabilize and guide the organization in the best way so that it survives into the future to carry on its work in the United States.
What do you believe is the most significant contribution the Uffizi Gallery has made to the world? To Italy? To art?
The work of restoration is so important because otherwise, over time, the works of art would be lost to the world. And it is the world that comes through those doors each and every day at the Uffizi, from all parts of the globe. The Uffizi stands as a symbol for the elegance, history and beauty of a city that is filled with art.
All of what I have said is important, but there is another amazing factor. The people who work diligently for the success of the American Friends are a special group, totally dedicated in the same way I am. There is a friendliness and feeling of family as we all work together. And our leadership in Florence is amazing. They have brought us into the private lives of their personal friends in Florence, where we are welcomed with warmth, sincere appreciation and friendship.