Joseph “Josie” Cavallucci – Mother
Born 1925 / Died 2000
‘Mother’ is a worldwide legend. Wherever in the globe one travels, if the subject of New Hope arises, the next question is nearly always: “How is Mother?”
From her arrival in New Hope after serving with the US Army, Mother became a pioneer—a man in his early 30’s who unabashedly and without shame, wore bombshell day dresses, glamorous gowns and trendy jumpsuits in the late 1950’s. During that time, being homosexual or ‘different’ was not only often dangerous, but in many states was jail-worthy, Yet in New Hope, Mother reigned as its most recognizable, illustrious, and welcoming LQBTQ resident for five decades until her death at age 75 in May 2000.
Born in Philadelphia in 1925, Joseph Cavallucci was raised as a strict Catholic and he remained devout to his religious rearing. Once in New Hope, he performed as a drag queen for an astonishing 55 years in countless shows throughout the Northeast area. As equally exceptional as his determination to ‘be himself,” or focus on his creative performances, was his kind and embracing nature toward others, particularly reaching out to new resident arrivals.
Her initial approach to people was generally through flirting but for many who came to town as shy strangers hoping to feel accepted, Mother’s humorous and harmless barbs of sexual innuendo was ice-breaking.
Said Peter Karlton recently, “She was a New Hope symbol of acceptance.”
For rent and revenue, Mother supported herself as a server, working for various restaurants in town. He became known for being an attentive but sassily sarcastic waiter.
Jerry Kovacs shared the most famous story about Mother’s notorious days in this occupation:
“Mother was working at the Canal House one day when two women diners ordered the same shrimp cocktail. After delivering the appetizers and walking away, one of the women called her back to the table complaining that her friend had one more shrimp than she did. So, with all the flare that was Mother, she took the extra shrimp from the other woman’s plate, tossed it into the canal and said: ‘now you’re even!’
As a celebrity drag queen long before Ru Paul made drag a household word or prior to equality actions that made the push to legislate gay marriages into legality, Mother often held elaborate, expensive mock weddings with select gay men. Many of these events were covered by local press. The outcomes were not only entertaining but also extra revenue for Mother, which she used to purchase more amazing bedazzled gowns, many which rivaled those we know from famous designer Bob Mackie.
An individual who self-proclaimed herself as “the oldest living drag queen in captivity,” in 2001 a full length documentary film, “I Remember Mother,” was made by local producer/director Tim McMurtry which features educative, funny, fun testimonials with remembrances by local individuals who knew and loved her, including New Hope’s longtime mayor, Larry Keller, who gave her eulogy at St. John’s RC Church in Lambertville.
Afflicted by cancer, cared for by members of the New Hope community and ultimately passing away at a hospice facility in Buckingham, Pa. which she affectionately dubbed her “Buckingham Palace,” Mother gave her final drag performance at a party held in her honor by the hospice staff.
Mother’s funeral was attended by hundreds in the community and many will remember the local merchants who came out of their stores as the funeral cortege passed by on its way from church to internment at Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Cemetery. They gave a final salute to the fearless New Hope resident who took daily walks by their stores with her bouffant hairdo, flawless theatrical makeup, fashionable outfit, high heeled shoes with bag dyed to match.