Joe never won the lottery. In fact, he swore, “he always only missed it by one!” But not a single day ever went by that his family did not feel they HAD won the lottery because he was in their lives.
Joe, his sister, Patricia, and cousin, Leslie, were raised by his Greek grandmother, Georgia, mother Beatrice, and aunts Violet, Bessie, and Celia in a two-bedroom apartment on St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan. He was the only male in the female-dominated apartment. It was a loud, lively household, very reminiscent of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Since Joe was a small boy, he was always fascinated by trucks, and he would spend hours rolling them back and forth on the window ledge. Never wanting to be cooped up in an office, he would go on to drive double- and triple-tractor trailers for several retailers, including FedEx. Being on the road was his happy place.
Joe met Dolores in 1974, and although she swears that he stalked her while she worked at Baskin Robbins, she eventually brought him home to her Irish-born Mother, Maggie, and her sister, Geri.
Joe, the ultimate lover of garlic, introduced the very Irish household to flavors they had never experienced before. They learned to enjoy foods that were not Irish and even went beyond the bounds of overdone meat and boiled potatoes, though his future mother-in-law, Maggie, would forever drive him crazy by insisting the meat always needed a couple of minutes in the microwave! Although a little wary of the fact that Joe was Greek and Italian and drove a van, Maggie soon came to love him—and for her, Joe became a Catholic.
Joe and Dolores wed on May 14, 1978, and a new adventure began. They bought a house in Colonia, New Jersey, and since Joe believed in doing it yourself, he immediately drafted all family members into building decks, renovating the kitchen and bathrooms, and painting and wallpapering rooms. They had countless pool parties with friends and relatives and always had an open house to the neighbors. He was known to live in his driveway.
Joe became a father for the first time on August 12, 1986, and for a second time on December 29, 1988. Amanda arrived with a head full of flaming red hair, and Eric arrived sound asleep with similar features. Although Dolores was hoping for Joe’s olive skin and Mediterranean features for her children, they were bound to be pale and freckled like the Irish relatives.
As Amanda grew and learned to talk, there was no doubt that she inherited most of Joe’s qualities. Loud and talkative, she loved being the center of attention and would shadow Joe around the house as he did countless chores. Joe introduced both Amanda and Eric to rap and dance music and was always blasting DMX and Notorious BIG from the big speakers in the family room. Although Eric was always telling him to “chillax,” he too would follow in his footsteps. Like his dad, Eric has a love for animals, often taking in stray cats and recently adopting a rescue dog. He too is on the road—with his real estate customers—and spends countless hours taking care of his new home: toiling in his yard and taking care of his pool.
Joe would always help Amanda and Eric with their many athletic endeavors. He practiced pitching with Amanda, often holding his glove in front of his car windshield to ensure she was on target, which eventually resulted in a few dings in the hood of his van. He was always on the sidelines cheering them on in soccer, basketball, track, and tennis, and always had a cooler in his van filled with snacks and refreshments to celebrate a win or console them on a loss. And when it came time for them to drive, Joe taught them the skills he learned in the Smith School of Driving, often covering the rearview mirror to train them not to turn their head and to use the side mirrors only.
Joe loved being around Amanda and Eric and all their friends. The eternal driver, chef and lover of a good time, Joe was always in the middle of whatever was going on. The staple of Joe’s arrival on any scene was his blue Dodge van with electric blue rims, gaudy orange step rails, and hundreds of air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror that Dolores would yank off. Often transporting all the neighborhood kids to Merrill Park, or packing the van to go to the beach or Six Flags, Joe always was on the go. As Amanda and Eric got older, he was happy to serve as a designated driver to them and their friends. He caught them as they fell out of the limo into the streets of Belmar; saved them from getting arrested outside Big Shots; wrangled them up in parking lots outside the Shannon Rose; took them through the McDonalds drive-thru with an 18-passenger limousine after a night in Hoboken; and drove them brewery hopping on a day last September—he was always happy behind the wheel taking care of his kids.
Dubbed “Bird Man Joe” by Amanda and Eric’s friend, Kaitlyn, Joe always loved spending time in the backyard with the kids, the birds, and his flowers. Not afraid to put the kids to work to earn their keep, he would have all the neighborhood kids helping clean the pool, water the plants, or carry firewood to the backyard. As a reward for their hard work, he would be on the grill making hamburgers, as the kids swam for the rest of the day in the pool. This continued even as they got older, as the kids stumbled into the house after a night of shenanigans, he would have pizzas waiting for them at all hours of the night, and then a full breakfast spread for them in the morning to nurse their hangovers.
When Joe first endured surgeries and health issues with his leg in 2004, his beloved mother-in-law Maggie cared for him, often teasing him while he was in the hospital that a “nice frothy beer would taste great now,” and later reminding him how to “jig” once he lost his left leg. Later, when she was sick, he returned the favor, caring for her up until her passing in 2010. Maggie always said that the good Lord sent Joe to take care of them, and he continued to take care of everyone around him, until his passing. When he was disabled and could not drive the semi-tractor trailers anymore, Dolores told him he could take over the cooking for the household. He became an exceptional chef preparing breakfast, lunch, and gourmet dinners. His best girl became Rachael Ray.
Losing a leg never deterred him. He traveled as much as possible, whether to Europe on a cruise with Dolores, a beloved family trip to Ireland, or driving numerous times across the country and to Florida. He was able to see Alaska and Hawaii, and regardless of how difficult the terrain, would manage to make it work. With Amanda and Eric, he was tortured by making numerous visits to amusement parks, including multiple roller coasters. He never complained.
Joe was always his happiest being around people. Whether it was hanging out in the garage in Colonia and greeting the neighbors as they came by for a beer, scratching off his lottery tickets while blissfully optimistic that he and his friend Tony would finally hit it big, or sitting on the front porch at Equestra, where Joe and Dolores moved in 2011, shouting out to all the neighbors as they passed by.
Joe could always be found enjoying a Miller Lite, laughing and having a good time, like Equestra’s informal Mayor! He also loved his animals. He created his own animal sanctuary in the backyard, and he was informally known by the neighbors as the head of the bird and squirrel association! He even made the squirrels their own suet from leftover bacon grease. And to Dolores’s outrage, the squirrels thanked him by taking up residence in their attic.
His friends and family will miss hearing the music of James Brown blaring from a speaker, the garage door being perpetually open from dawn to dusk, the open Miller Lite cans half crushed around the house, his leftover dessert from the night before by the side table, the experimental dinners, but most of all, his laughter, and his big presence.
Joe was a friend to all, but most importantly, he was a devoted husband, loving brother-in-law, proud father, and a loyal friend. He will also be missed by the community’s animals, and especially his beloved cat, Leo. He will remain in all our hearts forever.
Wherever he is now, the hope is he is now running around on two feet, enjoying his beer or a glass of red wine, with no shirt, and continuing to be the life of the party.
A memorial will be held on April 9, 2021, from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at Gosselin Funeral Home in Edison, NJ. Masks and social distancing are required at the service, and double masking is recommended.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, those who wish to remember Joe Buyes in a special way make a gift in his memory to the ASPCA (https://www.aspca.org/) or the Wounded Warrior Project (https://support.woundedwarriorproject.org/).
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Joseph Michael Buyes, please visit our floral store.