Her friends and family unanimously agree that Colleen Repetto rightfully deserves to have the spotlight shown on her for a bit, but she’d rather hide behind the curtain and point out the successes, achievements and triumphs of those around her.
The consummate entertainer, she effortlessly prepared dinner for 35 neighbors, friends, and family to honor two birthdays on Wednesday evening. When The Marathon Weekly met with her Thursday morning, she’d set the table for two – covering half her dining room table with a cloth and offering a spread of fresh fruit and pastries for breakfast.
Perhaps this is one of the many classic traits she’s carried on from her mother, who after raising three children became actively involved with the United Nations and UNICEF. Her father was inducted into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame at a young age.
“We all played sports when we were younger. I came from a very competitive family,” Colleen remembered, adding that she and her siblings had a very “Ozzie and Harriet” upbringing, referring to the 1950s and 60s television sitcom now synonymous with mid-century idyllic American family life.
Since arriving in the Keys in 1995, Colleen has played an active role in many civic, educational and grassroots organizations throughout Monroe County. She spent much of her time and effort working for the Coldwell Banker Schmitt Charitable Foundation, Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe (FIRM) and Take Stock in Children. But this dedication came after a life in the corporate world where her career covered everything from investment banking to sales for a major transportation corporation.
Born in Dobsferry, N.Y., Colleen was raised in Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia and attended a small liberal arts college in Marietta, Ohio. Like many women from that generation, her college education also included simultaneously getting married and starting a family. Her firstborn son, Peter Cipollone – a 2010 Rowing Hall of Fame Inductee, gold medal winner and record-setting Olympian – is undoubtedly her proudest accomplishment.
“I grew up in a home with strong family values,” she explained, continuing, “I think it’s something we should get back to.”
Shortly after arriving in the Keys, Colleen began cashing in her frequent flier miles acquired after years of cross-country business travel to visit her elderly parents who still lived in Pennsylvania. She was averaging about 10 days a month up north and on one of her return flights to Marathon, one of the flight attendants sat beside her and quickly struck up a conversation.
“I told her where I’d been and what I was doing and she suggested I should become a flight attendant,” she laughed fondly.
Admittedly, she’d always wanted to live a life of adventure, spontaneity, and growth, so at 50 years old, Colleen graduated flight attendant school from U.S. Airways and secured her post in Philadelphia to care for her parents.
In 1999, she began her next career adventure, but in November, her father passed away. Exactly three weeks to the day that her siblings and family returned to New York to bury her father, her mother passed on as well.
“The job was one of those things that was meant to be, pretty much divine intervention,” she surmised. “I only flew for 15 months.”
An invitation from the family’s realtor Arline Wallace to sit in on a formative meeting for a local charity eventually evolved into Colleen’s active board position with the CBS Charitable Foundation. That same relationship segued into Colleen’s involvement with FIRM when Arline came to her clutching a single $25,000 windstorm insurance bill asking for advice.
“George Neugent took insurance bills to Jeb Bush and that’s how we got introduced to insurance commissioner Kevin McCarty,” she explained. “A lot of people thought windstorm insurance was only a Key West issue, so there was a lot of education involved.”
According to Colleen, the organization, through attendance at legislative hearings and countless hours of lobbying, FIRM has saved homeowners in Monroe County more than $440 million in windstorm insurance premiums over the past four years.
The core group of that organization, she confessed, is comprised of the most passionate and intelligent people she’s ever met.
“They’re all so willing to give time, energy and thought even though they all work full time,” she beamed.
While cleaning the buffet from her dining room table and lighting the candles on an ice cream cake for her son and cheesecake for a close friend, the petite-framed blonde with her freckled complexion seemed to beam the brightest in the room.
Colleen Repetto helped honor family and friend birthdays for Pat Britske and Jay Wednesday evening at her home.
When not vacationing at their second home in Georgia, Colleen Repetto and her husband, John often host dozens of friends and family members for dinner at their home near Sombrero Beach.