Sebastian DeFrancesco

Obituary of Sebastian Anthony DeFrancesco

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And when our work is done, Our course on earth is run, May it be said, “Well done. Be thou at peace.” (Cadet P.S. Reinecke, USMA, 1911) Sebastian DeFrancesco, our resilient warrior, passed away peacefully on the evening of August 29, 2023, in the loving company of his wife Liz, three daughters Alicia, Emily, and Anna, his brother Bobby, son-in-law Amar, Emily’s partner Chris, and the family dog, Pebbles. Seventeen years after being the first quadriplegic to receive a liver transplant, his body succumbed to liver and kidney failure at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto. He fought every challenge like the Green Beret that he was. Knowing that his last battle was complete, his final words were: “I’m transitioning. I love you all.” To many, Sebastian was known as an oft-honored adaptive sports champion. Prior to being injured at the age of 22, he had been a standout soccer player. He took that love of athletics and competition with him as he adapted to his life as a quadriplegic after injuries incurred during a training exercise in Italy while serving as a member of the Special Forces during the Vietnam War. He had been inducted into multiple halls of fame: Wheelchair Sports USA, New England Wheelchair Athletic Association, US Quad Rugby Association, and US Table Tennis. He was a Paralympic table tennis medalist in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, head coach of a wheelchair basketball team that rose to national acclaim, coach to local soccer kids, Santa Cruz County Paralympic Wall of Fame Honoree, and always an ambassador for and participant in a variety of sports, including tennis, track and field, and bocci. His passion encouraged everyone, able-bodied and those with disabilities, to be active and to bring their best to every challenge, on or off the field. Even while hospitalized at the VA, he was making plans to return to table tennis training to compete in the 2028 Paralympics in Los Angeles. He was indomitable and fearless. To others, Sebastian was known as an advocate for social justice and disability rights. When he was first injured, there was no Americans with Disabilities Act, and many persons with disabilities struggled to participate in society. Through his work with the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Sebastian lobbied Congress on veterans’ issues including mental health and homelessness. He fought for accessibility to all manner of venues and spaces, including investing in housing and hotel rooms that met the needs of persons with disabilities. He could be “a dog with a bone” when it came to fighting for equal rights. He was active in the PVA organization in both New England and Northern California and was serving as president of the Bay Area and Western chapter when he passed. In recent months, despite being hospitalized, he would ably conduct Zoom meetings from his bed. To countless many, Sebastian was a thoughtful and caring friend. He listened to concerns, focused his compassion and empathy on helping others, and cared passionately about the future of our country and world. His tender-heartedness was apparent. Sometimes when imagining how much better this world could be he would tear up, other times he would groan with frustration. He often brought the wisdom gained from his varied and challenging life experiences to help others see their situation in a fresh and hopeful light. He encouraged, prodded, and challenged people to be their best selves. As one friend put it: “Everyone needs a Sebastian in their life.” To Sebastian’s family he was a devoted son, brother, husband, and dad. He was enormously proud of his three daughters; he always spoke adoringly of them and of his wife of 26 years and true companion, Liz. Their marriage was an incredible partnership. As one could tell by his persistent accent, Sebastian was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Warwick and Hackensack High Schools, the University of Massachusetts Boston, and Cabrillo College. Sebastian is survived by his wife Elizabeth DeFrancesco of Santa Cruz, CA; daughters Alicia DeFrancesco and husband Amar Ghodasara of Cambridge, MA; Emily DeFrancesco and partner Chris Giandomenico of San Diego, CA; and Anna DeFrancesco of Santa Cruz, CA; brother Robert DeFrancesco and partner Judy Dynia of Singer Island, FL; sisters Debra Gallagher and husband John of Forked River, NJ; Mary Murphy and husband Richard of Salisbury Mills, NY; and Emily Garcia and husband Raymond of Rutherford, NJ; aunt Angelina Petrillo of Staten Island, NY; and many loving nieces, nephews, and cousins. Sebastian is preceded in death by his parents, Joseph DeFrancesco and Marion Appuliese, and his uncle Daniel Petrillo. There will be a celebration of Sebastian’s life at the Peace United Church of Christ Saturday, October 28, at 11:00 a.m., 900 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Bay Area and Western Paralyzed Veterans of America:, or your local chapter. If you are not registered to be an organ donor, please consider registering. Sebastian will be laid to rest at the Santa Cruz Memorial Cemetery in the Veterans’ section, as per his request.
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Memorial service

11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Saturday, October 28, 2023
Peace United Church of Christ
900 High Street
Santa Cruz, California, United States
(831) 426-2010
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Sebastian DeFrancesco

In Loving Memory

Sebastian DeFrancesco

1953 - 2023

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