May 03, 2016
Michelle Marie Petruzzi, 36, of Portland, OR, passed away peacefully on April 29, 2016, after a brief but incredibly brave struggle with pancreatic cancer. Her remarkable life was filled with travel, a youthful sense of fun and adventure, many passion projects, and the love of untold friends and a large extended family.
Michelle was born in New Haven, CT, raised in South Windsor, and graduated from East Catholic High School in Manchester. She was a lover of ballet and the arts, practicing dance for many years, but also trying her hand at other activities such as flute, piano, fencing, and ice skating. She attended Russell Sage College in Troy, NY to become a Physical Therapist, earning Bachelors and Masters degrees, making many steadfast friends, and meeting her husband Justin.
After college, Michelle moved far from family to rural Virginia to begin her career, with Justin following. She treated patients ranging from retired diplomats to hardened mountain men. They moved on to Washington, DC, where Michelle completed her Doctor of Physical Therapy in the evenings while working at Georgetown University Hospital, meeting fascinating patients from around the world. While in DC, she also began her many volunteer efforts, including interpreting primate behavior for the public at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Michelle and Justin were rarely at rest, always traveling, participating in the arts, hosting friends and family, and eventually marrying in 2006 and making their home together.
Staying on the move, Michelle and Justin put their belongings into storage and lived on the southern coast of Spain, where Michelle continued to aid Justin in establishing his own business. After Spain, they returned to the US, traveling for a while and eventually settling in Portland. Michelle fell in love with the Pacific Northwest, continuing her volunteer efforts as well as constantly traveling, hiking, camping, snowshoeing, sampling Portland's food scene, spending active time with their dog Ronny and downtime with their cat Macy, baking, and most of all, hosting large parties at their house — birthdays, special events, Christmas, and especially Halloween. Their home was known to many as well for backyard movies, canning parties, apple cider pressing, and family-style meals.
In the past few years, Michelle courageously left her decade-plus career as a Physical Therapist and grew increasingly involved with App Camp For Girls, a non-profit seeking to encourage girls into careers in science and technology. Michelle was the consummate planner and organizer and brought her skills to App Camp as well as to volunteer efforts at the traveler's hostel in Portland, where she cooked traditional American foods and gave historic architectural walking tours to world travelers visiting Portland. She volunteered with Dance For Parkinson's, incorporating her health care and dance backgrounds, and was beginning to perform flamenco dance as well as learning Italian and French.
Michelle began running, quickly ramping up to half marathons and running half a dozen of them a year all across the country with friends and family. She was in the best health of her life and inspired many others to begin running as well. In 2015 she ran nearly 1,000 miles.
Michelle and Justin traveled to nearly every US state as well as to Russia, Japan, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Turkey, and widely in Europe. They had plans to continue traveling the world, particularly to see every species of great ape in its natural habitat.
Michelle's positive spirit was infectious and never failed to bring a smile. She was a connector of people from different walks of life, a generous giver of her time and money, and a true bright light who was never at a loss for something fun to do or new things to see.
Michelle is survived by her husband of nearly ten years, Justin Miller, of Portland, her parents Mark and Mary Petruzzi of West Yarmouth, MA, her brother Marc and his wife KC Petruzzi of Glastonbury, CT, loving in-laws, and five nieces and nephews.
Calling hours will be held Friday, May 6, from 2pm to 3pm, with a memorial service to immediately follow, at Holman's Funeral Service on Hawthorne Boulevard in Southeast Portland.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Project POOCH or to App Camp For Girls through their respective websites. Alternatively, the family requests that those who are able volunteer an hour of their time at a project or service in need of assistance. This is perhaps the best way to honor Michelle and to give back while continuing to try new and different things as she would have done.