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Peninsula sad to see the Greatest Generation pass on

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Sam Corritore appeared in a film and rode a horse over the Golden Gate Bridge on its opening day during the span of his 96 years. He was a sparring partner for boxer Pat Valentino, who unsuccessfully battled Ezzard Charles for a world heavyweight title, up until his high school sweetheart — and, later, wife of 68 years — convinced him to quit.

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The Burlingame longshoreman and family man raised two children, three of his 13 grandchildren, and did all his own cooking.

“A very unique man” is how Corritore’s daughter, Marie Lellman of San Francisco, described her father this week. He died Nov. 7 of a heart attack after suffering a bone-shattering fall.

Corritore was part of what has been called America’s Greatest Generation. His passing draws attention to the speed with which that generation is now fading from view in San Mateo County.

During the first week of November alone, San Mateo County lost 44 residents 85 and older, including two centenarians, San Mateo County coroner records indicate.

In 2009, the most recent year statistics are available, 1,702 of the 4,491 people who died in San Mateo County were 85 or older, according to the state Office of Vital Statistics. In contrast, just 1,034 county residents under the age of 65 died that year.

“We have an aging population, unfortunately,” Coroner Robert Foucrault said. “We do see our numbers have been increasing over the years.”

By 2030, county officials expect adults over the age of 65 to comprise 20 percent of the county’s population. That’s considerably higher than the 13.5 percent share they made up as of the 2010 U.S. census.

About 2.1 percent of San Mateo County’s residents — 15,304 people — are 85 or older, according to the 2010 U.S. census.

Members of the Greatest Generation are generally believed to have been born between 1901 and 1924. They are a generation that survived the Great Depression and one or two world wars to ride a wave of prosperity that, like the generation, is fading.

“It was a ‘Happy Days’ kind of life; everything was easy,” Lellman said. “And now — forget it.”

Even though Corritore and others of his generation are gone, memories of the lives they lived — and the lessons they taught their children and grandchildren — remain.

Lellman said her father, the son of Sicilian immigrants, grew up hunting birds and deer in San Francisco’s then-wild and forested Glen Park. He was known by his waterfront colleagues as “Hollywood Sam” for his customary sports jacket and fedora.

And she said her father taught her a lasting lesson.

“He was very truthful and honest, hardworking — really decent,” Lellman said. “Always do the right thing, that’s what I learned from him.”