Joe Pacetti is known as the flashy jeweler who wears big diamonds. But anyone who knows him knows that the biggest thing about him is his heart
Joe Pacetti turns 60 in November, and he is celebrating by throwing his biggest fundraiser ever for a nonprofit organization.
Pacetti is a jeweler known for always displaying his wares. But his passion is helping people.
“One of the reasons I work so hard and travel 200 days a year — predominantly for business — is so I can give back,” he said.
And give back he does, from local to international organizations.
Since 1993, Pacetti’s been on the board of the Patron of the Arts of the Vatican Museums, where he’s personally sponsored six restoration projects and helped make the Texas chapter one of the most prolific.
Locally, he’s worked on Black Tie Dinner and been honored by No Tie Dinner. He’s served on the Turtle Creek Chorale and DIFFA boards, and he’s raised money for every AIDS organization in Dallas.
But Legacy Counseling Center and Founders Cottage, an organization he first came in contact with while he was on DIFFA’s board, holds a very special place in Pacetti’s heart. And he says that Legacy Executive Director Melissa Grove, who helps people rebuild their lives after life-threatening illnesses while appearing to brush off her own battle with muscular dystrophy, is a totally selfless woman.
“What amazed me about Melissa is how she’s overcome her own obstacles to take care of other people,” Pacetti said. “Of all the charities I’ve ever been involved with, I’ve never seen a ship run as efficiently or tightly” as is Legacy.
Grove said Pacetti is a supporter who doesn’t need a pat on the back.
“He takes care of business and delivers,” she said. “He’s a smart business person and a lovely human with a big heart. He’s a gift to me.”
Pacetti brings in all sorts of people who wouldn’t normally be involved in an HIV/AIDS fundraiser, Grove added.
Pacetti met Grove when he first toured Founder’s Cottage in Oak Cliff as a DIFFA board member. He was so impressed by the work done there, he decided that when the opportunity arose, he’d do something more for the agency himself. He found that opportunity when he met Leslie Jordan at a charity luncheon in Los Angeles.
A friend of Pacetti’s on the board of Hope House in L.A. was hosting a charity luncheon and asked Pacetti for a piece of jewelry to auction. When Pacetti donated a diamond, he got a call from his friend encouraging him to attend the event. That’s where he met Jordan.
The two hit it off and Pacetti told Jordan about Legacy.
As a matter of fact, Pacetti told him, there was. He arranged Jordan’s first appearance at a fundraiser for Legacy held in the penthouse of the Vendome on Turtle Creek that raised about $6,000.
That fundraiser featuring Jordan turned into an annual event, moving first to the Weisfeld Center in downtown Dallas and last year to Theatre 3. This year, Pacetti said, he wanted to take the event to the next level and is hoping to sell out the Majestic Theatre for Jordan’s performance on Nov. 21.
Sponsorships have completely covered the costs and several hundred seats are already sold.
Becoming a jeweler began with ballet
As a teen, Pacetti danced with the Tulsa Ballet for seven years.
“I always loved the grace of it,” he said, laughing as he explained that at 16 years old, he had a 26-inch waist. But he decided not to pursue ballet as a career.
“I never had a principal role,” Pacetti said. “Unless I was going to be Nureyev or Baryshnikov, I never was going to make a lot of money.”
So he went to work for Zales Jewelers in Tulsa. He was there for two years and credits the company with putting him out on his own.
The average sale in the store where Pacetti worked was under $1,000. Then one day Pacetti made a $43,000 sale when a regular customer purchased a number of items as Christmas presents. He felt the store owed him a commission, or at least a bonus on the sale. So he contacted the corporate office.
When they told him the company didn’t pay commissions, Pacetti picked up his box of clients and walked out of the store.
Pacetti had already earned a degree in gemology and had a reputation as an expert. While at Zales, he had gone on buying trips for the store.
When he called vendors, he arranged to take items on consignment and paid them after he made a sale. The first year, he made more than $60,000 and he bought his first house at age 22.
“I was making more than my father, who worked for American Airlines for years,” he said.
Pacetti’s list of carriage trade, or high-end, referrals grew quickly and well beyond Tulsa. One of his customers introduced him to an estate liquidator in Dallas who did well selling the furniture and other household items but didn’t know what to do with the jewelry. So Pacetti began traveling to Dallas regularly to sell the estate jewelry for her and brought some of his own to add into the mix.
While here on business in Dallas, he met a woman: “I met the girl I married,” he said. They dated two years and were married for five.
His wife was a fifth generation Texan and she wasn’t going anywhere, Pacetti said, so during the oil crash of the early 1980s, he moved to Dallas. They had a daughter, who’s now 29, and he and his ex-wife have remained friends.
Pacetti’s business has thrived, even though he’s never had a retail location or showroom. He works out of his house and only takes referrals.
As Pacetti’s business and contacts grew, so did his ability to give back. Lupe Murchison told him she knew of an organization he’d be interested in because of his love of art and style. She took him on his first trip to the Vatican where he saw the museums and had a private audience with Pope John Paul II. He’s been involved ever since and has had audiences with Popes Benedict and Francis as well.
Soon after Pope Francis was elected, Pacetti had an audience with him at the Vatican with about 300 people. Pacetti was sitting in the fourth row and the custom was for the Pope to invite just the first row to approach for a personal blessing. When Francis motioned for the second row to approach, his aides indicated no.
Francis ignored the aides and had each row come up and privately chatted and blessed each person.
So, Pacetti said, he exchanged a short greeting personally and had his picture taken with the Pope. When Francis left the reception, he put his arms around two of the people attending and they left the room together.
“There was no pretense, no separation,” Pacetti said.
His meetings with the popes, especially with Francis, inspire Pacetti to be as generous as possible and people who’ve worked with him describe him as warm and giving.
David Andrews has helped Pacetti secure sponsors for the upcoming Leslie Jordan fundraiser for Legacy and he thinks of Pacetti as a mentor, calling him one of the kindest, smartest and most warm-hearted people he knows.
“I hope I can one day strive to be a fraction of the incredibly charitable man as I’ve witnessed him to be,” Andrews said.
Comedian Paul J. Williams has performed with Leslie Jordan at past Legacy fundraising events and will appear as Sister Helen Holy with Jordan at the Majestic this year.
“Joe Pacetti has never shied away from being a larger than life personality,” Williams said. “Fortunately, his heart is equally as large, and he has used his success and connections for the betterment of others. Many organizations owe a debt of gratitude to Joe for all his kindness over the years.”
Pacetti might disagree. He doesn’t believe any of the organizations he’s helped have any debt to him. He said he hopes a large fundraiser would give Grove more time to devote to client services.
Despite a house filled with art and a wardrobe always accessorized with pieces from his jewelry collection, what’s most apparent about Pacetti is his heart. Grove said she’s never seen someone as busy as he is always looking for more ways to give.
He said he lives by a simple motto: “It matters not what you have,” Pacetti said. “It matters what you give.”
An Evening of Laughter with Leslie Jordan, with special appearances by Vince Martinez and Sister Helen Holy begins at 8 p.m. Nov. 21 at the Majestic Theater, 925 Elm St. VIP tickets are $200 and general admission tickets are $50, available at LeslieJordanDallas.com. Sponsorships are also available.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 23, 2015.