HAMILTON, N.J. - Judge Samuel Anthony Alito Jr., the son of two public-school teachers and prominent members of the Italian community surrounding nearby Trenton, was never the sort to draw attention to himself, unless it was praise for his perfect grades in school.
“He was painstakingly perfect,” says Grace Bolge, who taught the Supreme Court nominee Latin in ninth grade and has long been a friend of his mother, still a resident of this quiet township 50 miles south of New York City.
“He was a wonderful student,” she said. “However, I have to say this he was never a rah-rah cheerleading type of student. If anything, you could call him humble. He could have shown off because the kids knew he was bright, but he was not an attention-grabbing person at all.”
Far from the heated battles over his views on abortion and other matters that will hover over Judge Alito’s Senate confirmation hearings beginning Jan. 9, is a quiet past one where he grew up in a modest, middle-class Italian-American family on a path to Princeton, Yale, a star-studded legal career and an eventual federal judgeship.
Judge Alito was born April 1, 1950, in Trenton to Italian immigrant Samuel A. Alito Sr. and his wife, the former Rose Fradusco. The family, including Judge Alito’s younger sister Rosemary, moved to Hamilton after the parents had secured jobs as public-school teachers.
“They were a very close-knit family,” said David Bonanni, who is four years younger than Judge Alito and grew up next door in Hamilton. “His father was well-versed and so was the mother, I don’t know if they were strict, or if it was just the intellectual gene.”
“I think Sam was a true Italian-American,” Mr. Bonanni said, adding that the Alito family was “very social” and, like his own family, belonged to the Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic parish in nearby, Mercerville, N.J.
If confirmed to replace outgoing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Judge Alito will bring to five the number of Catholics on the high court. He will be the second sitting member with roots in the Trenton area’s Italian-American community, where Justice Antonin Scalia grew up 15 years before him.
Community members say the 1960s, when Judge Alito was in his formative years, was a time when many families were migrating out of inner-city Trenton to the suburbs. Mr. Bonanni recalled that Judge Alito often baby-sat for him and his brother when they were boys in Hamilton.
“Sam would come over and mind the boys if you will,” Mr. Bonanni said. “He would keep an eye on us a little homework after school, or whether we shot a basketball for a couple of hours or so, there was always something to do in the neighborhood.
“I looked up to him,” Mr. Bonanni said. “There was always some issues with my schoolwork, and there was never a time when Sam wouldn’t help me.”
Judge Alito ran track at Hamilton East-Steinert High School, but former classmates say he shone most brightly in the classroom. While other students focused on weekend football games, he concentrated on getting into the highly exclusive, Ivy League hallways of Princeton, just a short drive from his hometown.
By his sophomore year in high school, he had emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the school’s debate team, and in addition to getting the best grades he was valedictorian for the class of 1968 he was well-liked, being elected president of the student council.
Former classmates recall that he was an avid Philadelphia Phillies fan, and dressed in a black gown and wearing a boyish smile, he is a portrait of innocence in his senior picture.
William Agress, who was his partner on the debate team, recalled a conservative environment at the school, saying he didn’t recall much talk of dating or girls at the time.