UCF Trustee Joseph Conte was recently inducted into the Royal Order of Francis I of the House of Bourbon, an honor bestowed “upon worthy individuals regardless of nationality or creed who have contributed to public life, science, the arts, agriculture, and commerce,” according to the organization’s website.

Conte, who received his undergraduate degree from Florida Atlantic University in south Florida and his graduate degree from the American University in Washington, D.C., is now officially a Knight.

On Feb. 11, Conte, became a Knight of the European Order, sanctioned by the Vatican. Traditionally, the induction ceremonies are typically held in Rome, but this year, it was held in Naples, Florida, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for the nine U.S. recipients.

Notable inductees from previous years include the late anti-apartheid and human rights activist Desmond Tutu and former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

UCF Trustee Joseph Conte (far right) with the other inductees. (Photo courtesy of Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George American Delegation)

When Conte and his wife, Lynn, learned of his nomination for the Knighthood, they researched it to fully understand the significance. The prestigious order was established in 1829 by the Royal House of Bourbon Two Sicilies.

“Upon receiving the honor bestowed by HRH Prince Carlo of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, Duke of Castro, I was filled with profound gratitude,” Conte says. “Amidst the illustrious achievements of my fellow inductees and all historical Knights, this remarkable recognition holds an even deeper significance. Merely expressing gratitude feels inadequate in the face of such an esteemed group.”

To be considered for the honor, each inductee must be nominated by a knight or dame, says Lynn Conte. Her husband’s nominator, unbeknownst to the couple, had been diligently taking notes of Joseph Conte’s life for quite some time to ensure he was worthy. The Contes learned of the nomination in October 2023.

Conte’s public life includes his two, five-year appointments as one of 13 members of the UCF Board of Trustees, with the first made by Rick Scott, former Florida governor and current U.S. senator and the second by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The latter term expires in 2025.

The appointments were not Conte’s first foray into government. When he was in graduate school at American University in Washington, D.C., he was a research assistant for Sen. Sam Nunn. In the course of his work, Conte produced reports for Nunn detailing the state of healthcare for the elderly.

“Sen. Nunn was an inspiration to Joe,” Lynn Conte says.

After graduation, Conte got a job in Michigan working for a physician who conceptualized post-acute surgical rehabilitation for the elderly. He was not only bright, but also someone who could see the big picture.

“He would regularly visit the facilities after hours to see if things were being done according to the rigorous federal standards,” Lynn Conte says. “He would never toot his own horn about this kind of thing, but that’s OK, I can do that for him because I’m so proud of him.”

After gaining more experience, Conte co-founded Tandem Healthcare in 1998, which eventually evolved into Consulate Healthcare, which he sold in 2015.

It didn’t take long after his “retirement” for him to be noticed as a potential UCF Trustee. UCF College of Medicine was just getting off the ground, and Dean Deborah German worked with Conte on various issues, including discussions centered around geriatric concerns and creating a generation of new physicians with sensitivity to those issues. Both felt this needed to be understood as our population is rapidly aging.

“His ‘retirement’ became a much harder, unpaid job,” Lynn Conte says with a laugh. “Joe has always been very analytical, very fair, and is especially kind and generous, but you have to follow the rules.”

In short, Conte is very good at separating a business decision from an emotional decision, Lynn says.

When UCF President John C. Hitt retired in 2018, the university was going through a transitional time and Conte’s logical and realistic leadership was valuable. This was when DeSantis, the then incoming governor, beseeched Conte to stay on for an additional term.

And all the while, John Salamone, a Knight of the European Order for 16 years, was watching. As an existing Knight, Salamone has the opportunity to nominate new Knights.

Salamone, whom the Contes met years ago, is the president of Salamone Associates, a nonprofit fundraising organization.

The Contes have, from time to time, made charitable donations, some of which were facilitated by Salamone Associates. At times, the Contes permit organizations to share the news of their gifts when it would help to inspire others to make a philanthropic investment, but much of their philanthropy, as Lynn Conte would describe, flies “under the radar.”

“Sometimes,” Lynn Conte says, “We just do things. If Joe sees a need, and it’s something he can help with, he’ll do it. Things that are near and dear to our hearts. That’s what John Salamone noticed over the years.”

The idea to do a good deed just because it’s the right thing is something Conte learned growing up from his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. The Conte family — and extended family — helped with church-related activities, took food to people who needed it, kept an eye on all the neighborhood kids who didn’t have a place to go after school. These caring acts left a lasting impression on Joseph Conte.

“His parents are very proud of him,” Lynn Conte says. “But they never accepted less than the best from him. He pushes himself now, and he has for all the years I’ve known him. He is very focused on what needs to be done, but not in a mean way.”

When Joseph Conte found out that he was going to be accepted into the European Order, Lynn Conte says her humble husband was pleased.

“I don’t think he ever realized that all the things he’s done over the years would ever come back to him,” Lynn Conte says. “I hope that whoever reads this article realizes that everyone can do something. You can’t always fix every problem, but you can at least try and help, and if it’s only one person you have helped try to succeed who has done so — then you have a success. And I think that’s really what Joe does so well.”