Last year, following a council meeting in January, Councilor George Colella took a fall on an icy sidewalk after joining colleagues for a bit of Chinese food on Broadway.
The fall came in his 82nd year. It would have been a final act for a person of a lesser constitution but not for George. He always appeared to be a much younger man to me whenever we met. He was always focused on one thing … Revere.
With that fall, which sent him to the hospital, George began a slow and painful decline that ended with his death early in the morning on Sunday.
Throughout the past year, Colella struggled against a wide variety of serious ailments while attempting to live up to his responsibilities.
He wasn’t looking for an easy way out. The man I came to know over the years loathed those looking for a free ride in their jobs whatever they were. He had a job to do. He was determined to work as much as he could until the end and he did.
He knew he was nearing the end of his run but fought against it with everything he could summon. And he never complained. Not once did I hear him say he was in pain, which he was or that he was bitter about being unable to control his sickness, which he was, or that he was nearing the end of his run, which he was.
Instead, each time George came to visit the office in the early morning we would talk about the great and small things. He was always focused on politics and sports, especially the Red Sox, with whom he had a lifetime love affair.
Talking with George was never a perfunctory thing. There was always a reason to be talking and he always expressed a strong point of view.
At times he liked to remind me that I got a story wrong or that I didn’t fully understand some of the issues that he had taken to heart.
“You aren’t bothered by the dirty bookstore on American Legion Highway?” he asked me after voting for additional funds to fight it from remaining open.
“There are no homes around it. It frankly doesn’t matter,” I answered him. “And I think it is unwise to spend $1 million to close it – which can’t be done anyway.”
He would wonder about my sense of right and wrong after exchanges like that but we never questioned one another about how we felt towards one another.
There was always the respect and the loyalty that he demanded and which I felt eager to return as he never asked me to do something that was ill-advised or a favor.
He didn’t have to. He was on the mark almost all of the time so why would he have to ask me for anything when I was inclined to do it because it was on merit?
I didn’t grow up here but I had always heard of George Colella while working and living in Chelsea.
The first time I met him was at Revere High School during the height of the Blizzard of 1978.
He was trying to help the hundreds of people, many of whom were in shock, who sought safety at Revere High School after evacuating their homes in Beachmont and the city’s other low lying areas which became flooded with extraordinary high tide.
He looked commanding to me, then. It was an image of him that always remained as I grew closer with him.
George was no pushover.
This was a strong willed character of the first order who wanted things done his way.
He was the type of mayor who didn’t hesitate to fire a city employee unwilling to take his orders.
More than a few former police officers can attest to that – like one former officer who was put on the death shift after questioning the mayor’s leadership.
George was extremely prideful about Revere.
To him, Revere was about the best place on this earth.
He was always surrounded by lifelong friends and friendly with families he had known for generations.
As a city councilor, he was always outspoken and to the point.
He enraged certain of his colleagues with stands he believed in and would vote for when they would put off a vote that compromised some of their political support.
He gained his strength on the council as he had enjoyed it as the mayor – from remaining loyal to those who trusted him, which was the vast majority of voters in this city who re-elected him time and again.
His loss is enormous for those of us who came to enjoy his company.
His loss is enormous to this city where his voice excited legions of people to action in years past.
Like many a strong man, he had mellowed with age.
His personality and point of view was the stuff of fine wine or brandy that took years to perfect as he neared the end.
The last time I spoke with him he had only a few weeks to live.
“Josh my friend how are you?” he asked with the familiar voice I had come to expect and to enjoy.
That voice has been silenced and with it, a piece of this city has died.
George Colella was quite a guy.
Those of us who knew him well lament his passing.
He leaves a place that cannot be filled.