Once more with Pride: Revere’s greatest leader, longest serving elected official in the state, dead at 83

November 10, 2010
By

The man who invented, re-invented and then refined Revere politics for five decades, current City Councillor George V. Colella, passed away on Sunday, November 7, early in the morning. He was 83.

Colella was the longest-serving elected official in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, having been elected to various posts in the City for the last 50 years. That feat even bested the late former U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.

Colella was first elected to the Revere School Committee in 1954.

He won 25 of 29 election attempts and served 10, 2-year terms as the Mayor of Revere, and even one year as a Plan E Mayor in 1959.

He was elected to the City Council 13 times, and even served briefly as the city’s Veteran’s Agent.

Interestingly enough, his first venture into politics was a losing effort when he was only 23. There wouldn’t be many more losses.

He was to Revere what Elvis Presley was to rock and roll, or more appropriately, what Ted Williams was to the Boston Red Sox.

When one thought of Revere, especially its government, it was Colella that was number one on that ballot.

Colella was born in Revere to Albert ‘Bucky’ and Jenny Colella. His father was the first Italian-American on the Revere Fire Department, serving 41 years. His grandfather had operated the first plumbing supply store in the city on Revere Street.

He never lived outside of about a half-mile radius in Revere, having been born on Pomona Street, then living on Ambrose Street, and finally settling on Wentworth Road.

He attended Revere High School and graduated as the class president in 1945. He attended Boston University and graduated from the School of Business and Finance in 1952. He married his high school sweetheart, June Murphy, and had three daughters. He was also a Navy veteran.

By account of those close to him, he was fiercely dedicated to his family.

He began political life before he even graduated college, saying in a 2005 interview that he got into the 1951 School Committee race due to the poor conditions in the city’s parks.

“When I was still in college at Boston University, the ball fields and playgrounds in the city were an absolute abortion,” he said in 2005. “I wanted to do something about it, so I ran for School Committee; I thought I would start there.”

From that start to his finish a few days ago, loyalty was supreme for Colella and was something that he used as his credo throughout his political career. One was either with Colella or against Colella.

In 2005, after suffering some health problems and then making a strong comeback, Colella was named the Revere Journal Man of the Year. For that story, he expanded on his sense of loyalty.

“One aspect in life I’ve found to be very important with people is loyalty,” he said at the time. “My loyalty to them and then their loyalty to me. It’s been fortunate for me to have all these [supporters] still at my side. I think the basic credence of politics is keeping your word and over the years I feel I’ve kept my word to the residents and taxpayers of the city to the extent they’ve re-elected me.”

Colella was passionate about following the Boston Red Sox, often visiting spring training in Florida with friends. He often would come back and be able to pinpoint which players were poised for a good season, and which newcomers were going to explode on the scene.

He loved watching just about every game on television at his home.

He had his adversaries in the political world, specifically the Squire Club and Wonderland Dog Track, but his allies were always the residents and taxpayers of Revere.

As a mayor, Colella very infrequently – if ever – instituted a property tax increase. He kept taxes low for decades while also bolstering city services. He once boasted that he had a small army working in his Planning and Development Department.

He delegated masterfully and expected a job well done – or else.

He was also very interested in keeping rates down for the water and sewer ratepayers.

During his tenure as mayor, if there were ever any surplus, it was returned to the ratepayers in order to reduce their bills. Additionally, his administration always subsidized the water and sewer rate in order to keep bills lower than the actual cost – a practice that ended with the current administration.

And, when he became a city councillor, he often railed on Mayor Tom Ambrosino to return surplus monies to the ratepayers rather than spend them on expensive infrastructure projects.

As a councillor and a mayor, he was a man of research.

His basement family room was reportedly stacked with papers – documents with statistics, financial figures and mountains of file folders with ideas.

He came to meetings prepared, having studied all the issues and outlined all of his remarks.

Mayor Tom Ambrosino noted this week that it was Colella that kept him on his toes when he visited the Council. He said he knew that if he didn’t have his facts correct, Colella would crucify him on camera, in public.

“He always brought out the best in me,” said the mayor. “I knew when George was on that Council that I’d better be ready and know my stuff. He would be sure to insist I knew what I was talking about.”

Certainly, he held a high standard for everyone in public office, including his colleagues on the Council. He wouldn’t be intimidated by anyone, and held his own year in and year out during arguments and verbal scraps up at the Council.

He loved Revere Beach and seeing its resurgence in recent years, as well as the rebuilding efforts he spearheaded in the 1980s.

He loved gathering every morning at the Dunkin’ Donuts on American Legion Highway and then, later, with the crew at the Bagel Bin.

He enjoyed immensely seeing his friends and supporters at his annual fund-raiser breakfast at the old Wharf Restaurant (now the Mt. Vernon at the Wharf).

By far though, the highlight of his public life was navigating the treacherous Blizzard of `78.

In a 2005 interview, Colella recalled that he had just been re-elected to the Mayor’s Office the previous fall and had only been sworn in for a month, when one February day, he looked out his office window at City Hall and noticed some snowflakes falling.

Soon after, media reports came over the wire that a blizzard was coming.

Colella and his staff gathered in the Central Fire Station and put together a plan, including calling the White House and demanding military support.

“It was absolutely exciting,” he said in 2005. “We had a plan put into effect and it was almost like a military attack upon the blizzard…We telephoned the White House seeking help in the way of the U.S. Army in equipment and manpower. Suffice it to say, it was delivered to the city not long after.”

He continued, “Most of us didn’t get home for approximately a week. It was also a time when the city came together in a fashion where neighbor helped neighbor and people helped people.”

The story wrapped up nicely with the pledge of millions by the federal government to rehabilitate and restore Revere Beach, something Colella worked hard to secure with the help of Congressman Ed Markey.

As the years wore on, Colella continued to serve on the Council, disproving his detractors and using his wit to stymie those half his age.

Many often joked – though being halfway serious – that Colella would only leave the Council when they carried him out; that he would die in his Council chair, never bowing out gracefully but rather going down in a hail of bullets – so to speak.

As it turns out, it didn’t happen that way.

Though it shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but somehow it did anyway, Colella kind of faded away from his position on the Council over the last year. About one year ago, after falling on some ice in front of the China Roma on Broadway, Colella’s health took a turn for the worse. Over the past year, he had several setbacks and missed almost every meeting over the past several months – much to his displeasure.

Finally, he was hospitalized and never did make it back to another Council meeting – his last meeting being July 26.

In the end, while the natural processes of life may have gotten the best of George V. Colella, no one else on Earth did.

SERVICES

A Funeral Mass for George Colella will be celebrated on Friday, November 12 in St Anthony’s Church, 250 Revere St., Revere at 10 a.m. Relatives and friends are kindly invited. Visiting hours in the Paul Buonfiglio & Sons-Bruno Funeral Home, 128 Revere St., Revere will be held Thursday from 2 to 8 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his name to the Jimmy Fund, 10 Brookline Place West 6th Floor Brookline MA 02445. Burial will be in Woodlawn Cemetery.

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