Ward 3 councillor Bernie Morelli, one of Hamilton's longest serving city council members, died Tuesday night after a long illness. He was 70.
Morelli had been battling a serious illness since last spring. He was on sick leave over the summer months beginning in June. He returned to work in August and was greeted with a round of applause from fellow councillors.
Wednesday at city hall staff and councillors will mark his death with a moment of silence.
Morelli was elected to council in 1991. Only Coun. Tom Jackson has served longer at 25 years. Morelli was first elected to public office as a trustee for Ward 3 at the Hamilton Wentworth Catholic District School Board in 1988. He retired after 25 years of work at Dofasco.
One of Morelli's last projects was a plan to buy a a four-hectare (10-acre) parcel of land in the Pan Am precinct to build a new outdoor sports facility to go with an already-planned recreation and seniors centre.
The project has been coined a legacy for Morelli, who looked ill when it was announced back in December.
Even during his illness Morelli continued to serve people in the ward where he was born.
"I was on the street during the storm, I made house calls, I was dropping off blue boxes, but I couldn't come here," Morelli told CBC Hamilton in August. "There were days when I wasn't reading my email, but I had my blackberry with me everyday."
"Even when I'm sick, there's kind of a mental disposition," he said. "But there comes a time when you're on a stretcher and I was in septic shock."
'He had a terrific sense of humour,' former assistant said
News of the former Ward 3 councillor's passing hit Nick Westoll hard. Westoll, now a Humber jounalism student, worked as Morelli's assistant for over six years.
"Honestly, I cried when I heard," Westoll told CBC Hamilton. "My favourite memories with him where just when we were chatting about life in general."
"He would drive me home after every council meeting and some of my most favourite chats were in his car. He had a terrific sense of humour and could tell a story like no one else I know."
Morelli was a strong advocate for seniors, youth and people with disabilities, Westoll said. He was also a very strong supporter of the Hamilton Police Service.
"He always made a point to thank both sworn and civilian personnel," Westoll said. Morelli took over as the chair of the Police Services Board in 2012.
"We know that Mr. Morelli faced the most recent health challenges with the same determination, vigour and commitment that he displayed in his daily duties as an elected city official," said police chief Glenn De Caire in a statement.
"Bernie held a commitment to public safety and maintained the focus of making Hamilton safer for all citizens."
Morelli is survived by his three children including his son Mark, a Hamilton police officer, whose calm arrest of an angry suspect was captured on video and went viral.
Tributes for Morelli continue to pour in on social media Wednesday morning.
It is with a heavy heart that I advise of the passing of ClrBernie Morelli. Please join me in condolences to the Morelli family #hamont— Sam Merulla (@Sam_Merulla) January 15, 2014
A sad day in Hamilton with the passing of Bernie Morelli rest in peace my friend #hamont— City of Waterfalls (@cityofwaterfall) January 15, 2014
So many great memories of Bernie Morrelli. Hard to imagine #HamOnt without you. Truly a life well lived. We are gonna miss you Big Fella.RIP— Terry Cooke (@TCatHCF) January 15, 2014
RIP Councillor Morelli. Thank you for always helping to look after part of our BIA. A sad day in #HamOnt— InternationalVillage (@HamIntlVillage) January 15, 2014
Chief on Councillor Morelli: "he held a commitment to public safety & maintained the focus of making Hamilton safer for all citizens"— Hamilton Police (@HamiltonPolice) January 15, 2014
Saddened to hear about Bernie Morelli. #HamOnt lost a good man.— Sarah James (@bysarahjay) January 15, 2014