Many Hamilton residents spent the day remembering Bernie Morelli. The 70-year-old was one of the longest serving city councillors when he died at home Tuesday night after an extended illness. Everyone who knew Morelli knew he was a fighter, and his failing health never took away from his community dedication. And he was a champion of East Hamilton until the end.
We’re here at the site of Pan Am precinct, because this is where Morelli’s legacy will live on. He fought for decades to get a senior centre here, and just last month he tearily thanked his council colleagues for helping make that dream real; a senior centre and sports park will be built in this neighbourhood. You can trace his fight for this area right back to the first thing he said after he was elected alderman more than 22 years ago.
This is Bernie Morelli after his first election: “You told me earlier you were a little scared about winning. (laughs). It’s new for me, with a sense of change comes some fear but also a terrific commitment to the people I feel a strong sense of commitment to.” Q: What do you plan to do? “I plan to work hard for them, to listen to them, and take things I hear and put them on the table, and to get this town back on track.”
His death halted city council for the day. Council marked the passing of long-time councillor Bernie Morelli with a moment of silence and then councillors ended their meeting. Morelli’s seat occupied by roses. His close friend Sam Merulla also absent: “I worked here 24 years. I worked with this man. I watched him become a councillor, and now, he’s gone. It hurts all of us inside city hall.”
Rose MacGowan set up a book of condolences at Hamilton City Hall. And was first to sign: “I dress up like Santa rose. I go around City Hall and ask for donations. This picture was taken in November. that’s the last time I’ve seen him that healthy. He used to say, how’re you doin’ girl? And he always had a smile. And he always hugged me. I’m going to miss that. I just hope he rests in peace and I feel so sorry for his family.”
One of Morelli’s three kids is a police officer who went viral in December on a YouTube post called ‘Honest Cops.’ Morelli was on the Police Service Board from the mid 90’s, and chaired the board for about 10 years. But his last police board meeting may have been his proudest, when his son was honoured for his actions. Other politicians say they learned from Morelli.
Former Mayor Fred Eisenberger: “Ii think one of the great lessons for us all is that we’re there for people. Not buildings or bricks and mortar. It’s about the people in the greater community and Bernie did that better than anybody.”
Former Mayor Larry Di Ianni: “Bernie was the quintessential Hamiltonian. Tough as steel, but a heart of gold.”
“Yeah, I’m good I’m good. Takes me a while to get my wind.” Morelli had kidney problems and was clearly suffering during his last news conference in December. But he didn’t want to miss this announcement for a sports park next to the senior centre now planned for his ward: “I tell ya’, it’s been in the works for 20 years. I think in the 19th and a half year I got sick and lost a few of my legs. A number of people stepped up.”
Mayor Bob Bratina: “Bernie’s goal and dream was growth in the Pan Am precinct. I think Bernie was really wanting to see that development occur and he did in his lifetime.”
Morelli: “In the old days, we used to have city wide committees and I saw what was going on elsewhere, and I saw what was needed in the lower cities. And we used to be at so many events, nightly, that it wasn’t hard to get a read on what your community needs.”
No one is surprised that he worked right up to the end for his constituents. Many living and working in Morelli’s ward were remembering the Councillor Wednesday describing him as someone who was always there to help.
“He was just a great guy. And that’s what you like to see, someone in the community that gives back to the community, and I know he’s helped out a lot of people down here, not only in this ward, but in other wards.”
“I remember him for everything, and you know he loved my kid, he helped my family, we miss him so much and he’d do anything, you know, if he could do it, he’d help my family. He was a very good man.”
“He was always there, no matter what. I used to have Mrs. Gardiner beside me, an older lady, and he wished her a Merry Christmas every year. He had a big heart.”
“He was well liked by everybody as far as I know. He was always there and willing to help.”
“He meant a lot of hope to people. He was very inspiring in everything he did. He was a leader. And he’s going to be greatly missed.”
Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is from East Hamilton and used to work with Morelli on council. And Wednesday, she shared her thought’s on his legacy: “We served over two terms together. I used to sit very close to him. Many times we didn’t agree and he had quite an interesting personality and good sense of humour often times thought very differently but Hamilton is going to miss him. He served for decades not only as award councillor. Many boards. There is no doubt he left a legacy of passionate service for the City of Hamilton.”
Ted McMeekin is now an MPP but he did serve as the Mayor of Flamborough some time ago and also served on the regional council with Morelli: “It is a sad day we’ve lost a great Hamiltonian. Someone who was loved and respected. All the good people of Hamilton especially those in his ward. I’m sad. Bernie was a mentor to me when I first came to regional council Mayor and we became very close friends. We worked hard a lot of different projects and he’ll be sorrowly missed. It truly is a sad day in Hamilton.”
Bernie Morelli is survived by his two sons, Rick and Mark and daughter Christina. The visitation will be at PX Dermody located just East of Rosedale at 1919 King St. from 2pm -9pm Saturday the 18th and Sunday the 19th for the general public. The funeral sermon/mass will be held at St. Patricks Church on Monday the 20th at 1030am. Online condolences may be made at www.dermodys.com.