Pisapia is remembered as someone who put others first

Councilman Harry Pisapia delivers the keynote address in 2016 when the Town of Galena observed the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Seated is Doug Uhl of the Galena Volunteer Fire Company, who served as flag bearer for the ceremony.

GALENA — Mr. Mayor.

Mr. Galena.

Mr. Nice Guy.

That’s how folks in the upper reaches of Kent County are remembering Harry Pisapia, who devoted the better part of nearly 40 years to his adopted hometown of Galena.

Pisapia, 75, died Sunday, Aug. 4 in Kent Hospice House in Chestertown, following a brief illness.

“There aren’t enough words for me to tell you how good Harry was. There are other people who are good, but for all these years, I can’t think of anyone who was consistently as good as Harry,” said Bill Blake of Galena.

“I used to tease him that I wanted to be like him when I grow up,” said Blake, 7 months younger than Pisapia.

“You could count on Harry as a Legionnaire, as a fireman, as a mayor and as a good friend. He never, ever let me down,” Blake said Tuesday.

Pisapia held elected office in Galena for about 35 years, he estimated in an interview this spring when he announced that he would not seek another term on the town council.

He said it had been fulfilling work, but “it’s time for the younger guys to take over.”

Pisapia’s term ran through the end of June, and he attended the Maryland Municipal League’s summer conference. During the June 23-26 get-together of city and town officials, the Eastern Shore Association of Municipalities recognized Pisapia for his service.

“He had a long history of giving to the town and he loved the town,” said John Carroll, who has been mayor since 2017 and was a councilman before that.

“I think if you talked to his family, they would say the town came first. Harry gave it all to us. And, he didn’t mind getting in the middle of things,” Carroll said.

Carroll said he looked up to Pisapia, who served two years as his vice mayor, as someone who was directed by civility, consensus-building and community.

The current mayor said he tries to emulate Pisapia’s example of “always being polite and respecting another’s opinion, even if it’s totally opposite.”

Carroll said it was when he and Pisapia disagreed that he admired Pisapia the most. “He’d tell me, ‘Always think about what you’re doing for the town.’”

Blake portrayed Pisapia as the town’s “sanctuary.”

“When things weren’t going well, we’d go to him.”

Blake and Pisapia met in 1980, when Pisapia and his family — wife Carol and sons Tony and Joey — moved from Crofton to Galena. Pisapia was an agent with Nationwide Insurance, and worked from a home office on West Cross Street.

“We were buddies for decades,” Blake said, with shared interests in politics, sports and the American Legion.

At Kent County High School, for many, many years, Blake headed the sideline “chain crew” at football games and Pisapia did the play-by-play from the small press box in Trojan Stadium. They were inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 2009, the first to be enshrined as “friends” of the athletics program.

Pisapia also coached youth baseball, and officiated high school soccer, baseball and softball games.

“He was instrumental in youth sports throughout the county, but especially at KCHS,” said Kevin Taylor ‘85, who is the athletic director at his alma mater.

Taylor said he will remember Pisapia as “the original voice of the Trojans.”

Pisapia was about as civic-minded as they come, devoting countless unpaid hours to the Galena Volunteer Fire Company, the Knights of Columbus, St. Dennis Catholic Church and American Legion posts in Chestertown and Betterton.

He also was an appointed member of the Kent County Commission on Aging.

At Tuesday night’s Kent County Commissioners’ meeting, Tom Mason, president, asked for a moment of silence for Pisapia, who was portrayed as “an asset.”

Pisapia was the go-to guy for the residents of Galena.

All told, Pisapia was mayor for 21 years, stepping up when John Mulford left office early due to health reasons in 1992 and then being elected for five consecutive terms — including in 2001 when “No one’s running for mayor” was the headline in The Baltimore Sun.

Incredibly, or maybe not given his popularity, Pisapia received 31 write-in votes for mayor that year in an otherwise ho-hum election that featured two uncontested races for council seats.

Betty Carroll was swept back into office along with Pisapia in 2001. She served a total of 26 years on the council. Pisapia was a councilman and then mayor during Betty Carroll’s long tenure.

“He was a gentleman. I never heard him complain about anybody,” Betty Carroll said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

She said Pisapia routinely sought the council’s input on issues that were solely under his purview as mayor and he was “conservative” when it came to spending taxpayers’ money.

“No” was not a word in Pisapia’s dictionary, Betty Carroll said, “and he was always willing to step up for any cause or anybody.”

She chuckled at the memory of Pisapia attending a council meeting in his “umpiring gear.” More than once.

That was Pisapia, always engaged, always on the move.

Friends and colleagues say Pisapia was modest, self-effacing and not one to seek the spotlight — and because of that, we’ll never know how many people he helped.

“He was unselfish ... a nice guy from the ground up,” Blake said of his longtime friend. “He was real.”

Pisapia, who was a U.S. Navy corpsman from 1961-64, was the architect of the town’s annual Veterans Day and 9/11 ceremonies, which came off without a hitch due to his painstaking attention to detail and unwavering respect for first responders and American service men and women.

Galena was the first municipality in Kent County to hold a 9/11 remembrance ceremony. That was in 2002, when Pisapia was the mayor. He remained the event’s most steadfast supporter.

As chaplain of the Betterton American Legion, Pisapia would accompany Blake on visits to veterans in area nursing homes on Veterans Day, personally thanking each of them for their service. Four of the ceremonial salutes last year were done at the veterans’ bedsides.

“He was everything he was cracked up to be, from the heart all the way out,” Blake said. “He inspired people. He was a loyal friend. At the core was a good guy ... He made his mark.”

A viewing for Pisapia will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Galena Funeral Home of Stephen L. Schaech, 118 W. Cross St. A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered 11 a.m. Aug. 9 at St. Dennis Catholic Church in Galena.

A private burial will be in the Delaware Veterans Cemetery.

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