Known as the “unofficial mayor of Bellport” for his commitment to the community, former Brookhaven Town Chief Investigator Anthony “Tony” Gazzola died Dec. 27. He was 75.
Gazzola died of complications from multiple ailments, including congestive heart failure and cancer, which started in his lungs, family members said.
The nickname — one of several the former police detective received in his decades of community involvement — came from his ubiquitous presence in East Patchogue and North Bellport.
“His day consisted pretty much of driving up and down every block in the East Patchogue-Bellport area,” said his son, Vito Gazzola, 52 of Manorville. “He still played cop, even 30 years after he retired.”
Whether it was gaining the trust and respect of the most-feared teenage gang member in the neighborhood, or pushing local officials to create safe spaces for kids to play, Gazzola was always helping someone, said his son.
Before his work for the town, Gazzola was an NYPD detective and later an undercover detective in Far Rockaway’s 101st Precinct, before he retired in 1983.
“He would still continue to give information to police,” Vito Gazzola said. “From finding stolen cars on the side of the street, to serious crimes . . . the information would always get back to him. The community would call him before they called 911. . . . That’s how much they trusted him.”
Tony Gazzola’s wife, Laura, 72, became used to her husband bringing home strangers for dinner — sometimes the homeless or people he was helping through his volunteer work with the Red Cross.
Tony Gazzola also came to be known as “The Cake Man” in the 1990s when he would collect day-old cakes from a local bakery and deliver them to retirement homes, churches and families in need.
Another nickname that stuck was “Grandpa,” his son said, noting that many who attended his father’s wakes had used that familial label when talking about Tony Gazzola.
“The community saw my father more than I did,” Vito Gazzola said. “And I only realized it at the end, in his passing. And I’m proud of him. I really am.”
Tony Gazzola founded the South Country Community Conference, a regional nonprofit focused on quality-of-life issues ranging from potholes to drug intervention. He was also the driving force behind establishing Martha Avenue Park and getting baseball and football fields built there for kids. He started the Safe Summer Youth Program in the 1990s, later turning over the effort to the town.
He was also active politically, serving as chairman of the Brookhaven Town Conservative Party for about two decades, his son said.
Tony Gazzola is survived by his wife of 54 years, Laura; three sons; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bellport on Dec. 31.
It was standing room only at the two wakes honoring him on Wednesday at Robertaccio Funeral Home in Patchogue, Vito Gazzola said. A half-mile of cars trailed the hearse on the day of the funeral, while others followed on foot.