For­mer mayor Serra dies at 72

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ju­lia Perkins

MID­DLE­TOWN — Friends and col­leagues re­mem­bered Tom Serra, a for­mer mayor, ed­u­ca­tor and ma­jor­ity leader on the Com­mon Coun­cil, as a ded­i­cated pub­lic ser­vant and fam­ily man.

Serra, 72, a Demo­crat who spent decades in pub­lic of­fice, died Satur­day evening af­ter a 10-month bat­tle with pan­cre­atic cancer, friend Larry McHugh said.

“I don’t think there is one part of the city, not one part, that he hasn’t touched,” McHugh said. “That’s a unique sit­u­a­tion. A lot of peo­ple have come and done a good job, but Tommy has been there for the long­est pe­riod of time. It’s a huge, huge loss for the city of Mid­dle­town.”

Serra had a pro­found im­pact on the city’s ed­u­ca­tion, po­lice, pub­lic works and other ar­eas, said McHugh, pres­i­dent of the Mid­dle­sex County Cham­ber of Com­merce, of which Serra was part.

“His love of Mid­dle­town was un­be­liev­able,” McHugh said.

Cur­rent Mayor Dan Drew or­dered flags to be flown at half­staff Sun­day in honor of Serra.

“Coun­cil­man Tom Serra was first and fore­most a fam­ily man — a lov­ing hus­band, fa­ther and grand­fa­ther,” Drew said in a Face­book post.

Mary Bar­tolotta, deputy ma­jor­ity leader of the Com­mon Coun­cil, said Serra had a wife, two sons and five grand­chil­dren. His fam­ily and the city were para­mount to him, she said.

“He served in so many ways that just helped our community be what it is to­day,” Bar­tolotta said. “I ap­pre­ci­ated his lead­er­ship, his men­tor­ing, his friend­ship, and most of all I re­spected him for the hus­band and fam­ily per­son he was. I think that spoke to who he was more than any­thing else.”

Bar­tolotta said Serra helped her nav­i­gate the city’s pol­i­tics when she joined the coun­cil eight years ago, adding he showed her the im­por­tance of lis­ten­ing to ev­ery­one. She said Serra was up front about his be­liefs and stood by them.

“He was open to all, but also could put foot down when we needed to,” Bar­tolotta said.

Bar­tolotta re­called fre­quently eat­ing break­fast and lunch with Serra and bounc­ing ideas off of him.

“He al­ways had a his­tor­i­cal point of view that was very knowl­edge­able and help­ful,” she said. “It was some­thing I re­lied on in that re­gard.”

Bar­tolotta said he was an ad­vo­cate for the ed­u­ca­tion bud­get and sports pro­grams. Serra taught and was prin­ci­pal at Vi­nal Tech­ni­cal High School, where he also coached sports. The school’s ath­letic fields are named af­ter him.

“He spent a long and dis­tin­guished ca­reer shap­ing count­less young minds with skills, knowl­edge and val­ues,” Drew wrote.

In ad­di­tion to vol­un­teer­ing on var­i­ous boards and com­mis­sions over the years, Serra was pres­i­dent of the Mid­dle­town Sports Hall of Fame, help­ing to grow the or­ga­ni­za­tion, McHugh said.

In 1979, Serra joined the Mid­dle­town Com­mon Coun­cil. He left that po­si­tion when he was elected mayor in 1993. He later re­turned to the Com­mon Coun­cil and was serv­ing as ma­jor­ity leader be­fore he died.

“Tom al­ways put our city first,” Mid­dle­town Democrats said on its Face­book page. “Tom’s con­tri­bu­tions to Mid­dle­town are seen and felt ev­ery­day.”

Even the state’s Lt. Gov. Su­san Bysiewicz ex­pressed sad­ness over the loss of Serra.

“Tom Serra ded­i­cated his life to pub­lic ser­vice and to the Mid­dle­town community,” Bysiewicz said in a state­ment is­sued Sun­day. “Across five decades, Tom served as an ed­u­ca­tor, coach, ath­letic di­rec­tor, prin­ci­pal, mayor, longserv­ing coun­cil mem­ber and men­tor to so many. I ap­pre­ci­ated his wise coun­sel and ad­vice through the years. Tom will be deeply missed by his fam­ily and the city he loved.”

Oth­ers weigh­ing in in­cluded Se­na­tor Matt Lesser, who said “they don’t make ‘em like Thomas J. Serra any­more. Tom de­voted his life to Mid­dle­town. Like count­less peo­ple I am in­cred­i­bly grate­ful to him for his friend­ship, men­tor­ship and ser­vice. Even from his bed, he would text me words of en­cour­age­ment and ad­vice, be­cause that’s the kind of man he was.”

Serra has won var­i­ous awards over the years, in­clud­ing the Gov­er­nor Wil­liam A. O’Neill Pub­lic Ser­vice Award in 2013 and the Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Award from East­ern Con­necti­cut State Univer­sity in 2011.

Serra’s brother, Joseph Serra, D-Mid­dle­town, is serv­ing his 14th term as a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Joseph Serra did not im­me­di­ately re­turn a re­quest for com­ment.

McHugh said Mid­dle­town will miss Serra’s in­sti­tu­tional knowl­edge and com­mit­ment to the city.

“He be­lieved in (Mid­dle­town),” McHugh said. “He wanted to do best for the cit­i­zens. He was re­ally ded­i­cated to mak­ing Mid­dle­town a bet­ter place to live and work for all of his cit­i­zens.”

Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia file photo

Coun­cil­man Thomas Serra died Satur­day at the age of 72.

Con­trib­uted photo

Mar­velous Mouse Trav­els at Mid­dle­sex County Cham­ber of Com­merce on Dec. 7. From left, Mid­dle­sex County Cham­ber of Com­merce Pres­i­dent Larry McHugh, Mar­velous Mouse Trav­els agents Alice and Eric Kutch­ner, Mid­dle­town Com­mon Coun­cilor Phil Pessina and Mid­dle­town Com­mon Coun­cil Ma­jor­ity Leader Tom Serra.

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