Despite his tough guy reputation, Cianellie had soft spot

He served as Hagerstown city councilman from 1977 to 1981

He served as Hagerstown city councilman from 1977 to 1981

June 18, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail will run "A Life Remembered." This continuing series will take a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Anthony A. "Tony" Cianelli, who died June 7 at the age of 81. His obituary appeared in the June 10 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Everyone remembers the hands ... he had such big, strong hands that could exact a painful price on anyone offering up a wimpy handshake.

But those same hands also could pat a child on the head, wrap across the shoulders of a friend and cradle the tiny form of a newborn grandchild with amazing gentleness.

Anthony A. "Tony" Cianelli was no choir boy - he grew up tough in a tough neighborhood. But those closest to him got to see the other side of the man - the side that not everyone got to know.


Tony died June 7 at the age of 81.

Helen Cianelli didn't miss a beat when asked the secret of her 63-year marriage to Tony.

"Tolerance," she said, stressing that meant in both directions.

Sitting with family in the living room of the home she and Tony shared for more than half a century, Helen described her husband's childhood as unusual, to say the least.

"We were the same age, but I was two classes ahead of Tony at the Antietam Street School," she said. That was because Tony's mother had kept him home for a year so he could run errands for her.

Daughter-in-law Mary Cianelli said the Cianelli family was the only Italian family on their block when he was growing up, and Tony as the oldest of eight children felt it was his job to protect his siblings.

Those early days and experiences might explain one of Tony's favorite expressions, one that many who knew him said was the way he lived his life.

That expression - "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog" - was emblazoned on the back of a T-shirt that Tony was wearing in a photograph on the back of his funeral program.

Tony's two surviving children, Andrea (Hotaling) and Thomas Cianelli, came from New Jersey and California, respectively, to be with family and remember their father.

"It was interesting growing up in his house," Thomas said, remembering one occasion when Tony came home hoping to relax after a hard day at work. But Thomas, then 4 years old, would have none of that.

"I wanted to play catch, but he wasn't paying attention, so I threw the baseball, which went right through the newspaper he was reading and hit him on the bridge of the nose," Thomas said.

Down came the paper as Tony ran upstairs after his fleeing son, only to find him hiding behind his mother's legs for protection.

Despite that well-known temper, Thomas credits his father with setting him on the right path for life.

"I learned a lot of values from him - honesty, hard work, never to cheat and always to stand up for what was right," he said.

Andrea Hotaling said her father was always fixing bicycles for neighbor kids, and even took a youngster for a plane ride once.

"I started taking flying lessons when I was just eight," said grandson Michael Cianelli, who just completed his first year at the U.S. Naval Academy. "I was so short, Pap Pap made extensions so I could reach the pedals."

Soloing at 16 and earning a license a year later, Michael said he rented a plane and took his Pap Pap for a plane ride two years ago.

Despite Tony's tough reputation, Andrea said he always came to her dance recitals when she was a little girl. But he also expected her to be as tough as the boys.

"I had to be as good," Andrea said. "There were no limitations because I was a girl."

A stint as a Hagerstown city councilman from 1977 to 1981 was frustrating for Tony, Helen said.

"He enjoyed the four-year term, but he couldn't accomplish what he wanted," Helen said.

Memories of fishing with his father in the Shenandoah River are treasures for Thomas, who recalled one outing when he was about 8 years old - a trip that could have been his last.

He was sitting on a rock when he caught a fish that pulled him into the water, Thomas said.

"A big hand grabbed me by my trunks and put me back on the rock," he said.

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