Anthony Cattano Jr. was a selfless individual who, above all else, cared about his family, friends and Morristown, his lifelong home.
Those were some of the sentiments made for the longtime councilman, who died on Tuesday at 63 after a brief battle with cancer.
"He was like a brother to me," said Tim Murphy, a Planning Board member who knew Cattano most of his life. "It's just really sad."
Murphy, like Cattano, is a lifelong Morristown resident and can remember when his longtime friend operated Cattano Jewelers, on the corner of what now is named after the man's father, former town mayor Anthony Cattano Sr. Murphy remembered early on when he would stop into the store after school, "and our friendship just grew and grew," he said.
Murphy, a few years Cattano's junior, played for him on the Christian Youth Organization basketball team, long one of Cattano's passions. Then, "I coached with him," Murphy said.
A particularly vivid memory for Murphy was the pair's pre-game ritual, when Murphy would pop over to Cattano's house at 8 a.m. "We'd watch Abbott and Costello reruns," he said. "We had such a great relationship. I was never around him when I didn't laugh. He made me laugh all the time."
Ed France, another longtime resident, echoed Murphy's sentiments about mentoring youth. "That was his big thing," he said. After CYO, Cattano would get involved in coaching and sponsoring Little League softball, "which was legendary in Morris County," France said. "He always had one of the top teams."
While France coached an opposing team in the late 1970s, he said Cattano "always encouraged me. He told me I did a good job, I always appreciated that."
Later, that encouragement continued as France began to get involved in local politics, despite the two representing opposing parties, France a Republican, Cattano a Democrat. "We never said a bad word against each other, there was never anything ugly or attacking," he said. "It was just about Morristown."
"He put hours and hours into that," said former Democrat mayor Donald Cresitello, who knew Cattano over 50 years. He met Cattano while the two were children, delivering political literature for the senior Cattano in the 1950s. "He coached for 35 years, a long, long time. That was a major contributor to the community in addition to his public service."
That public service, as a councilman, started in 1992. "He was extremely cooperative," Cresitello said. "I don't think anybody ever said a bad thing about Tony. He was more important than politics."
That sentiment often stretched across the political aisle.
"Tony was truly bipartisan in nature," said Alison Deeb, the lone Republican on Town Council. "He supported and voted for me for council vice president in 2010. He endorsed Jay DeLaney, a Republican, for mayor in the general election in 1997. As Council President, Tony was fair-minded and professional, never holding a political grudge and was always accessible and approachable, except in the later years when he was ill.
"He was always the top votegetter in every election and never did any campaigning," Deeb said. "Why? Because people loved him. He was essentially so easy to like and so nice in dealing with people."
"How many politicians raise money for a campaign, put flyers out, knock on doors," Murphy said. "He never did any of that. And, he outpolled everyone."
Michael Fabrizio, executive director of the , knew Cattano since that Morristown chamber of commerce began 18 years ago. "I found him to be a great person, he cared immensely about the town," Fabrizio said. "He cared about the whole community, just had a real sincerity to him that was marvelous."
Fabrizio said Cattano was a very important part of the redevelopment of the Morristown downtown. "He got it and understood the importance of it to the business community," he said. "I keep going back to the word 'sincerity.' Obviously, we are going to miss him."
Murphy paused as he thought about his longtime friend, whom he said he would call pretty much every single day. "I know I'll find myself grabbing for the phone and—and, that's when it hits," he said.
"Tony wasn't a politician, he didn't like the politics of it," Murphy said. "He just wanted to serve the people. It wasn't planned, it was just natural.
Murphy said he's hurting at the loss of his friend, as are his many other friends and family—including wife, Halle, sons, John and Christopher, and daughter, Jaime. Which means only one thing.
"We'll do what Morristownians do, we'll help each other out," he said.
"Very rarely can you say you're a better person for knowing somebody," Murphy said. "It's an end of an era in Morristown. It's life, it's an evolution. But, it's just really sad. He's part of the past now and it's never going to be the same."
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