Francis Joseph Beefie Coccia Sr., 84, `the mayor of Highlandtown'

August 02, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Francis Joseph Beefie Coccia Sr., a Democratic precinct captain known in East Baltimore for his community and political work, died Friday of complications from prostate cancer at Franklin Square Hospital Center. The Highlandtown native was 84.

Never a political officeholder, he was dubbed "the mayor of Highlandtown" for his mix of civic pride, drive to help his neighbors and political connections. Involved in church and youth sports activities, he was widely known.

"He was a producer. If he backed you up, he produced the votes for you, no question about it. He'd contact constituents," said Cornell N. Dypski, a former state senator and delegate for the district that included Highlandtown.

From the post-World War II years on, he was instrumental in the neighborhood political work that helped elect Democratic governors, senators, mayors and delegates. He offered advice and a read on the local political atmosphere, and turned to elected officials on behalf of neighbors who needed assistance.

"It was a two-way street. If someone needed help, they could go to him," Mr. Dypski said. "People would say, `See Mayor Coccia.'"

"People could call on him and say, `We helped your people; how about doing something for us?' and he would do it."

For years, he was the man behind the Christmas gifts the East Baltimore legislators hand-delivered to as many as 2,000 senior citizens. He stuffed stockings with fruit, nuts and candy in his rowhouse basement. In the warmer weather, he barbecued chicken for former state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski's Proven Family Team Picnic, another old-fashioned political thank-you event.

Born in Highlandtown, he attended the school at Our Lady of Pompei Roman Catholic Church. He traveled the Mid-Atlantic states playing soccer professionally for the Pompei Soccer Club.

In his early 20s, he began a career as an ironworker at the Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant. He retired in 1982.

He married Laura Kuchling in 1941. She died in 1989.

For about 50 years, he raised money for community youth sports. He coached baseball in the 1950s for Brehms Boys Club and the Sinclair Athletic Club. He led the Sinclair club's age 12-14 boys team when it won the Baltimore City championship in the late 1950s.

About four years ago, he organized bus trips to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for East Baltimore children.

In July 2002, a field at Eaton and Gough streets in Highlandtown used by the Central Maryland Soccer Association was dedicated to him by the city. He lived across the street from the field, and promoted, encouraged and supported the programs that used that lot, said his son, Francis J. Coccia Jr. of Pasadena.

"He was still out there with the kids a few weeks ago," his son said.

He was a member of Our Lady of Pompei Roman Catholic Church. For many years, he served as an organizer of the annual church carnival. In June, "he got the vendors in, he got the city involved" and more, his son said. The event has been held on the field named for him for about five years.

A funeral service will be held at 9 a.m. today at Joseph N. Zannino Jr. Funeral Home, 263 S. Conkling St. It will be followed by a Mass of Christian burial at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Pompei Church, 3600 Claremont St.

In addition to his son, survivors include his companion, Dawn Kuchta of Baltimore; another son, Emery Coccia of Perry Hall; a daughter, Helen Myrick of Maryland Line; a brother, Joseph Coccia of Baltimore; three sisters, Eva Speca of Baltimore, Mary Petrelli of Dundalk and Dominica Beran of Bel Air; and four grandsons, five granddaughters and 13 great-grandchildren.

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