Robert Louis Marsili, Stonemason, Activist

April 20, 2009

A meticulous lifelong stonemason and community activist, Robert Louis Marsili was as intolerant of shoddy workmanship as he was of prevaricating politicians.

"We should get high-quality work if it's paid for by the taxpayers," Marsili would say, according to son Robert L. Marsili Jr., reciting a quotation that he said illustrated his father's passion for honest government.

The elder Marsili, known as Roberto, was a former president of the Little Italy Community Organization and ran unsuccessfully for Baltimore mayor in 1999 and for the City Council in 2004. He died of cancer Friday in his Little Italy home, his son said. He was 77.

A Republican running on a "Deliver Us From Evil" platform that promised to expose what he said was corruption and waste in city government, Mr. Marsili received 21 percent of the vote in the November 2004 District 1 council election, behind James B. Kraft's 65 percent. The Southeast Baltimore district includes Fells Point, Canton and the Inner Harbor's east side.

Undeterred by his defeat, Mr. Marsili made his political points in an intermittent newsletter, The Guardian, that he distributed in Little Italy and surrounding neighborhoods. "Roberto would publish it when he had a particular issue that he wanted to expound on," said Mark Adams, a past president of the Fells Point Community Association who in the 1990s published three periodicals, The Harbor Crescent, The Independent and The Baltimore Press, to which Mr. Marsili also contributed.

"He required a lot of editing," Mr. Adams said on Sunday. "His writing was only slightly better than my stone masonry."

He was, however, "very witty," said Mr. Adams, who recalled Mr. Marsili's battle against a subsidized-housing project that threatened part of Little Italy. "Bob refused to concede the southern flank of the neighborhood," Mr. Adams said. The two men met over lunch to discuss the project, and Mr. Marsili "reached into a brown grocery bag and started pulling out signed documents" that refuted the developer's assertions about its viability, Mr. Adams said.

"It was a fascinating moment," he said. "The ultra-slick developer's best claims rebutted by a stonemason who kept his paperwork in a grocery bag. If Marsili had gone to college for more than drafting and reading blueprints, he would have been a tremendous trial lawyer."

Mr. Marsili was the son of immigrants from Civitanova, on Italy's Adriatic coast. After graduating from St. Leo's School, he went on to study blueprint reading and drafting at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He served with the Army Signal Corps during the Korean War.

When he returned, he retrieved stone from a demolition site and used it to build a house that still stands on Roberts Avenue in Graceland Park. Other examples of his work can be seen at St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Morgan State University, Loyola College, the Fair Hills steeplechase clubhouse and in houses throughout Maryland.

In 1956, while working on a stone project at a church in Clarksburg, W.Va., Mr. Marsili met his future wife, Rose Marie Beto. They divorced in 1972.

A funeral Mass will be held Wednesday at 10 a.m. at St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church, 227 S. Exeter St.

In addition to his son, survivors include two grandchildren, a niece and a nephew. Another son, John Marsili, died in a car accident in 1980.

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