The highly respected Pinellas County commissioner lost his long battle with cancer.
In a time of ever-widening partisan divisions, John Morroni was someone who could bring people together.
“Instead of digging in his heels, he would pick up the phone and get people around the table,” says Nick Janovsky, a real estate agent and Democratic political consultant.
Morroni, a longtime Republican Pinellas County Commissioner, died May 20 following an on-again, off-again battle against cancer. He was 63 years old.
Morroni is survived by his wife, Eileen, and his son, Michael.
“If you look at the outpouring of support for him, John is unique because it comes from both sides of the aisle,” Janovsky adds. “He was really savvy in the way that he would get to the heart of issues, but his real legacy is giving back to others.”
Morroni worked in real estate before entering politics, an arena where his consensus-building skills became the stuff of legend. He served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1992 to 2000 before being elected to the Pinellas County Commission, representing District 6. He chaired the commission in 2005, 2012 and 2015.
In 2014, when he was up for re-election, Morroni crushed his primary opponent and then ran unopposed in the general election — evidence of the high regard for his political prowess and ability to deliver the goods for constituents.
But people who knew him best say Morroni will be remembered more for his nonpolitical deeds — specifically, the benefit dinner for local first responders he founded in 1995. Dubbed the Law Enforcement Appreciation Dinner, the annual event routinely raises tens of thousands of dollars for families of slain law enforcement officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel, as well as other charitable causes.
In an acknowledgment of Morroni’s inspirational, 10-year fight against cancer, this year’s dinner raised $80,000 for the Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation.
Brian Lowack, Pinellas County’s intergovernmental liaison, who worked alongside Morroni as an aide from 2012 to 2017, says Morroni made everyone, regardless of party affiliation, feel special.
“He was a people person,” Lowack says. “It didn’t matter if you just met him, if you considered yourself a dear friend or family member … when you talked to him, you knew he was listening.”
Morroni, Lowack recalls, was nothing if not a straight shooter. “I can’t tell you how many times he would say, ‘You might not like what I am going to say, but I’m going to say it anyway, and we are going to be friends afterward,’" Lowack says. "People appreciated that frankness and not getting the runaround. Also, you always knew he would follow through — whatever he told you, you could take that to the bank.”
Lowack continues, “He will be remembered by so many because he always made an effort to mentor and give advice to the next generation of folks who aspired to be leaders one day. He left a lot of lessons for us all.”
Among those lessons, Lowack says, are some nuggets more valuable than gold:
“Nothing is promised to any of us. Every chance you get, you’ve got to go for it. Never second guess yourself, and don’t leave anything on the table. Listen to everyone; don’t dismiss people, because you never know who’s going to have advice or help for you down the road.”