By Dan Moffett
SOUTH PALM BEACH — Vice Mayor Joseph “Joe” Flagello approached his role on the South Palm Beach Town Council with a bountiful supply of self-deprecating humor.
He liked to joke about the council’s division of labor. Mayor Bonnie Fischer was in charge of the beautiful beaches, Councilman Robert Gottlieb socialized with the League of Cities, Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan pondered the budget numbers, and the vice mayor?
“Me? I’m assigned to keep the sewers running smoothly,” Vice Mayor Flagello would say, flashing a wide smile.
Residents ate up the humor, and appreciated the humility, but they also knew that he brought energy, intelligence and sound judgment to a small retirement community that greatly valued his enthusiastic leadership.
A cloud of melancholy hangs over thoughts of Mr. Flagello’s trademark humor in South Palm Beach today. The vice mayor died March 24, days after suffering a massive heart attack. He was 51.
“He had a huge personality,” Fischer said. “I’ll always remember him as having a kind heart and being such a fair person. Even if you disagreed with him, it never would affect your relationship.”
Town Manager Bob Vitas said “it will take a lot of mending” for the town to get over this loss.
“This is a tough one — a heartbreaker,” Vitas said. “He was a great leader and he would have been a great future leader. Joe was a rising star in the community, with an infectious personality. He loved the people around him.”
A practicing chiropractor for close to 30 years, “Dr. Joe” was one of only a few elected officials in the town’s history to maintain a full-time career, and he was one of the youngest to serve. Dr. Flagello often joked that he knew he had to behave during public events “because my mom’s sitting in the front row.”
Lucille Flagello shared a condo with her son, never missed a council meeting and frequently volunteered to lead civic outings.
“Joe liked to touch people when he talked to them, maybe because he was a chiropractor,” Fischer said. “But along with touching them physically, he touched them emotionally.”
Besides serving on the council for eight years, Vice Mayor Flagello was president of the PalmSea condo association. He was a vocal opponent against developers who wanted to change the town’s height limits and a strong advocate for the town’s Police Department.
“Every Thursday he’d come over to the department to see us,” Police Chief Carl Webb said. “Every Thursday, and that was his day off, he’d make time to come and talk to us. Joe was not only a great leader, he was a personal friend.”
Christine Mang, a town resident who worked with the vice mayor on preservation issues, says he worried about safeguarding the town’s character.
“He was very protective and concerned regarding the future development and overbuilding of our town,” Mang said. “Joe has been respected and held in high esteem by his fellow council members, as well as the citizens who voted him in.”
Vice Mayor Flagello was preceded in death by his father, Joseph Flagello Sr., who for years owned a pharmacy in Tuxedo, N.Y. He is survived by his mother, his son, Joseph Flagello III of Juno Beach; sister, Marissa Nono of Mahwah, N.J.; brother-in-law, Vincent Nono of Mahwah; nephew, James Nono of Rutherford, N.J.; niece, Alexandra Nono of Mahwah; and an uncle, Michael DeLuca.
Dorsey-E. Earl Smith Funeral Home handled local arrangements. The family requests donations be made to the American Heart Association.
“He brought a lot of life to the town,” Fischer said. “He was loved and respected by all. It will be very hard to ever replace him.”