The first father of politics in Westchester, Leonard Spano, died over the weekend at the age of 88.
Spano, who served as a Westchester County legislator for 22 years and as the county clerk for more than a decade before his retirement in 2005 died on Sunday, his family announced. The cause of death was reportedly heart failure brought on by complications from lymphoma.
Born on Aug. 5, 1930, to Nicholas and Mary Spano, he was one of four children who grew up in southwest Yonkers. He attended St. Peter's School and worked alongside his father, who emigrated from Italy, learning the family's ice and coal business.
When refrigeration prevailed, the business became the Spano Fuel Company where he worked as a licensed oil-burner installer and then as vice president of the company. Spano enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corp. at the age of 19 and served for three years during the Korean Conflict before being honorably discharged.
Spano met his wife, Josephine Scott, at the age of 18 and the two married in 1952. Their first child, Nicholas, was born in 1953 and by 1975, Leonard and Josephine were parents to 16 children.
Spano became interested in public service in 1967 when he unsuccessfully ran for the Westchester County Board of Supervisors. Undeterred, he ran again in 1971 and won a seat on the Westchester County Board of Legislators where he continued to serve the 14th District in Yonkers until 1993 when he was elected Westchester County Clerk. He held that position until 2005 when he retired.
In a 1996 New York Times article, Spano attributed his success to his strong family roots, saying, "I attribute my winning elections to the good name that was made by my father and his brothers. They didn't have any education. But they knew the value of friendship, respect and hard work."
During his 34 years in elected office, Spano helped shape policy in Westchester County. As Budget Chairman of the County Board of Legislators, he was instrumental in transforming the Westchester Medical Center into the tertiary care facility that serves the Hudson Valley today. He also spearheaded Westchester's Handgun Record-Keeping Accountability Act as County Clerk, which improved the process of tracking legally obtained handguns in Westchester.
After his retirement, Spano remained active in many local organizations, including the Sons of Italy and the Westchester School for Special Children, where he was a Board Member. He also served on St. Joseph's Board of Trustees, he was Past President of the Shamokin Rod and Gun Club and a lifelong member of the NRA. Spano was a longtime parishioner of Mt. Carmel Church on Park Hill Avenue in Yonkers.
Spano is survived by his wife of 66 years, Josephine, and his children Nicholas (Linda), John (Evelyn), MariaElena, Eleanore, Leonard (Deidra), Joanne (Vincent Finnegan), Rosemarie (Christopher Gannon), Camille, Michael (Mary), Victoria (Thomas Smith), Anthony (Eva), Dolores (Richard Wilson), Loretta, Gerard, Joseph (Rosalie), and Vincent (Jaime), as well as 42 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister Rosemary DeStaso, and his brothers John Spano, and Michael Spano and dozens of nieces and nephews.
Calling hours will be held from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 11 and Tuesday, Feb. 12 at Sinatra Memorial Home at 499 Yonkers Ave. There will be a mass at 11 a.m. at St. Mary’s Church in Yonkers, followed by entombment at Mount Hope Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson. Contributions in his memory may be made to Westchester School for Special Children, 45 Park Ave., Yonkers, 10703.
“While I am saddened by this news, I am comforted to hear that Mr. Spano passed away peacefully this morning surrounded by his family,” Yonkers City Council President Mike Khader stated. “Mr. Spano lived an incredibly fulfilling life, and has left behind a legacy to be proud of. In the end, that’s all any of us could ever hope for.
My thoughts and prayers are with the entire Spano family during this difficult time.”
“Leonard Spano was a great man who always showed a tremendous kindness to all. While a respected leader in the County of Westchester a City of Yonkers he was most proud of his family,” Yonkers Minority Leader Mike Breen added. "A loving husband to Josephine and the proud patriarch to his family of 16 children, 42 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren, Mr. Spano's legacy will live on in them all. My family will pray that the Spano family can find peace in knowing their beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather lived a fulfilled life that few are able to achieve. I will miss my friend.”
Majority Leader Michael Sabatino added, “Thank you, Mr. Spano, for your many years of public service and for setting the example for your family and others to do the same. Your legacy will be ever present here in Yonkers and Westchester County. We will miss your presence and your friendship.”
“The Honorable Leonard Spano was a man I admired and respected growing up,” Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas said in a statement. "He was a true public servant, leaving behind a legacy of service through his family. His approach to modernizing the Westchester County Clerk’s Office serves as an example to all government leaders moving municipalities into the 21st century. He gave rise to real, authentic leadership and set high standards that span generations. He will be truly missed and never forgotten.”
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