By any measure, Romano L. Mazzoli was a remarkable man.
To understand his character, his commitment, his integrity, his heart and his personality, all one needs is this simple verity:
Ron Mazzoli served 12 consecutive terms in Congress — that’s two-dozen years representing Kentucky’s third congressional district. And when he returned home to Louisville, he wasn’t a millionaire.
Unlike a lot of people who spend more than a few years in the halls of Congress, he didn’t use his time there to enrich himself.
As a matter of fact, it was the notion of money that convinced Mazzoli to leave Washington in 1995. During his 24 years of service, he grew tired of having to raise money to pay for his re-election campaigns. He found it unsavory.
Talking with a friend shortly after he’d returned to Louisville in 1995 — and shortly after the federal building in town was renamed in his honor — Mazzoli allowed that the nexus of politics and money might be a necessary evil, but one he grew weary of facing every two years.
That continual need to raise campaign funds may have driven him away from Congress, but it didn’t diminish in the least his commitment to public service. Once freed from the need to campaign, Mazzoli found other ways to help his community and his church.
He taught at Bellarmine University and at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. He didn’t just attend Mass at his home parish of Our Mother of Sorrows Church, he was active in a myriad of programs and projects to assist that community and other parishes throughout the archdiocese.
For you see, Ron Mazzoli didn’t just profess his faith when he was looking for votes — he and his wife Helen lived as Christians; their faith was as essential to their lives as breathing.
In 2008 Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz asked the couple to serve as chairs of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Building a Future of Hope capital campaign. They weren’t just figureheads, either.
Ron Mazzoli “really helped in the formulation of our campaign,” Archbishop Kurtz told Record Editor Marnie McAllister last week.
“The campaign was grounded in the parish first, and in the key areas of vocations and promoting Catholic schools,” the archbishop said. “He was very instrumental in identifying the goals.”
Here’s another glimpse into the heart and soul of Mazzoli:
On the night of his first congressional victory — he defeated incumbent Republican Congressman William Cowger by a scant 211 votes — Romano and Helen Mazzoli sat in a local hotel suite celebrating their victory. And holding hands.
It was a scene that would be repeated 11 more times in Mazzoli’s political career, though he never experienced such a narrow margin of victory again. With very few exceptions, Mazzoli’s wins were landslides.
And it’s not a stretch at all to say that Ron and Helen Mazzoli were marriage avatars. They were nearly inseparable from the time they married in 1959 until Helen’s death in 2012. Mazzoli earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in 2002. A year later, he and Helen went back to college together, studying at Harvard.
He said he couldn’t have — wouldn’t have — returned to that Ivy League bastion without his wife and soulmate.
“We’ve always made every major decision in our lives together,” he said in a 2003 interview. Going back to school “wouldn’t have happened except for Helen and her ability to be adaptable.”
And then there’s the handwritten notes. Ron Mazzoli loved to spend time each evening writing notes of congratulation, compliment or condolence to friends, acquaintances or simply people he thought deserved a good word. They were always concise but thoughtful, and those lucky enough to receive them made a habit of collecting and re-reading them from time to time.
Mazzoli died Nov. 1, the day before his 90th birthday. He’s been such a vital part of so many lives, such an integral piece of our community, it’s hard to think of this warm and wonderful man in the past tense.
Record Editor Emeritus