ST. ALBANS CITY — There are two plaques in St. Albans City dedicated to Bill Cioffi and a third is planned.
The first is at William G. Cioffi Field on Aldis Street, which was renamed for Cioffi in 2009 in honor of his longtime support for youth baseball and softball.
The second is at the city’s water treatment plant on Maquam Shore Road, one of the many infrastructure projects Cioffi shepherded to completion during his 19 years as St. Albans City Manager.
The third will be at Northwestern Medical Center (NMC), where a patient room will be named for Cioffi. The room is sponsored by the Franklin County Industrial Development Corp. (FCIDC), which donated $10,000 to the hospital in Cioffi’s name as a way of remembering his work with the economic development organization.
Together, they are emblematic of Cioffi’s commitment to St. Albans, a community he loved.
Cioffi, 87, passed away on Thursday at Franklin County Rehab while surrounded by family, according to his nephew Frank Cioffi.
“I’m hard pressed to find anyone who cared more about the City of St. Albans than Bill Cioffi,” said Kevin Smith, one of 25 city council members Cioffi worked with during his time as manager.
“At the end of the day, he was all about St. Albans,” said Allen Robtoy, the city’s director of public works, who worked with Cioffi throughout his time at the city.
“I don’t know there’s any one person I have more respect… for than Bill Cioffi,” said Robtoy.
Robtoy said he visited Cioffi about a dozen times over the past three weeks. When Cioffi asked about the restoration of city hall, Robtoy told him all that remained was the punch list.
Cioffi replied, “On budget?”
The question was characteristic of a man known throughout his time in city government for keeping a sharp eye on the bottom line.
When Cioffi stepped down from the Northwest Solid Waste District (NWSWD) board last year after 27 years, his successor Bill Rowe said, “He showed me how to look at budgets and financial statements, and how to avoid some of the pitfalls of over-enthusiasm and fuzzy thinking.”
Away and back again
Born in St. Albans to George and Rose Cioffi, Bill was one of six children.
George, was 13 years old when he came to the U.S. in 1906 from Candida, in the Avellino region of Italy. He eventually made his way to Vermont, where his brother Jim worked on the railroad. He became a barber and had a shop at 22 Lake St. Cioffi once described him in a Messenger interview as “the pushover.”
Rose, Cioffi’s mother, was born in New Hampshire and raised in Rutland. Cioffi called her the “disciplinarian.” She died in 1999 at the age 98.
Cioffi learned about public service at home. His father served on the city council from 1940 to 1954 and his brother, Bob, represented Ward 4 from 1966 to 1972.
After graduation, Cioffi enrolled at St. Michael’s College, but when war broke out in Korea, he joined the U.S. Army.
He stayed in the Army through not only Korea, but also much of Vietnam, retiring in 1972 with the rank of Lt. Colonel.
It was during his time in the Army that he met his wife, Terese. In January 1953, Cioffi was a second lieutenant stationed at a base in Pennsylvania. Terese, who hails from Albany, was a secretary at the officers club.
“Our first date was to church,” Cioffi said. “We went to a benediction on a Sunday night. I met her, and asked her out, and we ended up going to church Sunday night and I think the movies afterwards.”
While the couple agreed on their first date, how they met was another question. “She tripped me in the parking lot. She denies it,” Cioffi said.
They were married more than 60 years, raising five children together.
It was after Cioffi’s retirement from the Army that the couple moved to St. Albans. Cioffi began working in real estate, but was soon drawn in to city government, chairing the city’s planning commission and taking charge of the drafting of the city’s first municipal plan and zoning regulations.
In 1984, he became city manager. His appointment and salary of $28,200 was announced by Mayor Floyd Handy.
During his time as city manager, Cioffi oversaw numerous infrastructure improvements, including the upgrade of the wastewater treatment facility and both water plants. He once claimed to have paved every street in the city twice.
Robtoy described a boss who was firm, but fair. “He has expectations of the people who worked for him,” said Robtoy, but he was also compassionate.
The kindness lurking behind the stern exterior was a common theme among those who spoke with the Messenger Friday.
Tim Smith, executive director of FCIDC, spent nine years as the city’s recreation director. Cioffi was committed to making certain kids had access to recreation regardless of their income, according to Smith, opening city hall for pickup basketball games and trying to make sure everyone could afford to swim in the city pool.
Cioffi was also given to quiet acts of charity. “He helped a lot of people out without any fanfare,” said Marty Manahan, former city mayor.
Cioffi set a standard among city staff for serving the public, according to Robtoy.
His support for economic development has left a lasting legacy. “He was the guy that pushed it all and made it all happen when Ben and Jerry’s came here,” said Robtoy.
It was his work in keeping the Vermont Service Center, then run by Immigration and Naturalization Services, in St. Albans that may have had the biggest impact, according to Tim Smith.
Cioffi learned the government was planning to relocate all of the work processing visa applications from St. Albans to Essex, costing St. Albans 65 jobs. He alerted Sen. Patrick Leahy. The end result was that St. Albans kept the service center, which now employs 850 people.
“He loved St. Albans,” said Manahan. “He did whatever he had to do to protect it.”
That included befriending politicians of both parties. “The respect they had for him and showed him spoke volumes,” said Manahan.
When he retired as city manager in 2003, the staff drove him home in the city’s street sweeper. The sweeper, according to Manahan, had been a point of some contention with public works wanting to replace it and Cioffi urging them to keep repairing the old one.
When Rear Admiral Warren Hamm returned to St. Albans after retiring from the U.S. Navy, he met Cioffi, then the city manager.
Just four months apart in age – a difference the older Hamm said he was never allowed to forget – the two hadn’t known one another growing up.
The two were kindred spirits.
“We talked the same language and had the same values on life, morals and how things should be done,” said Hamm.
“While in the army, he’d traveled all over the world,” said Hamm. “He and I could certainly evaluate unique places and places that it was important to give of your time.”
Hamm, too, became involved in the community and was the driving force behind the founding of the St. Albans Museum and later the 2014 commemoration of the St. Albans Raid.
“Without his tremendous support and understanding, half of the things I did at the museum would not have been possible,” said Hamm. “He was definitely a historian.”
“I think he was a very unique individual, and I consider him one of my true friends,” said Hamm.
“If you believe… what he and I believed in, we’ll be working together again in the future and accomplishing great things,” said Hamm.
In his own words
On the occasion of his retirement from the city, Cioffi sat down with the Messenger during which he shared the following observations.
“I’m a consensus-taker, believe it or not,” he said. “Most people don’t think that. I can work well as part of the committee or run a committee. I normally get involved in things and, to be quite truthful, I end up chairing everything I get involved in.” After his return to St. Albans, Cioffi chaired numerous boards both municipal and charitable.
Asked what he was going to do after retiring, Cioffi answered, “Bother Terese,” causing his wife to roll her eyes.
What was he proudest of during his time as city manager, the Messenger asked. The city’s staff, he answered. “We’ve got as good a workforce as anyone,” he said.
Although several buildings in the city were renovated during his tenure with the city, the park remained his favorite place. “I love St. Albans, I love downtown and I love Taylor Park,” he said.
“They’ve been long, happy years,” Cioffi said. “I’m content and I’m proud.”