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Former Monessen mayor dies in Florida

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Former Monessen mayor Robert Leone

Monessen residents and public officials are mourning the death of former mayor, fire chief and businessman Robert H. “Bob” Leone.

Leone, 71, died Friday in his St. Augustine, Fla., home, of acute myeloid leukemia, family members announced Tuesday.

Leone served two terms as mayor from 1990 through 1998 and is considered the catalyst behind the opening of the Monessen Riverfront Industrial Park.

He served as a longtime municipal fire chief and formerly owned the Eastgate Exxon and service station.

He is survived by his wife, Antoinette “Toni” (Yelletz) of St. Augustine; two daughters, Renee Krivacek of St. Augustine and Robin Leone of Peters Township; and five grandchildren.

A lifelong resident of Monessen, Leone moved to Florida in October 2013.

He was diagnosed with the rare blood cancer in June.

“Everyone needs to know he loved Monessen, and he loved it down here. … He fished on the ocean, he went to the beach,” Robin Leone said.

“God took him fast. He didn’t suffer and he passed away with his entire family literally at his side. I got here in the nick of time. I think he waited for me.”

Both daughters said they remember Leone always being involved in various boards, organizations and projects, yet always found time for his family.

“My daughter went on to be president of student government in college, and she was always chairman of this and president of that. And we kind of joked, ‘I wonder where she got that from?’” Krivacek said, laughing.

Robin Leone concurred.

“He was our hero because he always spent time with us as well as helping and serving the community,” she said. “He loved politics, working with Harrisburg and those folks, but in regards to getting things done for the Valley, he always found a way.”

Magisterial District Judge Joseph Dalfonso of Monessen was a longtime friend of Leone, dating back to the latter’s time as municipal fire chief.

Dalfonso said he still spoke with Leone a couple times a week and called his death “a great loss.”

Dalfonso recalled a time when he was driving up Sixth Street and saw a woman driving a car that had caught fire underneath with young children inside.

Dalfonso said he ran into Janosik’s Pharmacy and called for help. Leone was the first to arrive, he said.

“Bob told the woman to turn into Jules’ (auto repair) nearby and have them look at her car because he didn’t want her to drive far,” Dalfonso said.

“That’s something that really impressed me because he was in business for himself and he could’ve very easily told her to bring it to his Exxon. But he was more concerned about that woman and her kids. That’s how Bob was with most people.”

Leone survived an armed robbery while working the gas station just before Christmas in 1991.

The mayor was shot in the stomach as he collapsed. But Leone still managed to pull a phone to the floor and call police after the two robbers fled. He underwent surgery hours later in Pittsburgh.

“He almost died. There is no other way to put it,” Robin Leone said. “He fell to the ground and they shot at his head and they missed. It was a miracle. It was a long healing process, but he never made it seem difficult. He always seemed to survive. This man had nine lives.”

Municipal Fire Chief Chris Rhome said Leone was a father figure to him.

The chief remembers seeing Leone every morning drinking coffee at Libby’s Dairy Bar as Rhome waited for the school bus.

“That man drank more coffee than anyone I could remember. Coffee and cigarettes are what he survived on, and he always made time for everybody,” Rhome said, smiling. “He literally watched me grow up. I always respected his opinion. And he’d always tell me his thoughts, whether I liked them or not.”

Rhome said he tries to emulate Leone on a daily basis.

“There were things he instilled in me about what to do and what not to do as a fire chief, just by being honest and being able to take constructive criticism and mostly just to listen and treat people the way you want you be treated back,” Rhome said.

“He had a plaque in his office that read: ‘If a cluttered desk means a cluttered mind, then what does an empty desk mean?’ That’s something I can relate to because I know how I keep my desk.”

There will be no public visitation, and the family will conduct a private ceremony around Christmas, Krivacek said.

She said the family might conduct a memorial service in Monessen at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, P.O. Box 4072, Pittsfield, MA. 01202.

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