In a statement released Wednesday, June 9, the Town of Pelham announced that it was was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former Councillor Gary Accursi,” who died on Monday, June 7.
A retired dentist, Accursi, 72, spent the last 47 years in Pelham, including as a member of Pelham Town Council from 2010-2018. Before joining council, Accursi volunteered on various Town committees and community organizations, including chairing his church board, chairing Big Brothers of Welland County, serving as a board member with Pelham Minor Baseball, coaching hockey and lacrosse, and being one of the Pelham Business Association’s founding members.
He leaves behind his wife, Mall, three sons, two daughters, and nine grandchildren.
“I had the pleasure of sitting beside Gary for three years when we were both councillors,” said Mayor Marvin Junkin. “We shared our day-to-day living experiences, and his favourite stories involved his grandchildren coming out to help their grandpa on his farm. Gary will be remembered for many things, for all of his contributions to the Town and for being a proud family man. His impact as a Pelham resident who cared deeply about his community and its future will be felt for a very long time. I was deeply saddened to hear of Gary’s passing, and I extend my heartfelt condolences to the Accursi family.”
At nearly 1900 sq. ft., the largest community room at the Meridian Community Centre is named after the Accursi family, who donated $300,000 to the Town during its fundraising effort for the new facility.
Speaking to the Voice in 2018, when he ran for mayor, Accursi recalled supporting the previous Pelham Arena fundraising as well, in 1974-75.
“At that time I was just starting my career and my wife was a stay-at-home mom. We didn’t have much. I think we gave like a hundred bucks. When they came knocking on our door and we said, ‘Man, we just had our first child,’ so we did what we could.”
Decades later, having retired from his dental practice and running a construction company, Accursi decided he could make a bigger impact.
“We felt like we’re in a financial position where we could contribute to the project, and so we gave our money. We put our money where our mouth is. We felt we were paying back and paying forward. If we could do something to provide for our community of the future and our kids of the future, we wanted to do that. I have nine grandchildren that are coming up. They’ll use it intermittently because they live all around the area.”
While on council, Accursi was known for his attention to detail—especially on matters of spending.
“I am not a member of a political party,” he told the Voice. “In terms of where would I fall, I would say I’m fiscally conservative, but I’m socially responsible. I think it’s important for us to be cognizant of the least fortunate in our community and do what we can to help them. But I think it’s also important that we as financial managers or asset managers for our community need to do the best we can do to operate as efficiently as we can with that money and use that money as carefully as we can.”
Accursi reflected on his arrival in Pelham.
“When I first moved into this community, it had just amalgamated [in 1970], they had just joined all the five little communities. There was a great deal of angst around that. When I moved here, Pelham was very much an agricultural-based community. Fruit farms abounded, we had, I think, three canning factories in our community at that point in time. As you well know, all of that has fallen off. Not through nothing that council had any control of, it was the vagaries of the economies, the marketplace. ‘What is a small town feel?’ Neighbors knowing neighbors, and engaging with their neighbors, and feeling safe, and all of those sort of things are important and we need to be aware of them, we need to work very hard to preserve.”
After time away from public comment, Accursi made a series of editorial contributions to the Voice over the last several months in which he offered his perspective on various aspects of current events.
“2020 will undoubtedly go down as an historically difficult year for all,” he wrote last December, “but like the dawn of a new day we can see a brightness emerging with the approval of the Pfizer vaccine, with several others in the offing. Keep the faith, stay strong, continue to follow Covid-19 guidelines, and we will all emerge from these dark days.”
Flags at Town facilities were lowered to half mast last week in Accursi’s honour.
The Voice invited Gary Accursi’s former Town Council colleagues, and the Pelham senior staffer who likely knew him the best, to share their thoughts on his passing.
Director of Recreation, Culture and Wellness Vickie vanRavenswaay
Prior to Gary becoming a councillor he sat on the Downtown Beautification Committee. This committee was established during the reconstruction of downtown Fonthill. The construction was delayed and took a very long time to complete. This committee was determined to have a reopening celebration to assist the businesses. Gary was involved with Summerfest from the beginning. He was passionate about the community and being involved. He devoted many, many hours to Summerfest. Gary’s main task was to book all of the entertainment for the festival. This included overseeing the main stage. He was in his zone! Gary had endless amount of energy—many of us would say, if we only had Gary’s energy! He was an amazing generous man to give as much time and energy to the community. What an example, and he will definitely be missed by all.
Former Mayor David Augustyn
Gary cared deeply about the Town and actively worked for many years to improve it. Through his involvement with the Pelham Business Association, he led the efforts for the Town to develop design guidelines for downtown improvements and for the revitalization of Downtown Fonthill. Once on council, he led the Pelham Summerfest Committee and worked tirelessly to improve the annual event — so much so that it became one of the top 100 festivals in Ontario. He also worked to revitalize downtown Fenwick. Gary actively served on the oversight committee to ensure the community centre opened on time and under budget and with the business community for major gift fundraising.
Gary was very generous and caring. He was always professional and was “all in” with his commitments. Serving as a councillor, he was always well-researched and thoughtful and worked hard to represent the views and interests of people and businesses across the town. While Gary often brought his extensive business experience to our council discussions, he also actively promoted culture and ways to increase community spirit.
Gary was a dear friend whom I greatly miss. Carol and I offer deep condolences to Mall and family.
Former Councillor John Durley
It was truly an honour to serve the citizens of Pelham with Gary Accursi as a fellow member of council. He served with honesty, thoroughly researching every matter that came before council for debate, and did so with the utmost dedicated and ethical approach. His service to Pelham, not only as a councillor, but also as a devoted volunteer made this town a much better place. To Mall and the Accursi family, my sincere condolences. Gary will be missed but his memory will live on forever. Proud to have known and served with him, more proud to call him a true friend.
Former Councillor Catherine King
Dr. Gary Accursi fought his final battle with the same tactic he used throughout his life and that method made the great man we knew.
Gary approached everything he did with a zealous attitude and a determination to look at challenges as an educational opportunity. He was a professional with vision and drive, suiting the acronym “MGR,” for he Managed, Guided, and Reinforced by coaching and mentoring people from cradle to grave with passion and enthusiasm.
We, the residents of Pelham, who have known, worked or volunteered alongside Gary know what a truly great loss his untimely passing is to the community. Gary contributed in so many ways to Pelham and various other communities within the region and beyond. He was an astute businessman and left us with a legacy that will forever remind us of his generosity and love of life.
Former Councillor Peter Papp
It is with deep sorrow that I bid adieu to a dear friend, political colleague, astute businessman, world traveler, community leader, philanthropist, dentist, and most importantly a devoted family man who embraced and overwhelmingly loved his wife Mall and his incredible family. I had known and worked with Gary for decades before he entered the political arena regarding the development of affordable housing; contributing to local and regional charities; supporting local youth sporting activities, especially lacrosse; promoting and championing local Pelham businesses; leading and supporting the initiatives of our local festivities, especially Summerfest, which became and still is one of the top 100 local festivals in Ontario. As a fellow councillor with whom I had the distinct and extreme pleasure working next to me for ten years, he carried out and fulfilled his responsibilities with vigor, focus, without prejudice, intensity, humility, conviction and commitment to the overall good of our Pelham community. His family’s personal gift of $300,000 to the Meridian Community Centre was and still is the largest individual personal donation. His quest as a mayoralty candidate in 2018 was truly admirable and inspirational. Even though unsuccessful, he continued to work behind the scenes on strengthening, supporting, and enhancing the growth and spirit of our town. He faced his health challenge with strength and hope. As past council members, we bonded together and when Gary was faced with medical issues, we rallied and supported him and his family. Even at times when there was disagreement amongst us during our time on council, we mutually respected each other. As I look back and into the future, the impact of Dr. Gary Accursi will be everlasting and will be an extraordinary model for our young and old in the town of Pelham. On a more personal reflection, I shall never forget Gary and Mall’s kindness and compassion for me during some difficult times over the past few years. When the opportunity arises, I shall nominate “my brother” Dr. Gary Accursi as the Pelham Citizen of the year for 2020, if not for the past decade. As a good rabbi friend told me a few years ago: “Sorrow no more, because the departed is no longer in pain but in the eternal comfort, perpetual light and care of God.” Even though it will be difficult that he is no longer around, we shall never forget him!
Former Councillor Richard Rybiak
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my friend and council colleague, Gary Accursi.
I had the privilege of working with Gary on Pelham Town council. He brought a huge reservoir of experience, knowledge, and logic to council table, particularly in the municipally central field of community development, along with very strong personal and professional ethics, values and principles. He was brilliant: he could —and would—read, understand, analyze every report brought to council, and ask smart and important questions that inevitably led to better outcomes for the Town. He believed that anything worth doing needed to be done well and deserved his full attention and effort if he were to be involved —ask anyone who worked with him on the Library Board or on Summerfest Committee, or on Meridian Community Centre Oversight. He was fiscally very careful and hated waste, but he was also very aware of the need to invest in value and not be dissuaded by cost. I know that my fellow councillors and I agree that Gary’s clear thinking and strong commitment contributed immensely to the many successes of our term.
Beyond and outside of council I came to know Gary as a loving and devoted husband and father, a successful professional, a person of science, and of arts, culture, and travel. He was a warm and caring human being who connected with everyone and made friends everywhere. And though he could be sharp, did not suffer fools, and cared about keeping the record straight and accurate, he was never mean, petty, or spiteful. He valued a discussion of views that differed from his own, and even though we diverged somewhat in our political views and in our understanding of what made people tick, issues of intense discussion between us, we could always finish the drink, part as friends, and look forward to the next time we would do the same.
I deeply regret that there will not be a next time. Along with so many others, I will miss him a lot. But I will always be grateful that I had come to know him for the time that I did. My deepest condolences to Mall and all the Accursis. ◆