Louis Collazzi, who for nearly 30 years oversaw newsstand sales for the Bronx Times Reporter and in his weekly travels became a beloved neighborhood icon known adoringly as “Papa Lou,” died on Tuesday, January 28. He was 93.
Lou, father of Bronx Times co-founder John Collazzi, joined the paper part-time in 1983 after a 38-year career with Con Edison. With an invariably cheerful disposition and booming voice, Lou took on tasks large and small, whether managing the paper’s archives, picking up pizza for weekly staff lunches, or advising his son during the paper’s sale in 2007.
He frequently declared he would never give up working, and indeed it was only after his wife, Dorothy, and their children made numerous pleadings and his eyesight began to fail that he relented. By then, he was 90 and had been commuting an hour each way from his home in Brookfield Center, Connecticut, for over a dozen years.
“There was nothing Dad loved more than making the rounds on Tremont Avenue and seeing so many familiar faces,” John Collazzi said. “He was a true people-person, and he had countless fans who were sad to see him finally retire. I know they’ll remember him very fondly.”
Born in 1921 in the Italian province of Podenza, Lou moved to the Bronx with his family five years later and spent the majority of his life here, first in Morris Park and later as an early settler on Harding Avenue in Throggs Neck. There, he and Dorothy raised their four children, John, Linda Servedio, Louis Collazzi, and Gina Servedio, and cared for over a dozen foster children over two decades.
Lou’s professional and personal lives were full of variety. He held numerous roles at ConEd, spending the latter part of his career as a high board operator at the Hell Gate power plant in Port Morris. On the side, he was a professional painter, working in his brother Joe’s art studio. Thousands of his still lifes and landscapes sold at major outdoor art shows and remain in circulation.
During World War II, Lou worked stateside as a riveter. In addition to building pontoon boats on City Island that were deployed in the Normandy invasion, he helped construct the wings of Howard Hughes’ famously overambitious war plane, the H-4 Hercules, also known as the Spruce Goose.
But at heart, Lou was an artist. He painted personal works into his 80s, offering them as gifts to friends and family. He was also a talented pianist — a hobby that took off at age 15 when he entered a contest to play all three parts of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and won a $50 prize. From then on, he would compete regularly at theater open houses, winning $50 or $100 a time.
As recently as a few years ago, during Christmas gatherings at his house, Papa Lou would settle behind his baby grand and serenade his family with sounds from his favorite composer, Chopin. Swaying peacefully with a broad smile on his face, even into his 90s, he didn’t miss a note.
Lou is survived by Dorothy, his wife of 70 years, their four children, eight grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
Services were held on Thursday, January 30, near his home in Brookfield Center.