John A. Pica Sr., 78, city councilman and decorated war veteran


John A. Pica Sr., a former City Council member, contractor and decorated World War II veteran, died yesterday of heart failure at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 78 and had been a longtime resident of Govans before a recent move to Little Italy.

Named to fill a City Council vacancy in 1956, he served until 1959 and then was elected in 1963 to a four-year term representing Northeast Baltimore. He advocated unrestricted downtown parking on Saturdays and supported creation of a Metropolitan Transit Authority to ensure low bus fares.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Exeter Street in Little Italy, he was a 1943 graduate of Loyola High School and attended the Maryland Institute. He earned a law degree from the Mount Vernon School of Law.

In 1944, while an Army infantryman, he volunteered for a patrol mission near Mount Pantano in Italy. He was hit by a German shell and later awarded two Purple Hearts, the Silver Star for gallantry and a Bronze Star for valor.

"I knew it might be suicide for me," he told an Evening Sun reporter in 1944. "But I also knew that if my outfit moved up without knowing about the German positions it might be death for a lot of my buddies."

"He was a fabulous man filled with grit and courage and great stories -- most of which were true," Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said yesterday.

"He was a true war hero who never talked about his military exploits," said former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III. "He epitomized the Little Italy I knew in the 1940s and '50s. He was a great jitterbugger. He loved people, had a ton of friends and was industrious in everything he did. He loved life. He was an energetic and compassionate guy."

"He was a generous person -- he gave more than he got," said John C. Guerriero, a friend who formerly owned Continental Foods.

Mr. Pica gathered food provisions for homeless advocate and City Council member Bea Gaddy, who died last year. In a videotaped tribute to Mr. Pica, she recalled his arranging for Continental trucks to deliver food to her pantry on Collington Avenue in times of need.

Friends said Mr. Pica, a Democrat, practiced old-fashioned ethnic neighborhood politics -- though he was not always successful at the polls. He failed in congressional quests in 1964, 1966 and 1976. A conservative in matters of race, busing and abortion, he ran fifth in his last run, garnering 7,104 votes -- well behind the winner, Barbara A. Mikulski.

He lost his City Council seat in 1967 to a political newcomer, Robert C. Embry Jr., who went on to hold numerous government and civic posts and now heads the Abell Foundation.

Mr. Pica did, however, emerge with victory in a 1972 trial on charges of using city workers to clear a construction site for a contracting business he owned. A panel of two judges acquitted him.

Mr. Pica's wife of nearly 40 years, the former Antoinette Pellegrini, died in 1988.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Leo Roman Catholic Church, 227 S. Exeter St., where he was a member.

He is survived by a son, former state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., and a daughter, Maria Pica, both of Baltimore; a sister, Grace Licata of Ocean View, Del.; and five grandchildren.

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