Former Meriden Mayor Walter Evilia remembered as ‘gentleman’ who earned respect across party lines

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MERIDEN — Walter A. Evilia was an accountant who started a vending company, won a term in the General Assembly, and became the city’s last strong mayor in 1977.

Evilia, 77, died suddenly on Wednesday.

His political career ended when he left City Hall but he stayed involved with city politics. 

Former Cabin owner Tony Paguni worked for his family at the restaurant since he was 11 years old.  He left the restaurant in 1987 to work in real estate and his parents sold their interest in the business to an uncle Sebastian Paguni Sr. in 1988. Evilia became the restaurant’s book keeper and eventually bought 50 percent of the Cabin.  Evilia approached Tony Paguni in 1990 to ask if he was interested in buying back in. Paguni became a and Evilia held a 50 percent ownership share with Sebastian Paguni Jr. Tony Paguni bought out Evilia’s remaining share in 1993.

“Walter was a good businessman and friend,” Tony Paguni said. “We worked as a team at all times and held our customers in high esteem and our employees as if they were like an extension of our family. I enjoyed working with Walter's wife and daughters.  Walter and his family were customers and friends of the Paguni family for many years before getting involved with the Cabin.”

. He later opened Sans Souci, which remains one of the city’s most popular restaurants.

”He was a gentleman who showed courage, spoke the truth and was well thought of,” said state Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden. “He had great respect from both Democrats and Republicans. He will be well missed.”

Evilia was born June 1, 1940, in New York City and moved to Meriden with his family at 1 year old. He graduated from Meriden High School in 1958. He contracted polio as a young boy and overcame the physical disability. 

After high school, Evilia attended the Hartford Institute of Accounting and worked as an accountant for The Napier Co. from 1959-61 and for other companies. In 1965, he founded and managed Snack Time Automatic Food Service Inc.

He became involved in city politics in 1969 when he joined the Meriden Republican Town Committee.  He represented the 82nd District in the House of Representatives from 1973-75.

As a legislator, Evilia made repeated attempts to keep budget proposals down in an effort to ward off a state income tax. He was a proponent of the so-called “circuit breaker” tax reform, which gave relief to elderly home owners and renters, and supported various women’s rights bills, including the Equal Rights Amendment. 

Evilia didn’t hold back on criticism of his colleagues in the Senate after a series of setbacks on some General Assembly bills. 

“That’s typical of the Senate,” Evilia was once quoted in the Journal as saying. “They recommitted the drug advertising bill, they messed up the jail terms for drug pushers and they ruined the mobile home bill. I’m just disgusted with the Senate. They’re a bunch of liberals.”  

City Councilor Walter Shamock, who worked with Evilia on campaigns, called him a successful negotiator and businessman. 

“He was very involved with the politics in the city of Meriden,” Shamock said. “Whether it was constituents or customers, he always treated people with respect.”

Shamock recalled the number of political and civic events at both The Cabin, before it closed, and Sans Souci. 

“Everybody goes there,” Shamock said about Sans Souci. “It’s a place where most politicians and civic clubs congregate.”

Former City Councilor Tony Tomassetti said Evilia urged him to get started in politics and they both won office during the GOP sweep in 1977. The men shared a business background and a love for city politics. Tomassetti’s father served as police commissioner under Evilia.

“We had our disagreements, but we walked away and had a drink later,” Tomassetti said. “He was a good friend.”

Evilia served on the city’s tax board under mayors Donald Dorsey, Robert Schultz and Abraham Grossman, a Democrat who would go on to endorse Evilia against his own party’s candidate in the 1977 mayoral race. 

He was the city’s last strong mayor before the government structure changed to a ceremonial mayor and city manager-style of government.

Evilia also served with the Unison Club of Meriden as a director and former president, and other civic organizations.

Evilia is survived by has daughter, Marna A. Evilia, two brothers, Ronald Evilia and Steven Evilia, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild. He was preceded in death by his wife, Mary Ellen Evilia, and daughter, Marisa Evilia. 

A Mass of Christian Burial will be Jan. 23 at 10 a m. at Our Lady Queen of Angels, Mt. Carmel Campus, 209 Goodwill Ave. Burial will be in Sacred Heart Cemetery. Family and friends may call at the John J. Ferry & Sons Funeral Home on Monday from 4 to 7 p.m. Contributions in Evilia’s memory may be made to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School, 115 Lewis Ave.
Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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