The City of Stafford has lost an icon and pioneer.
Stafford mayor Leonard Scarcella died Sunday afternoon at age 79, according to an announcement by the city. The cause of death was not disclosed.
A news release from the city said Scarcella died just before 3 p.m. Sunday following a brief illness. He held the title as the longest-serving mayor in the United States, according to the city, having been Stafford’s leader since 1969.
Sunday’s Facebook post from the city elicited dozens of responses from community who supported Scarcella and are mourning his death. He was a lifelong resident of the city, having attended middle and high school in Missouri City before attending Texas A&M and the University of Houston Law School. He practiced law for 53 years in Stafford and also was a member of Holy Family Catholic Church in Missouri City.
“He was an amazing man, so kind and caring. Our city will miss him so much,” Patricia Braud Bishop wrote on Facebook, saying she had known Scarcella since 1975. “My prayers go out to all of Stafford and his family. He was the best mayor any city could have.”
Legacy of leadership
For some, Scarcella’s mark on Stafford is the way he helped spearhead the city’s transformation from when it was not much more than agricultural fields, cotton patches and rice patches to the bustling business hub it is today. And his personal connection to Stafford was just as strong as his professional ties, with Scarcella having lived across the street from City Hall.
“We’ve done things and accomplished things in Stafford that others would not even dare to dream of,” he said in a 2019 interview for the Fort Bend Business Journal.
Under Scarcella’s leadership, Stafford abolished city property taxes in 1995. Another of the most notable achievements under his leadership came in 1977, when Stafford became the only Texas city with a municipal school district.
“He was a champion for the Stafford MSD students wanting them to have access to the best facilities and services Stafford has to offer,” MLuisa Jubilo wrote on Facebook.
The city has also seen many infrastructure additions over the past five decades, including the building and expansion of U.S. Highway 59, the extensive widening of F.M. 1092 and the construction of major highway improvements to U.S. 90A encompassing an elaborate landscaping enhancements program through the heart of town.
Scarcella facilitated a partnership between the city, the Texas Department of Transportation and Union Pacific Railroad for a $110 million enhancement of the U.S. 90A Corridor.
“Leonard was an inspirational leader of Stafford and Fort Bend County,” U.S. Rep. Pete Olson said in a statement. “He was a great ally to much of my work in Congress and his steady leadership of Stafford will be deeply missed. His legacy of public service will always be revered in our community and will continue to inspire the leaders of tomorrow.”
Scarcella also led the charge for the development of the Stafford Centre, an entertainment and cultural complex with a 1,100-seat performing arts theatre, 25,000 square feet of convention center space and four festival fields on 43 acres of land near the intersection of Murphy Road and Cash Road.
U.S. Rep. Al Green – whose 9th district includes Stafford – and Scarcella have worked together on many projects since Green took office in 2005. Most recently, the two had collaborated on multiple food and personal protective equipment (PPE) drives to help residents of Stafford impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From his warm spirit, to his unending availability to those he served, to his steadfast and diligent five decades of leadership, I will cherish each memory of Mayor Leonard Scarcella,” Green said Sunday. “I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, and the entire city of Stafford during this time of bereavement.”
For others, their lasting impression of Scarcella will be not be related his role as mayor, but of Scarcella the man. Several community members noted daily interactions with him around the city in which he irradiated kindness, compassion and a genuine love for the people of his city.
“I used to walk the track in Stafford every morning and he would always wish me a good morning and smile,” Tori Simon wrote.
Daniel Fowler expressed a similar sentiment, saying the two would stop to have a chat whenever Scarcella went on his daily jog that took him past Fowler’s home in the Kings Way subdivision.
“Stafford will not be the same without him,” Fowler said.
Added Claudine Vass: “We had our differences at the end, but would love to have said goodbye and given him one last hug. I have learned a lot from him.”
Stafford may always be Scarcella’s city, as Barbara Aguilar suggested in another Facebook comment, no matter who follows him as its leader.
“His life and legacy are cemented in the annals of not only Stafford history,” Green said, “but the history of our nation forever.”