The flag at Hamilton City Hall is flying at half-mast in memory of former Ward 2 councillor and award-winning author Vince Agro, who died on Friday.
Agro was 83.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger remembered Agro as a “community champion” who was instrumental in the construction of Hamilton Place, the downtown performance venue that has attracted top-tier performers to the city and is the permanent home of the city’s philharmonic orchestra.
Eisenberger noted Agro himself was “a gifted pianist and lover of opera” who would often entertain council colleagues with music during breaks in council meetings.
“I had the pleasure of not only serving with Vince on city and regional council, but he also was my English teacher during his brief stint in education. Vince was a good friend and adviser to me, and I will miss him dearly,” Eisenberger said.
“Hamilton has lost a passionate advocate for our community and our people. My sincere condolences to Vince’s family, friends and loved ones on his passing.”
Described by his family as “a modern-day Renaissance man,” Agro was a presence on the political scene for parts of three decades, representing Ward 2 from 1970 to 1976 and again from 1978 to 1997.
After former mayor Vic Copps suffered a heart attack in 1976, Agro took over as acting mayor, later falling short to Jack MacDonald in his bid for the job.
Outside of politics, Agro taught high school English and founded Agro Insurance Inc., one of the province’s leading insurance and employee benefits consulting companies.
Agro was born and raised in Hamilton’s North End, the area he would later represent on council. Ward 2 was a centre of Italian immigration to the city that became the setting of Agro’s first novel, The Good Doctor, a finalist for the 2012 Giller Prize Readers’ Choice contest and winner of the 2012 F.G. Bressani Literary Prize for Fiction, which honours Canadian writers of Italian descent.
The acclaimed novel told the story of a doctor who battled fascist stirrings in Second World War-era Hamilton, set against the backdrop of prejudice faced by the city’s Italian population.
As a councillor, Agro led the effort to make Hamilton a twin city of Racalmuto, Sicily, where his parents, Grace and Sam Agro, were born and from where many Hamiltonians emigrated.
His 2014 memoir, In Grace’s Kitchen, blended stories of his upbringing in Hamilton with his mother’s Italian recipes.
Agro remained connected to the political scene in retirement, penning columns and letters in The Spectator in support of expanding the city’s rapid transit through the LRT.
He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Angeline Gravino, and their son Anthony, along with three grandchildren and son-in-law Charlie Lopresti. Daughter Jennine Agro-Lopresti died in 2009.
Former councillor Terry Cooke, now the CEO of the Hamilton Community Foundation, took to Twitter to offer his condolences to the Agro family and remember his council colleague.
“Vince Agro was a tireless champion for Hamilton. He was also an author and a lover of the arts, literature and most of all, his family,” Cooke said.
“I was so lucky to serve on council with Vince and call him both a mentor and a friend. We won’t see his likes again.”
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator