JAMES V. BELLANCA – Obituary
JAMES V. BELLANCA
1907 – 1965
The Man from Alcamo was Proud of It
By Doc Greene
The chances are you were not lucky enough to know Jimmy Bellanca, which is a misfortune for you.
He called up one day and said: “I understand you want to get married in Italy? I wondered if there was some way I could help?”
In an entirely proper way, Jim was a racist.
He came to this country when he was four from Alcamo, Sicily.
He remained fiercely proud of his Italian lineage and, in recent years when he felt that various governmental departments were characterizing all Italo-Americans with a hoodlum stamp, he felt bitterly about it and he fought it . . . man, how he fought it.
He took the notion of a couple desiring to be married in Italy as a fine compliment to the country, to all Italians everywhere and to himself personally. It pleased him greatly.
He had been decorated by the Italian government and was at the time, if memory serves, the representative in this city from the Vatican.
“I want to get married on the island of Elba.”
“You mean where Napoleon was exiled?” he asked.
“Yes, I thought if a man is to be incarcerated he should go where the tradition is.”
He clucked a little.
“You shouldn’t joke about marriage,” he admonished.
This is the way he was. He wore sincerity and concern over all things so deeply that it was almost a worry with him.
He’d cry over a bad weather report.
“It’s the way I am,” he said. “I can’t help it.”
Got His Cue Early
His father operated a poolroom and Jim was a short fellow – slightly over five feet – and he worked around the room for his dad.
It wasn’t a place from which you went to college with a sports car and a raccoon coat. With Jim’s diminutive stature, he wasn’t even a shoo-in to make a decent pool player. The geography of the old five by 10-foot tables was not specifically designed for his anatomy.
He mastered the game almost to a professional level.
He worked his way through everything . . . everything that had to be worked through, and in the early stages of his life, this was University of Detroit, the BS degree, a couple of years med. school, then the law.
It was, well, perhaps for who is to say, his good fortune that no one was able to give him anything for he spent a lot of the rest of his life giving things to other people. Often these things go hand in hand.
He had a way of pinning you to your conscience.
A Problem from Prohibition
There was a time when a racing commissioner seemed apt to discourage the sons of a pair of prohibition’s famous local citizens from being accepted as directors on the racetrack board at Hazel Park.
“Do you think the sins of the fathers should be visited on the sons?” Jim wanted to know.
A man is entitled to his own sins, of course.
In a suggestion to the commissioner, the phrase was used that the fathers “had anticipated the repeal of the 18th Amendment,” the one when Volstead tried to legislate the drinking morals of the country with such exciting success.
“It’s the nicest way I ever heard bootlegging described,” he said afterwards.
Jim did a lot of things around town.
Mayor Jeffries appointed him to the Civil Service Commission in 1940 and, except for a year and a half, he served continuously on it and was its president four times.
You found him unobtrusively everywhere . . . on the War Labor Board, struggling for Muscular Dystrophy, on the Catholic Youth Organization Board.
By now you have realized that this is written because a man has died.
Decency When It’s Needed
Mayor Cavanagh had a flock of nice things to say about him after it happened yesterday . . . not enough, of course . . . but then whatever is?
He had honor so that you could cut it like a piece of cheese.
And decency, and a lot of it rubbed off on the people who knew him because if you knew him you trusted him and a way he felt would affect you. And some of the people it rubbed off on needed it.
There was mention of his ethnic pride. Don’t confuse it. He was an American.
The Detroit News: April 5, 1965