GENEVA — John Greco loved his hometown.
It would be fair to say he wore Geneva on his sleeve, according to those who knew him.
He was born here, grew up here, was a star athlete at DeSales High School in the 1950s, served in the Marines, worked for the city and was in his 25th year as a City Council member when he died Thursday at age 81. No one has served longer on Council since the city adopted a charter form of government in 1964.
Greco was appointed to fill a vacancy as 6th Ward Councilor on Jan. 5, 1994. He ran for election to the seat in November 1994 and took office Jan. 1, 1995. He was elected to six more four-year terms, often without opposition.
A Democrat who represented his beloved 6th Ward, Greco was said by many to epitomize an “old school” ward representative, paying close attention to the nuts and bolts needs of his ward and the city. He often cast a suspicious eye, and an opposing vote, at new initiatives he felt didn’t further those goals.
Mayor Ron Alcock, a Republican, named Greco his deputy mayor.
“I considered John a close friend over the past 30 years I have known him. We had several golf matches over the years and I don’t think I was ever able to beat him,” Alcock said. “The past 11 years I have worked closely with him on City Council and various committees. His work was exemplary and he worked tirelessly for the residents of the 6th Ward as well as for all residents of the city.”
Alcock said Greco “set the bar pretty high” as a councilor.
“He was a great mentor to me and a great example for the rest of Council to follow with his great work ethic, his knowledge and love for Geneva and its residents.”
Alcock said he knew Greco was the right person to be his deputy mayor, and said he was instrumental in establishing the city’s annual 9/11 memorial service.
“He never wanted to take credit for the celebration, but I know he worked very hard each year to make it great,” Alcock said. “A great man, a great councilor and I will miss him dearly.”
Martha Wilson was head of the city recreation department for 30 years before retiring in 2008; Greco served as liaison to the Recreation Commission for many years.
“He was an extraordinary supporter of all of our programs. He and his wife, Joanne, attended many events. He was a big supporter of the recreation program and anything that was good for the city,” Wilson said, adding that Greco supported expanding the recreation complex on South Exchange Street. “He always had my back. I admired him a lot for the way he carried himself at Council meetings.”
City Clerk Lori Guinan, who has been deputy clerk or city clerk during much of Greco’s recent tenure, called Greco an inspiration to her.
“He cared deeply for his family and worked hard for the people of the city of Geneva. On City Council, he always voted in favor of making Geneva a better place and the people of his ward knew that he could be counted on to make their voices heard,” Guinan said. “I will miss his smile and kind eyes.”
A true public servant
Dom Vedora, chairman of the city Democratic Committee for years and current Ward 1 and 2 county supervisor, recalls Greco as someone always willing to lend a hand.
“He helped coach baseball at DeSales and was very active in Our Lady of Peace Parish,” Vedora said. “He was known for taking care of his ward and people in the 6th Ward loved him for that. He gave back to the community like few others.”
The Rev. Tom Mull, pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish, was with Greco and his family when he died. His serving nature extended to his church.
“He was very active with the parish, serving on the Parish Council. He was so proud of his grandchildren. When they were altar servers, his eyes would light up and he’d smile when they walked down the aisle for Mass,” Mull said. “He was surrounded by his family when he died. If one has to go, that’s the way to go, getting comfort in taking that last step,” he added.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges Interim President Patrick A. McGuire remembered Greco as “an exemplary public servant.”
“During his years as city councilor and deputy mayor, he was a key force in invigorating the Geneva community, for which the Colleges honored him with the President’s Medal in 2017,” McGuire said. “John’s legacy is evident in the many businesses he helped attract to the city, in the public projects he helped plan and execute, and in the lives of the citizens he represented and worked to better.”
Other tributes came from fellow City Council members and a former mayor, Don Cass.
“John Greco was a man of honor, integrity and faith,” Cass said. “He lived his life for his family, country and his community. It was my great honor to call him my friend and to work with him on City Council for many years,” Cass said.
Cass said Greco took “great pride” in seeing the city grow.
“He loved a good game of golf and I know his smile and his generosity will be missed by all.”
Second Ward Councilor Paul D’Amico said he became friends with Greco when he was in his 20s; Greco was good friends with one of his closest friend’s father.
“I used to go to John’s house to play quarter-half poker at the always robust John and Joanne Greco kitchen table. John and his friends treated me kindly and appreciated me being their weekly piggy bank,” D’Amico said.
They remained friends over the years. Greco was active in the Sons of Italy, serving as president while D’Amico was a member.
“When I got elected to Council 13 years ago, John took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. I will always be grateful for his mentorship. I’ll never forget the ‘stop for coffee’ offer he gave me when I won a special election in my first attempt at City Council,” he said. “Along with the coffee came an hour or two of intense interrogation. I remember it vividly. I learned what I was getting into.”
Those coffee discussions continued to the end.
“I refer to John as a man’s man for many reasons, athletic ability, service to the country as a Marine, leadership in the community, City Council and his devotion to his family,” D’Amico said.
Greco was a patient, generous man, but D’Amico said he had to be careful not to take advantage of those traits.
“More than once I have seen a John Greco ‘time out’ when he would raise his index finger and put your conversation on hold. I learned after a few of those that continuing to speak was not the best or smartest thing to do,” he said.
Fifth Ward Councilor Jason Hagerman sat next to Greco at Council meetings for the last 12 years.
“Geneva has lost another great one,” he said.
“No single one of us loved this city more than he and he was never afraid to express himself when he needed to be heard,” Hagerman said. “Although he and I did not always agree, he never failed to demonstrate courtesy and respect. I’ll be forever grateful for the wisdom he has passed along over these years. My heartfelt condolences to John’s wife and family as they will surely miss him most.”
Councilor Gordy Eddington first met Greco more than 40 years ago while playing slow-pitch softball at Gulvin Park.
“John lived and breathed Geneva,” Eddington said. “He was one of the city’s biggest promoters. He really had his Ward 6 residents and all of Geneva’s residents interests at heart. You’d better not say anything negative about Geneva or for sure you would be corrected very quickly.”
“John was a great family man and proud grandpa. He and Joanne were the babysitters for all of their grandchildren. Many times I would stop over to the house to see John and there’d be little ones scurrying around the house with John and Joanne close behind,” he said.