By 10:45 a.m. Saturday morning, Southold’s— a small historic church on Route 25 — began to fill with family members, friends and dozens of people who knew , the president of who following a
By 11 a.m., the pews were with some standing in the back on the lower level. The Rev. Peter Kelley of First Presbyterian Church of Southold and the Rev. Peter Garry of conducted the service jointly.
“I’m grateful for the symbol of unity in our community that we can do this together, because this was a moment for a family — and a moment for a community that is a family,” said Rev. Kelley.
Romanelli, 47, died on Jan. 3 at Stony Brook University. He was born in Plainview to Pat and Loda Romanelli, and married his fiance, Heather, in 1987. Romanelli is survived by his wife, his son, Ethan; his daughter, Tara; his parents; and his brothers, Martin and Paul, and their families.
From the pulpit, Rev. Kelley said that through the week, he’d been receiving questions from many community members on why this tragedy happened.
“Questions are permitted, anger is allowed,” he said. “A third of all Psalms ask, ‘Why?’ Why do the evil seem to prosper and the good seem to perish before our eyes? But today is no time for a lecture — not even for a sermon … But I have never seen such outpouring for a family as I have seen this week. This concern and care is a blessing, and it is a partial answer to our questions.”
Rev. Kelley also commended the employees of Burt’s Reliable for bravely carrying on with their work with the loss of their respected leader.
“I saw a truck making a delivery this week, like they always do — and it seemed so normal,” he said. “But that guy I saw was working under an enormous amount of stress — you all are to be commended.”
John’s brother, Paul, whose cell phone rang during the service, spoke for the family at the pulpit, breaking the tension in the church with a funny memory of his younger brother.
“On my wedding day, John was my best man,” he said. “And as the rings were presented, he dropped it and it rolled down the aisle, and I thought, ‘Idiot.’ But that cell phone ring you heard was mine. So now I'm the idiot. That was a sign from John.”
Paul went on to describe how his brother lived his life “bigger than life.”
“Whatever he did, he did it with passion and commitment — in life, work and, more than anything else, with his family,” he said.
When the opportunity came up to move on from the family oil business in Farmingdale to run Burt’s Reliable on the North Fork, Paul’s brother jumped at the chance.
“And when he bought the waterfront home on , smack in the center of it was his family,” he said. “He had it all, just outside of his living room windows. He loved to hang out on the beach with his family, and he loved engaging strangers who walked along the beach."
Paul Romanelli went on to say how his brother really enjoyed working in the coldest of cold weather and loved getting his hands dirty on the job. He also commended emergency workers of local fire departments, medical staff at Stony Brook Medical Center’s burn unit and two unidentified good samaritans who tried their best to save the life of John Romanelli.
“Though his body was broken, his spirit was not,” he said. “A lesser man would not have lasted that long.”
Paul Romanelli ended his speech by saying how he thought the community could move on from such a tragic loss.
“Mother Theresa said that if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other,” he said. “Never forget this week, and try to love life like John did — give a lot and give often to friend or foe, have a giant heart, and always have a big, unassuming smile.”