By David W. Myers
Photos by Margaret Molloy
More than 1,200 people from across Culver City and around the world came to bid a final arrivederci Tuesday to Albert Vera Sr., the beloved three-time mayor and owner of the popular Sorrento Italian Market who died at his home last week after suffering a massive heart attack.
Vera was 75 years old. The pews inside St. Augustine Catholic Church near downtown were packed with mourners. To accommodate the overflow crowd, officials beamed a live broadcast of the services to a wide-screen TV in the nearby banquet hall for those who couldn’t get a seat inside the church. Like Vera himself, the service was warm but unpretentious. Father Kevin Nolan, St. Augustine’s pastor, delivered a moving eulogy that praised the former mayor for a lifetime of devotion to his family, country, religious groups and thousands of local residents. Vera served two consecutive four-year terms on the City Council, from 1992 to 2000. He was first elected on a wave of public opinion that members of the council—whose makeup had changed little over the previous few decades—had “lost touch” with the Culver residents who had voted for them.Vera then stepped away from public office for two years, in part because a measure that he introduced to limit council members to a pair of consecutive four-year terms when he first campaigned for office was overwhelmingly approved In 2002, though, numerous supporters—from his neighbors on tiny Diller Avenue in Sunkist Park to top elected officials in Los Angeles County—urged him to run for a third term.
Somewhat reluctantly, he agreed. He then throttled his nearest competitor by a 50-percent margin.
He served a one-year stint as mayor in each of his three terms on the council.
Though Vera was known for his passion to make Culver’s government more “friendly” to small businesses, he was even better-known for the personal attempts he would undertake to solve a problem that any of his constituents might have in their neighborhood or with City Hall.
Rarely a day passed when a Culverite would not file into his market to ask for help in solving problems ranging from a street pothole that city road crews couldn’t adequately fix to complex issues involving zoning or other legal issues.
In his eulogy, St. Augustine’s Father Nolan eluded to what current Mayor Christopher Armenta recently called Vera’s “roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to- work” approach when it came to addressing the concerns of the people he represented.
“Some wondered how often the door at Sorrento had to be replaced, after all the people who walked in to ask for his help,” Father Nolan said.
Vera was “a patriarch of our community who loved his neighbors and his city,” Nolan said.
“Albert wanted to share the ‘meal of life’ with everyone,” Nolan added, “whether it was a cannoli, a cookie, or just a pat on the back.”
Father Nolan was the primary speaker at the ceremony. In keeping with Vera’s wishes, there were no comments from public officials, family members or residents.
Both before and after the 90-minute service, though, well-wishers gathered in small groups outside the church to reminisce about the man who many feel was the most beloved and respected resident in Culver City’s history.
Betty Moss, the bookkeeper at Bob’s Market in Santa Monica, remembered how her father gave a teenage Vera his first job as a stock clerk at another store her dad owned shortly after Vera immigrated from Italy when he was 15 years old.
“Albert could hardly speak any English, but he worked like crazy,” Moss remembered. “Even back then, you could tell that he was going to go places in life.”
Indeed, Vera began running the market within a few years. He opened his own deli, Sorrento, in 1962 after serving a stint in the U.S. Army.
After the 90-minute service at St. Augustine’s, a funeral processions of 150 cars—a limit set by city officials, who wanted to prevent disruption to other traffic—followed the black hearse that carried Vera’s coffin past City Hall and then by his market on the way to Holy Cross Cemetery on Slauson Avenue.
Vera’s wife of almost 50 years, Ursula, did not attend the funeral ceremonies. She had been hospitalized again just hours before his death, suffering another setback in her long battle against kidney problems and other serious illnesses.
The entrance to City Hall was adorned with massive funeral wreathes. Its signature flags, flying at half-staff to honor the deceased Mayor and Korea War veteran who died on Memorial Day, snapped crisply in the wind.
The final service at Holy Cross was quiet but packed. And, as at St. Augustine’s, there were no speeches from other elected officials, family members or the general public.
“If we allowed everyone who wanted to say a few words about Albert, or how much he meant to them, the service would never end,” family spokeswoman Alice Barriciello said.
“He was loved so very much by so many people, and always will be.”