‘Giant of a man:’ Allegheny County councilman, former wrestler Charles Martoni dies
Charles Martoni never wanted to hurt anyone, whether in the ring as a professional wrestler or in his life as a longtime politician and college administrator.
The Allegheny County councilman, former Swissvale mayor, president of Community College of Allegheny County’s Boyce campus and hall of fame wrestler had a big heart. He cared about his constituents, his students and the issues facing them and thought hard about the decisions he made, his colleagues said Monday.
Martoni, a Swissvale Democrat who served nearly 20 years as an Allegheny County councilman representing Pittsburgh’s eastern suburbs and parts of the Mon Valley, died Sunday, May 19, 2019.
He was 82.
“Chuck Martoni did so many good things and helped usher in the new government 20 years ago,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a Democrat from Squirrel Hill who served many years on council. “He was a real mentor to me. He really understood how government doesn’t have to be partisan and can just be about doing the right thing.”
Martoni won in county council’s first elections in 1999 and was sworn in to its inaugural class in 2000. He last won reelection in 2017. He previously was the mayor of Swissvale and served on the borough council and his local school board.
“Chuck Martoni was one of the finest examples of a gentleman I ever met,” said council member John Palmiere, a Democrat from Baldwin Township. “He was a great listener and never made a decision that wasn’t thought through after listening to both sides and evaluating things. He was a giant of a man, and he’ll be sorely missed.”
Council member Sue Means sat next to Martoni at council meetings for more than five years and called it a privilege.
“He was always so sweet and kind and respectful and yet had a gentle wisdom,” said Means, a Bethel Park Republican. “He didn’t want the limelight for himself or demand attention. He was a very soft spoken force for the people of Allegheny County.”
In the ring, Martoni wrestled professionally as “Cannonball” and “The Masked Marvel.” He was one of the stars of “Studio Wrestling,” a Saturday night staple of local Pittsburgh television in the 60s and 70s. Martoni was inducted into Pittsburgh’s Keystone State Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame in 2014 along with his old tag team partner and fellow county council member, “Jumpin” Johnny DeFazio.
“We wrestled as a tag team once against these two people, and we were throwing them back and forth. He threw one of them into me, and I lifted my knee up, and I must have hit an artery. There was blood everywhere, all over the mat,” said DeFazio, the council president and a Democrat from Shaler. “There was a doctor in attendance, but he couldn’t stop the bleeding. They took him to the hospital, and Chuck felt bad about it.”
DeFazio said the injury wouldn’t have bothered some wrestlers. It bothered Martoni.
”He wasn’t a mean person,” DeFazio said. “He never wanted to hurt anybody, certainly not on purpose that’s for sure. I don’t know of anybody who had anything bad to say about him. Everybody liked him.”
DeFazio said Martoni tried everything including boxing as a heavyweight when he was stationed in Alaska in the military. When he returned to Pittsburgh, he played semi-pro football for the Duquesne Ironmen before getting into wrestling.
“And he really surprised me when he got his Ph.D.,” said DeFazio.
Martoni holds a doctorate in higher education from the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a master’s degree in history from California University of Pennsylvania and master’s degrees in school administration and counseling from Duquesne University. He was president of CCAC’s Boyce Campus, and the former dean of Student Development at the college, interim vice-president and director of financial aid and counseling. Martoni was an adjunct professor for decades.
“I was his student when I first met him years ago,” said Yvonne Burns, the current dean of Student Development CCAC-Boyce Campus. “How I want to remember Dr. Martoni is his love for the Boyce Campus. He was an icon here. He left a legacy for the college of leadership, and hopefully, we will be able to continue to uphold that legacy.”
Martoni is the third member of county council to die in office. Former county Commissioner Tom Foerster, elected in 1999, died days after taking office in 2000. Barbara Daly Danko died in 2015 just weeks before the primary election. Danko remained on the ballot for that election and won but was replaced on the November ballot.
Council will appoint an interim member to fill Martoni’s seat until the November election, said Ken Varhola, council’s chief of staff. His seat will be on the ballot in November, and the winner will serve out the remainder of the term. In 2021, voters will elect a council member for a full, four-year term.
Visitation for Martoni will take place Thursday from 1-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. at Thomas L. Nied Funeral Home. A funeral mass will be held on Friday at 9:30 a.m. at Madonna Del Castello Church.
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].