Former, longtime Mansfield mayor Bill Cocchi died early Friday morning after complications from heart surgery, leaving behind a legacy of caring passionately about Mansfield and its people.
Cocchi, 84, was Mansfield’s mayor for 19 years, and his friends and family remembered him as a man who helped lead the city, including putting it on firm financial footing and, more importantly, invested in people’s lives.
Interim Mayor Jefferson Riley recalled Cocchi stopping by his house when he and his wife moved to town nearly four years ago.
“He was one of the first people who came by to see us when we started to work on the house,” Riley recalled Friday morning. “He said if there’s anything we can do to help, you let us know. He would check on us regularly as we were restoring the house. To have a mayor come and greet you that way and check on you regularly is unheard of today. It definitely meant a lot to us.”
Mansfield resident Vicki Cowan, who was a close family friend, recalled a similar story involving her neighbor.
“She went down to City Hall and got her electric and water turned on and said she was new there. She got sick a week or two after that and her car didn’t move for three days, so Mr. Cocchi himself came and knocked on her door. She was scared because she didn’t know many people in town.
“He said ‘I’m Bill Cocchi and I’m the mayor. I’m just checking on you to make sure you’re OK.’”
Cocchi offered to pick up any groceries or medications she needed. He slipped his card through the door, because the neighbor still hadn’t opened it.
“He was just an awesome fellow. Mansfield was very fortunate to have him,” Cowan said.
Cocchi was born and raised in Atlanta. He worked at Continental Forest Industries in the city for nearly 40 years and married his wife Lyra 66 years ago.
The couple moved to Newton County when Cocchi retired, eventually moving to Mansfield in 1980.
“He loved the little city of Mansfield,” said Cocchi’s son David. “So after he moved there, a lot of people asked him to run for mayor and he ran and was selected and has run unopposed for 19 years.
“This is the funny thing, he was in the hospital in critical condition and all of the people of Mansfield were still calling and texting him saying ‘We want you to run for mayor,’” David said Friday afternoon.
Cocchi and Lyra, who served alongside Cocchi on the council for 16 years, had four children: Jennifer Akers, 67, William Jr. “Buzz”, 62, David, 58, and Mark, who died at the age of 35. Cocchi leaves behind seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
“He was a wonderful dad and husband and he just always took care of us,” David said. “Everything we needed we had and more. We all had a wonderful childhood. He taught us to go church and be good Christians serving in the church.”
Taking care of business
When Cocchi took over as mayor, David said the city barely had any money, but Cocchi left it with $2 million in the bank.
Former, 37-year city clerk Pat Mullins credited Cocchi with investing in the city’s water and electrical systems, noting that he built water lines all around the city and outside the city limits both to improve resident’s water service and be able to sell water to more customers.
He also replaced many of the city’s power poles and pushed changes to the infrastructure so that when an outage happened in one part of the city, it wouldn’t knock out the whole city. She said part of that effort was to protect the city’s lone industry, Beaver Manufacturing, so they wouldn’t be shut down during every outage in the city.
Friends and family also remembered how he cared for senior citizens; Mullins said he would take care of the town’s widows if they had any needs.
David said his father asked the council to put water meters on people’s gardens to measure how much water was used outside the home, so that senior citizens wouldn’t be charged for sewer service for their garden water (normally, water and sewer providers charge people based on their water usage, assuming the sewer usage is equal).
Learning from a leader
Riley said Friday he and some other residents had just met with Cocchi about three weeks ago, and Riley took three pages of notes about things he would need to look out for in the city in the future.
“It’s a huge loss to Mansfield. I just think of all the history and knowledge and experience we lost, not to mention the fine person he was,” Riley said. “He joked a few weeks ago and said when he was younger, ‘People used to call me wild Bill; now they call me sweet Bill.’”
Cowan said Cocchi was known by nearly everyone in town because he genuinely cared about people and was a hard-working man, even showing up at 2:30 a.m. one day along with the city’s public works employees to check on a power line that had been downed by a falling tree limb.
Mullins said he would help residents with any task that came up, like replacing a broken water heater. His number was listed in the phone book and people would call day or night if they needed something.
“He was available to the people of the town 24 hours a day, Mullins said. “I worked under him for almost 20 years. He was good to all of his employees, and he really treated the citizens of Mansfield like his family.”
“Mr. Cocchi was a big man, but he was more like a big teddy bear,” Cowan said. “He genuinely cared about people, and he wanted the right thing done. He was always for the truth. He just loved Mansfield and loved the people in it.”
Please see page 5B for Cocchi’s obituary and details of his funeral service.