In life the always colourful and often controversial John Comelli lived by the motto “the endeavours of man is to build beautiful things”.
After losing a long battle with cancer last Thursday that is how his memory will live on with those same words featured on many of his buildings.
Mr Comelli, 71, will be remembered as a man of vision and dreams who did whatever he could to make them a reality. That included the multi-million dollar renovation of the historic King’s Theatre in Thirroul which he renamed Anita’s Theatre in tribute to his late wife Anita who died of cancer in late 2005. He then lost his brother Paul Comelli in April 2011. That anniversary is this Wednesday.
John and Anita Comelli did not have children but niece Natasha Comelli said she and her sisters held a special place for their uncle who always treated them like daughters. They call him Giampiero which is John Peter in Italian.
“My dad was Giampaolo which is John Paul and Uncle Peter was John Peter. Because they were in business in Wollongong (as the Comelli Bros) you could not have two Johns so my dad took on the persona of Paul and Uncle Peter took on the persona of John. And that is how they were known around town.”
Ms Comelli said John Comelli’s late wife Anita was her mother Maria’s sister “so the two brothers married two sisters”. She said her uncle really did want to build beautiful things and invested considerable time, money and energy to make them happen just as he did with Anita’s Theatre.
“That was his dying legacy I guess,” she said,
“I think he was a little bit ahead of his time. He did the Harp Hotel, the Corrimal pub, the Unanderra shops, Unanderra pub..and the Downtown Plaza.”
Ms Comelli keeps finding more of his buildings and said he really did make his mark.
“He was born in Italy and his family migrated out here when he was about eight. For me he was my Godfather. My middle name is Petra. I was named after him being Peter. We joke about how he always used to believe in himself. Even the ringtone on his phone is The Godfather music..which will have to feature somewhere at his funeral,” she said.
As a child she saw her uncle as a person who could carry the world on his shoulders without any sense of struggle or fear. “Whenever you were around him all you wanted to do was impress him and seek his approval”.
Ms Comelli said he had that affect on many people who sought his respect even when they did not agree with him or what he was doing. His funeral is 10am on Friday at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral followed by a burial at Bulli Cemetery.