Joseph A. LaSala, 85, aide to Mayor Rizzo

Posted: January 21, 2009

He was the mirror image of Jerry Colonna, the comedian who accompanied Bob Hope to entertain troops during World War II.

And with his thick mustache, he sometimes lightened public meetings by playing to that image.

But in the 1970s, Joseph A. LaSala was a serious city, state and federal official, perhaps best known as director of commerce and city representative in the second term of Mayor Frank L. Rizzo.

On Sunday, Mr. LaSala, 85, died of congestive heart failure at the nursing home at Granite Farms Estates, the retirement community where he lived in Media.

"We grew up with Republican politics, the Catholic Church, being Italian - my mother wasn't - and listening to opera," a daughter, Christine LaSala, said in an interview from her Manhattan office yesterday.

"These were the things that infused our upbringing."

Mr. LaSala grew up in Aliquippa, north of Pittsburgh, and graduated in 1942 from Aliquippa High School. "His highest degree is a high school degree," she said.

He served in the Army in the Pacific during World War II and, after studies at Duff College in Pittsburgh and Purdue University, set up a public relations firm in Aliquippa in 1962.

In 1967, Gov. Raymond Schafer named him southwest regional coordinator of the state Department of Community Affairs. In 1968, Mr. LaSala was spokesman for the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign of Raymond Broderick.

In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon named him deputy regional director of the Philadelphia office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

In March 1973, he became acting director of HUD here, and that December was named to head the regional office of the Federal Energy Administration. In 1977, he returned briefly to HUD.

In November 1977, he went to City Hall as both city representative and commerce director for Rizzo, after Albert V. Gaudiosi resigned both jobs because he could not persuade Rizzo to give up an eventually unsuccessful bid for a third term.

Mr. LaSala earned considerable attention in April 1978 when he declined to spend $45,000 of city money to buy the LOVE sculpture, which for two years had been on display across from City Hall.

After it had been returned to the New York studio of its maker, Robert Indiana, F. Eugene Dixon, chairman of the Philadelphia Art Commission, paid the reduced price of $35,000 with his own money to have it returned here.

Mr. LaSala's daughter said he took greatest pride in another job, when "he was able to convey the aspects of the energy crisis to communities in Pennsylvania."

During the Mideast oil embargo in 1974 and 1975, it was reported that LaSala's federal energy office "uncovered more than $13 million oil-company pricing violations and collected $11,000 in penalties."

From 1981 to 2001, Mr. LaSala was vice president for government affairs at Day & Zimmerman, the Philadelphia manager of outsourced services. Since then, he had been a consultant there.

Besides his daughter, Mr. LaSala is survived by two more daughters, JoAnne and Jeanne; sons Joseph Jr., John and Paul; a brother, Francis; a sister, Isabel Perry; and nine grandchildren. His wife, Keith Hyde, died in January 2002; their daughter Susan died in June 1998.

Visitation is set for 2 to 4 and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. today at J. Nelson Rigby Funeral Home, 1 W. Baltimore Ave., Media. A Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, 30 E. Franklin St., Media. Burial will be at Calvary Cemetery, Media.

Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or

comments powered by Disqus