City loses a great friend

Published 1:28 am Saturday, July 2, 2011

Frank’s Pizza continues to serve customers Friday in Washington. (WDN Photo/Sara Cowell)

Washington is mourning a prominent local businessman who apparently drowned Thursday afternoon in the Atlantic Ocean at Indian Beach.

Antonio “Tony” Cilluffo, age 41, was pronounced dead at Carteret General Hospital, confirmed Kevin White, chief of the Indian Beach-Salter Path Fire Department.

Cilluffo and his brother Vinny were co-owners of Frank’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant in Washington.

The fire department received a call about a swimmer in distress around 5 p.m. Thursday, White reported.

Rescue personnel, including a crew member on a jet ski, responded to the call. Arriving on the scene, the crew saw bystanders waving in the direction of the distressed swimmer, White said.

“He was probably 20 yards, 30 yards out, if that,” the chief stated.

Attempts to revive Cilluffo were unsuccessful, White said.

Though a rip current may have played a role in the incident, that couldn’t be confirmed immediately.

“It was pretty much a normal beach day,” White said, adding that rip currents can occur at any time.

“The waves were a little bit higher (Thursday) just because of the wind conditions,” the chief explained.

Word of Cilluffo’s death already had begun circulating through Washington by Thursday night.

“The family and everybody’s in our prayers,” said White.

The Cilluffo brothers were honored with the 2007 Business Leaders of the Year Award from the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce, said Catherine Glover, executive director of the chamber.

Frank’s either has celebrated or is celebrating its 25th anniversary, Glover confirmed.

Frank’s also was among the sponsors of the Movies in the Park series organized by the Washington Harbor District Alliance, said Beth Byrd, executive director of the WHDA.

Washington Mayor Archie Jennings knew Cilluffo and frequently spoke with him during meals at Frank’s.

“It’s a tremendous loss, a real tragedy,” said Jennings. “The reasons are many fold.”

A lot of Cilluffo’s conversations with the mayor centered on what could be done for Washington’s young people.

“I’ll always remember his concern and how big his heart was for everybody,” Jennings commented.

Asked how people could pay tribute to Cilluffo’s example of civic and business leadership, Jennings advised they look outward to their neighbors, as Cilluffo did.

“I think probably the most appropriate tribute would be for people to just reorder their priorities and not think so much with an inward focus,” he said. “If we would think as he did, as Tony did, about how to make the community better as a whole, that would affect the entire community and every aspect of it.”

Glover, the chamber director, echoed numerous comments posted on Facebook and elsewhere online by present and former Washington residents who referred to Cilluffo’s ready smile and inviting manner.

“He was an awesome guy, just very community oriented,” Glover said. “Frank’s is the business that you can just walk into and Tony and Vinny were just very welcoming.”

The Cilluffos are dedicated to the community, sponsoring sports teams and keeping track of the youths involved in athletics, Glover continued.

“Tony was a great, great person and he and Vinny have been community supporters for a long time,” she said. “It’s a loss for everybody.”

Mac Hodges was a longtime friend of Cilluffo and often met up with him through the East Carolina University Pirate Club.

The club has held pizza parties for ECU basketball coaches at Frank’s for the past 15 years or so, Hodges related.

“You could always count on him,” he said. “Washington will miss him more than they know.”

Portions of this story appeared Thursday night on the Daily News’ website.