IF SEVERINO VERNA heard about someone in need, he didn't hesitate to do whatever he could to help - quietly and anonymously.

In fact, the Italian government recognized his good works and awarded him the rank of cavaliere. He not only raised funds when there was a problem in the country, but he was moved to act when he learned about a handicapped Italian girl who needed a wheelchair.

Of course, she got the wheelchair, courtesy of this kind-hearted, generous man.

Severino D. Verna Jr., who ran the Verna Funeral Home at 1244 S. Broad St. for more than 50 years and was the husband of Anna Cibotti Verna, president of City Council, died Saturday of complications of a stroke. He was 78 and lived in South Philadelphia.

He was the brother of Anthony Verna, the inventor of instant replay and winner of several Emmy awards.

Severino was born in Philadelphia to Severino Verna Sr. and the former Gilda Pellecchia, immigrants from Abruzzi, Italy.

He attended St. Rita's Parochial School and Southeast Catholic High School. He later studied at Eckles College of Embalming.

"He was a great person," Anna Verna said. "He was very compassionate and had a great personality.

"He had a wonderful sense of humor. He could make a joke out of anything."

Severino, called Sevy, was very active in the city's Italian community. He was grand marshal of the Columbus Day Parade for more than 40 years.

The parade planning occupied him for six months every year.

"Even in May, he's thinking about Columbus Day," his wife once said.

He believed his experience as a funeral director helped him organize the parade. "When you line up a funeral procession, everything has to be in order," he once said. "So does a parade."

The Vernas lived across the street from a mural of another great Italian hero at Broad and Wharton streets - Frank Sinatra. "It is unbelievale the amount of people who come to see the mural and take pictures," he said.

The Vernas met when he arranged her grandmother's funeral. "He was so sympathetic," she said.

Severino liked to repeat an old joke made by the priest who marred them in 1954 at King of Peace Church: "He said, 'I've heard of love at first sight. This was love at gravesite.' "

In the '80s, he served on the Mayor's Housing Commission under Wilson Goode. He was reappointed by Mayor Ed Rendell.

"He loved people," his wife said. "He loved being with friends and family."

Severino enjoyed good food and swimming in the bay at Margate, N.J., where he had a summer home.

He was an active member of the Order Sons of Italy.

About three years ago, Severino suffered a stroke that paralyzed his left side. However, he didn't let it stop him from his business and charitable activities. He retained all of his faculties, his wife said.

Severino was predeceased by two brothers, Joseph and Carl Verna, and a sister, Helen Rohr.

Services: Funeral Mass 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Rita's Church, Broad and Ellsworth streets. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to St. Rita's Church, Philadelphia PA 19145. *