Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

State Rep. Robert Donatucci dies

State Rep. Robert C. Donatucci, 58, who received 84 percent of the vote last week in being elected to his 16th House term, died asleep in his bed in South Philadelphia early Tuesday, his family said.

State Rep. Robert C. Donatucci, 58, who received 84 percent of the vote last week in being elected to his 16th House term, died asleep in his bed in South Philadelphia early Tuesday, his family said.

His death was related to sleep apnea, for which he was being treated, said his brother Ronald, the city register of wills.

Robert Donatucci, a Democrat who chaired the House Liquor Control Committee and was a collector of antique Chrysler cars, had been at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital about a week earlier for a sleep study, his brother said.

He found the mask uncomfortable and did not complete the test, but had resolved to lose a few pounds, his brother said. He had no history of heart problems.

Fire rescue personnel were called to the house when his wife, Marie, discovered he was not breathing.

The precise cause of Rep. Donatucci's death was not immediately known. His brother said a doctor had told him the death was related to sleep apnea.

The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office said the death certificate was signed by a private physician.

"Philadelphia has lost a great leader today," said House Majority Leader Todd A. Eachus (D., Luzerne). "Rep. Donatucci has spent the past 30 years representing his constituents in Harrisburg with honor and distinction."

Gov. Rendell said: "Rep. Donatucci was a gentleman - and a gentle man - who devoted his life to his family and public service. . . . He will be remembered for his ability to reach across the aisle to form consensus in the best interest of all Pennsylvanians."

A low-key legislator who chose to sit in the back row of the House, Rep. Donatucci won a special election in 1980 to fill a seat previously held by his brother Ronald. He was reelected every two years since then.

His 185th District includes the 26th Ward in South Philadelphia, half of the 40th Ward in Southwest Philadelphia, and three communities in Delaware County: Darby Township, Darby Borough, and Colwyn Borough.

As leader of the Liquor Control Committee, Rep. Donatucci was charged with overseeing a State Store system that dates to the end of Prohibition. He tried to modernize the system in baby steps while following its original aim of protecting the public from alcohol excesses.

Rep. Ronald Waters (D., Phila.) said Rep. Donatucci aided him several years ago in getting a law passed that cracked down on deli stores - the so-called "stop-and-go" stores that often became neighborhood nuisances by selling malt liquor to minors and alcoholics.

"He helped get it done," Waters said Tuesday.

Rep. Donatucci often got things accomplished by working with Republicans.

"He was one of the last great bipartisan kind of guys," said Rep. John Taylor (R., Phila.), the GOP leader on the liquor committee. "There were very few votes that were heavily contested."

Rep. Donatucci was a defender of Pennsylvania's state-owned liquor stores, which are staffed by 3,000 unionized employees.

Gov.-elect Tom Corbett and Republican legislative leaders have vowed to sell the stores to reap up to $2 billion to offset a budget deficit. Rep. Donatucci undoubtedly would have been on the front lines of efforts to block that.

While his brother Ronald Donatucci is colorful and always well-dressed, Bobby Donatucci did not fret over clothes. And while Ronnie, by his own account, might go out to dine or have a drink after work, Bobby usually went straight home to his family.

Sundays at 7 a.m., he attended Mass at St. Monica's Parish, 17th and Ritner Streets.

"Bobby's style was very simple," his brother said. "His word was his reputation. If he was for something, you could go to sleep on it."

Rep. Donatucci graduated from Bishop Neumann High School in 1970 and Temple University in 1974.

His one colorful trait was a passion for classic cars, which he bought, restored and sold. He had maybe 30 of them - all Chrysler-built - and kept them warehoused in Kensington and South Philadelphia.

Among his favorites were a 1959 DeSoto Adventurer, one of the few in existence, and a Chrysler Sinatra, named for the "chairman of the board."

Rep. Mark Cohen (D., Phila.) said Rep. Donatucci was never flashy, but always solid.

"He spoke very rarely, but when he did speak, he had something insightful to say," he said.

Besides his brother Ronald and his wife, Marie, Rep. Donatucci is survived by a son, Thomas; a daughter, Dierdre; his mother, Yolanda; another brother, Thomas, and sisters Rita Donatucci and Maria Marciano. Thomas Donatucci runs the family's successful kitchen business.

Rep. Donatucci's desk, in the last row on the state House floor, was draped in black Tuesday.

House officials said a special election would be called to fill the seat, likely at the same time as next spring's primary.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.