The desk where Mayor Joe Saxton typically sits during Bristol Borough Council meetings looked a little different last Monday evening. Instead of his usual presence, there was an arrangement of flowers.
Residents of the borough have been grieving since Friday, July 8, when news broke of Saxton’s passing at the age of 72 after battling a brief illness.
“We all knew that Joe was struggling for a while and he had some health issues, but I don’t think anybody really thought that he was at the end. But he ended up getting an infection and I think that’s what really hurt him,” said council president Ralph DiGuiseppe, who stressed how much Saxton enjoyed serving the town. “Anytime he ended a phone conversation or he ended a text or an email, it was from ‘Mayor Joe Saxton.’ ”
Saxton leaves behind his wife Dottie Bidlingmaier Saxton, of 52 years, whom he married in May 1970, at St. Mark Church on Radcliffe Street. He’s also survived by his two children, Nicole Berdecia and her husband Hector, and Justin Saxton and his wife Melissa; his three grandchildren, Dominic, Angelina and Luke; brother Harold Saxton and his wife Joan; and numerous nieces and nephews.
The borough native graduated from Bristol High School in 1967 alongside councilman Louis Quattrocchi, who shared some kind words during the meeting.
“Our community lost a leader who worked tirelessly to make Bristol Borough a great place to live and raise a family,” he said. “Joe loved being mayor of Bristol Borough, a job he served with pride and dignity, whether it was working with council, the police or fire departments … ”
Quattrocchi highlighted the fact that Saxton became a volunteer fireman at the age of 16. Prior to his passing, he was actively working with all local fire companies to create a more efficient system. Earlier this year, the Bristol Borough Fire Association, comprised of Goodwill Hose Company, Bristol Fire Company, America Hose, Hook and Ladder Fire Company and Bristol Consolidated Volunteer Fire Company, was formed.
Goodwill released the following statement: “It is with heavy hearts that the officers and members announce the passing of life member and past president Joe ‘Sax’ Saxton. A lot of where the company is today is a result of Sax’s work and leadership. Just like he did with Bristol Borough, Sax always had the company in his heart. His presence will be greatly missed but his legacy will continue to live on.”
Over the years, Saxton also served as a councilman, school board director and member of numerous groups, including the Bristol Borough Community Partnership executive board, the Academic Oversight Committee executive board, the Route 13 Improvement Advisory Committee, the Delaware River Waterfront Advisory Committee and the Bristol Borough Civil Service Commission, as well as chairman of the Dow, Arkema and Solvay Community Advisory Committee. For his efforts, Saxton was named Citizen of the Year by the Bristol Borough Lions Club in 2010.
Over the weekend of July 9-10, the community took to social media to express sadness over the loss of its leader. Bill Pezza, president of Bristol Borough Raising the Bar, struggled to find the words to convey his sense of grief, despite being the author of five books. However, the snapshot he shared of Saxton and Dottie celebrating Bristol Borough’s win of Deluxe’s Small Business Revolution in 2017 spoke volumes.
“It’s a fitting photo because he was cheering for Bristol his entire life,” said Pezza, whose friendship with Saxton dates to before his years as an elected official. Pezza recalled their families going on joint trips to the beach, attending their children’s basketball games together and enjoying every Christmas Eve at the Saxton residence on Jackson Street. “It is those images that stick with us now.”
The Bristol Borough Business Association released a statement on Saxton’s support of the ever-growing business district: “Mayor Saxton was a big advocate for all the small businesses in town and the community. We pray for the repose of his soul as we keep Dottie and the rest of the family in our thoughts and prayers during this time of great loss.”
A funeral Mass was held on Saturday, July 16, at 11 a.m. at St. Mark Church. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Academic Oversight Committee at bblearningcenters.com/donate/ or mailed to the AOC, ℅ The Grundy Foundation, 680 Radcliffe St., Bristol, PA, 19007.
DiGuiseppe is currently serving as acting mayor. The council has until Aug. 8 to fill the position, with the chosen candidate remaining in office until the first Monday of January 2024. A special meeting is slated to be held next month.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org