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General Bill Cugno Dead At Age 63
Story and Photograph By John Murray
General Bill Cugno, a prominent figure in Waterbury politics under the administration of former mayor, Philip Giordano, died unexpectedly last week in Naples, Florida. He was 63 years old. Cugno burst on the political scene in Waterbury in early 1996 when he was appointed Giordano's chief of staff. His impact was immediate, and high octane. Cugno was responsible for the daily operations in the city, and used his extensive military background to organize the Giordano team.
Cugno held a masters degree in public administration and attempted to bring elements of his military training into city government. At the first department head meeting in 1996 Cugno asked all department heads to stand as Giordano entered the room. The gesture was meant to show respect for the office of mayor, but the departments heads hadn't stood for the previous mayor, Mike Bergin, so they grumbled and muttered. Cugno's military approach to city government rubbed some entrenched department heads the wrong way, but he was passionate and engaged in trying to move the city forward.
Extraordinarily passionate about hunting, Cugno had a mounted Buffalo head in his office in the Chase Building, and with the slightest prompting, would revel in tales of alligator hunting in the swamps of Louisiana, or shark fishing in the Atlantic Ocean.
Cugno left Waterbury politics in June 1999 to become the adjunct general and commander of the Connecticut National Guard, where he served for six years. In the spring of 2002 Cugno called The Waterbury Observer to invite me to accompany him on a five day trip to Nicaragua. I had 12 hours to respond, and within 36 hours I was on a small private airplane en route to Nicaragua with Cugno, and a small staff of National Guardsmen.
I sat next to Cugno on the flight to Key West, where we overnighted, and we spent hours talking about Waterbury politics. He was stunned at the arrest and incarceration of Giordano, and like most of the people in the Giordano administration, had been blindsided by the mayor's heinous sexual misconduct with two minor girls.
All testosterone and high energy, Cugno battered my ears with non-stop talk for 12-14 hours a day. His staff was thrilled I had joined the trip, and several of them told me privately if I hadn't come along, Cugno would have held their feet to the fire for five straight days. I had been a pleasant diversion for Cugno, and his staff was thrilled. I had a unique opportunity to tour Managua with Cugno, visit with the U.S. Ambassador, and fly into a remote mountain village on a Black Hawk helicopter to inspect a National Guard well drilling project. At the end of the trip we all bought illegal Cuban cigars to smuggle back into the country. When we arrived back in Florida a customs agent boarded the plane and discovered our illegal contraband. The agent looked directly at Cugno, who gave a sheepish grin, and we were allowed to keep the cigars.
General Cugno was full of life and I was stunned to see his face staring out from today's obituary page in the Republican-American newspaper. He was a vibrant man, and at 63, still a young man.
Bill Cugno was a platoon leader in Vietnam, the operations director for Waterbury and the commander of the Connecticut National Guard. He was high energy while he lived, and the world is a little less interesting now that he is gone.