WEST SPRINGFIELD — Walter DeFilippi, the retired West Springfield legislator famous for his cowboy hats, died Jan. 15 at the age of 97. His funeral was at Curran Jones Funeral Home on Jan. 22, attended by politicians from all parties like former state House Speaker Tom Finneran, and former representatives Stephen Buoniconti and Robert Howarth.

Former House Minority Leader Steven Pierce, who gave the eulogy, described DeFilippi as a great friend, and an intelligent, ambitious, honest and hardworking person who cared deeply about his family and West Springfield, which he represented in the 1980s and 1990s as a Republican state representative.

“Walter gave politics a good name, a good reputation,” he said.

Howarth said he had a good sense of humor and was a ladies’ man. He recalled how his wife would ask him to give DeFilippi a kiss on her behalf. He also said he was a great friend with a great smile. He regularly stayed over at his Hampton Beach condo.

“I never heard Walter get upset or mad at anything,” he said. “Sometimes he’d just shake his head, his way of disapproval.”

Born to Italian immigrants in West Springfield, DeFilippi graduated from local schools. He served in the Navy during World War II. He became an electrical engineer, earning a degree from New York University, before getting involved in town politics. According to this obituary, he served as chair of the Board of Assessors, the Finance Committee, the Veterans Services board, and attended Town Meetings. He was also involved in multiple civic organizations like the Lions Club, of which he was director, and the West Springfield-Agawam Elks Club.

Buoniconti, who succeeded him in 2001, recalls living near him and seeing DeFilippi buy Christmas trees from the farm he worked at. Michael Finn, the current representative for West Springfield, said when he was around 11 years old, DeFilippi was one of the first politicians he became aware of, and remembers getting to know him better when Finn joined the West Springfield Town Council.

DeFilippi was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1979, winning 53.2% of the vote in his district. He later became assistant minority leader, and the minority whip in the 1990s. He served until 2000.

DeFilippi was concerned with matters of criminal justice, and limiting government spending. Buoniconti said DeFilippi would always hold Democrats’ feet to the fire on spending, exercising a sense of fiscal conservatism that he credited to DeFilippi’s childhood in the Great Depression. DeFilippi, he said, would refer to himself as a “Depression-era baby.”

“He did not want to see a cataclysmic economic event again,” Buoniconti said.

But the representative’s main interest was making sure Western Massachusetts got its fair share of state spending, in a Legislature dominated by eastern Massachusetts representatives. Finn said DeFilippi’s work bringing resources to West Springfield set high expectations for his successors to do the same. Pierce remembered when DeFilippi won the 1984 Massachusetts Municipal Association Legislator of the Year award for removing a cap on lottery revenue distribution, and securing $17 million for water and sewer updates for cities and towns.

“We worked very much in common on making sure municipal government got a fair share of the local aid formulas,” said Pierce.

Both Finn and Buoniconti, who are Democrats, said they learned lessons from DeFilippi, in particular from his bipartisanship. Finn said Finneran became speaker of the House in 1996 because DeFilippi crafted a deal with other Republican lawmakers. Buoniconti said he saw that DeFilippi was highly regarded on both sides of the aisle, and during his time in the state House and state Senate tried to continue that brand of bipartisanship himself.

Finn also said that after he became a state representative, he found DeFilippi was willing to answer his questions and share his institutional knowledge. In particular, he learned from DeFilippi the importance of serving constituents.

“I’ve always kind of had it in the back of my mind,” he said. “If you want to be successful, you got to take care of constituents to what they expect,” and “the bar was set by Walter.”

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