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Epilogue: Romano Moglia filled St. Petersburg Police Department with his stories

ST. PETERSBURG — Office work can be heavy in its banality — the hours spent scanning, copying, filing. Lunch. Repeat.

But never for Romano Moglia. Like he always told his children, you have to do something. Anything really, except for nothing.

The St. Petersburg police volunteer, with a gentle Italian accent and sly smile, always started work with a proud "Bongiorno!" and a declaration of indefatigable optimism. Happy Monday, he would pronounce. Happy Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, too.

"He always opened his days with 'happy,' " said Colleen Slater, an accreditation clerk at police headquarters.

Mr. Moglia died Aug. 13 from a fast-spreading cancer. He was 86.

He started working at the Police Department in September 2003, the month he turned 75, helping out in the communications department, then accreditation services and the fiscal unit, keeping track of personnel files.

"Romano took up the slack," said George Billias, administrative coordinator of the agency's volunteers.

But most important, Mr. Moglia made the department an easier place to work.

"People always like people that like them, and Romano liked everybody," Officer Robert Lord said. He had a knack for remembering names and details about everyone he met.

His son Randy said Mr. Moglia was purposeful with questions, always showing people that he valued and took interest in their lives.

"He could talk to CEOs or chiefs of police or he could just talk to people in the street," Randy Moglia said.

Born Sept. 27, 1928, in New York, Mr. Moglia spent much of his childhood in Bedonia, a mountainous town near the top of Italy's boot. Germans invaded during World War II. Mr. Moglia later told Billias that he ran notes for resistance fighters as a boy. He saw Benito Mussolini in person.

When he was a teen, his family returned to the United States. In December 1959, Mr. Moglia visited Cuba with a friend. They were in Havana on New Year's Eve when Fidel Castro seized power and were confined to a hotel for five days before police and the U.S. embassy helped them get home.

Mr. Moglia moved to St. Petersburg with his parents in the 1960s and set up a television repair business, Roy's, on 16th Street in the 1970s. He had a wife and two sons, Randy and Richard.

In the late '70s, Mr. Moglia took to computers, joining clubs and learning to manipulate the machines as they became more popular. Around the same time, he met Margo Gustavson at a singles event sponsored by the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. They were both divorced, she said, and they didn't fall for each other until the following Easter, when Mr. Moglia heard Gustavson sing at the old Mirror Lake Christian Church.

He said her voice sent chills up his spine. Every holiday from then until his death, he bought her a dozen red roses.

When he retired in 1988, Mr. Moglia enrolled at what was then St. Petersburg Junior College. He took every computer class offered. The skills later proved useful when he set up databases and helped younger colleagues learn how to use computers at police headquarters.

"Even on Windows 8, which everyone had trouble with, here's Romano going, 'I got this figured out,' " said Deborah Furka, accreditation supervisor at the department.

He frequented the library, checking out several DVDs at once about whatever subject he wanted to learn that week. Gustavson said Mr. Moglia hoped to be a doctor once, but World War II had sent him off track. Later in life, he studied science.

As a volunteer, Mr. Moglia worked about 20 hours a week at the Police Department. In 2013, he became a part-time employee. At some point, he started writing down and defining every police acronym he saw, creating a long master list for all to use.

When he was diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, Mr. Moglia began researching. He called a doctor in Seattle with a specialty in the disease. He knew there was no cure.

As part of his therapy, Mr. Moglia started sharing daily emails, recollections of his life, a scattered autobiography. His mind was active until the end, Randy Moglia said.

In his first message, sent to about 130 relatives and friends, Mr. Moglia wrote: "I understand that the average lifespan of a man now is 78 years. I am 86 years old. That means that I lived eight years more than the average man. I consider this an accomplishment. I have had a good long life."

He began the next section: "I am reminded of my trip to Havana, Cuba, in 1959 when I got caught during the Castro revolution … "

Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at zsampson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804.

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