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Lucille Bernardi Dies; Wife of Ex-Councilman

October 13, 1993|JACK CHEEVERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lucille Bernardi, wife of retired Los Angeles City Councilman Ernani Bernardi, has died after a lengthy bout with Alzheimer's disease. She was 78.

Mrs. Bernardi died Monday at a Sherman Oaks convalescent hospital. She had suffered for almost three years from Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative brain condition that often strikes the elderly.

She was married for nearly 60 years to the former councilman, a City Hall veteran known both for his cantankerous opposition to city spending proposals and his puckish sense of humor. The couple met in the early 1930s at a Detroit ballroom, where Ernani Bernardi, then a professional musician, was playing saxophone in the orchestra.

"She was a very likable person," her husband said Tuesday. "She was more of a gregarious person . . . than me, because I'd be considered just the opposite."

Married in 1933, the Bernardis lived in Detroit briefly before moving to New York. Ernani Bernardi performed in a number of Swing Era big bands, including those of Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. He also wrote arrangements for Goodman's "And the Angels Sing" and Dorsey's "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You."

As the Great Depression deepened and the bands' popularity rose, the Bernardis often traveled together from gig to gig. When their first child was born, they jury-rigged a hammock in their car's back seat and took the baby with them.

The Bernardis came to California in 1940 when Ernani was playing with Kay Kyser's "College of Musical Knowledge," a group that featured music and gags. Settling in Van Nuys, Lucille raised four children as her husband turned to building custom homes.

He launched a third career--in politics--in 1961 when he was appointed to a vacant council seat.

Known at City Hall as a feisty independent, Bernardi was a sharp critic of programs he considered wasteful, overly bureaucratic or tainted with cronyism. He was reelected eight times and retired this year, at age 81, as the council's longest-serving member.

Devoted to her husband and family, Lucille frequently joined her husband on the campaign trail. With her children grown in the late 1960s, she went to work for the county probation department as a records clerk, retiring after 10 years.

As his wife's condition worsened in recent years, Bernardi cared for her at home and often brought her to City Hall so they could remain close. While he tended to city business, Lucille Bernardi watched TV in his council office, said fellow Councilman Joel Wachs.

"When you're 80 years old doing that, that's something," said Wachs. "It's really wonderful that he could do that so they could be together even in more difficult times."

Bernardi said he placed his wife in a convalescent hospital Sept. 1 after her nurse recommended near-constant medical attention. Lucille Bernardi died Monday after she stopped breathing, her husband said.

A Mass will be said for Mrs. Bernardi today at 10 a.m. at St. Elisabeth Catholic Church in Van Nuys, of which she was an active member. Burial will be private. The Bernardi family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Alzheimer's Assn., 597 W. 3rd St., Suite 200, Los Angeles, CA., 90036.

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