Joel Cirilo moved to a beat his entire life, even when the beat changed.
Sometimes it would be the Beatles, his wife, Veronica Cirilo said. Other times it might be something harder like Thin Lizzy or Rush. Later on he tapped into Tejano music and asked coworkers at Houston Public Works what was on their playlist so he could try it out.
“He listened to stuff I never thought he would listen to,” Veronica said.
As he struggled to overcome COVID earlier this week at St. Luke’s Medical Center in downtown Houston his family gathered around and it was the Beatles and his beloved George Harrison booming through the ward. He’d told them, in his overly jovial way, he planned to get a T-shirt that said “I beat COVID-19,” even as his symptoms worsened.
Joel Cirilo, 59, died Wednesday.
“He wanted to spread the word this is real, and I’m happy he is having a chance on his death for people to realize this is real,” Veronica Cirilo said. “It is not pretty when you are losing a loved one in the hospital.”
Especially a gregarious, outgoing and energetic person like Cirilo. A native East End resident, he made his way from the drum line of the Stephen F. Austin High marching band to the guitar. He taught himself the accordion and learned the keyboard, instilling his music love in his two sons, Joel and Benjamin. They sometimes played under the moniker Grupo Cirilo.
When he wasn’t making music, Joel was making sure Houston’s rights of way were clear as he reviewed plans for the city’s code enforcement department. He’d bounced through a few city crews —- for Houston to Pearland, on to La Porte and back to Houston – finally settling in a role that didn’t require trudging through the rain and heat. That didn’t stop him for admiring a nice bit of new construction in the field, however.
“He loved to see new construction and take pictures of it,” said Veronica, who also works for public works. “He considered himself a superintendent, I guess.”
He also dabbled in comedy, even when it might not be called for. A big fan of the Billy Crystal-Robert De Niro flicks Analyze This and Analyze That, Joel was joking around even in the hospital, mimicking scenes about slapping someone to get their attention.
“That’s just how he was,” Veronica laughed. “I’d say ‘I’m not sure that’s funny’ and he’d say ‘If you think about it…” He just loved to laugh.”
Cirilo is the 15th city employee – including three firefighters and one police officer – to die from COVID complications. His death was announced along with that of Officer Ernest Leal on Friday.
“In their own way, they contributed to our city and made life better for all of us,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement.
As befits his attitude, Veronica said they’re planning not a solemn affair to remember Joel, details pending. His guitar will be there, so people can play songs.
“He wanted people to be celebrating,” she said.