Angela Sanfilippo said she wasn’t expecting any awards Sunday when she traveled to New Bedford for that city’s Working Waterfront Festival.
She was in for a surprise.
Sanfilippo was standing next to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley aboard the state’s official vessel, the schooner Ernestina, when the announcement was made for this year’s recipients for the prestigious Offshore Mariners’ Wives Friend of the Fishing Industry Award.
“She looked at me and said, ‘They just called your name’,” Sanfilippo said Monday. “I had no clue. I was in total shock.”
Sanfilippo, the president of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association and a tireless advocate for fishermen and the fishing industry, was one of two recipients. The other was J.J. Bartlett, the president of the Burlington-based Fishing Partnership Support Services, a free health and wellness service for fishermen and their families.
As this year’s winner, Sanfilippo becomes the second Gloucester recipient to receive the honor. The first was the Times’ late fisheries reporter Richard Gaines, who was honored, along with the Times itself, for his persistent coverage of the fisheries in 2010. Past winners have included staunch fishing industry advocates such as the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and former Congressman Barney Frank.
Sanfilippo, according to Verna Kendall of the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, was honored for her role as a “constant crusader” for fishermen’s rights for the past 37 years.
“They’ve both worked so very, very hard for so many years,” said Kendall, who presented the awards to Sanfilippo and Bartlett. “I really wanted both to get the award this year.”
In her presentation, Kendall cited Sanfilippo’s work to prevent oil drilling on Georges Bank and to keep the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary open for commercial and recreational fishing.
“A tireless crusader, she somehow found time among all her endeavors to raise a family,” Kendall said. “She and her husband, John, raised two beautiful daughters, Maryanne and Giovanna, who have gone on to begin their own families. Both her husband, John, and her brother Joe Orlando are Gloucester fishermen.
“I guess that, contrary to popular belief, fishermen do know a good catch when they make one,” Kendall quipped.
Asked Monday what she considered her greatest accomplishments throughout her tenure as an advocate for the fishing industry, Sanfilippo had a profound response.
“I’d say it’s that we still have a fishing industry,” she said. “I think the industry could have been gone a long time ago if we didn’t have people like myself and all the others that have come along to fight for it.”
She said receiving the award was just the beginning of an emotional day.
As the ceremony unfolded, Richie Canastra, a co-owner of the New Bedford and Boston seafood auction houses, provided an emotional rendition of the national anthem.
“I looked toward the pier, and I saw all the people standing close to the water, the men with their hats off and everyone holding their hand over their heart,” Sanfilippo said. “It was very, very moving.”
Following the ceremony, which included the annual blessing of the fleet, she had to rush off and be a judge at one of the seafood throwdowns scheduled as part of the celebration.
“It was a hectic day,” she said “But a really wonderful one.”
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT