The death of Stafford Mayor Leonard Scarcella on June 28 sent shockwaves through the city. The passing of the longest-tenured mayor in the U.S. had a deep resonance with one resident in particular.
Jim Narvios, a law student at Texas Southern University, commissioned a mural that was dedicated Friday in a ceremony attended by several of Scarcella’s former colleagues on the city council and the school board as well as others in the community.
Though the mural itself was in response to the loss of the city’s leader, the seeds for the artistic partnership were sown nearly a decade ago when Narvios, a philanthropist, cultural historian and art curator, shared an office with artist Zeus De Leon.
“Zeus had the desk next to me,” Narvios said in his address to attendees of the mural’s dedication. “And one day we woke up and said, ‘Let’s put inspirational words on the wall with decals.’ … Like ‘inspiration’ and ‘persevere.’ Mind you, we were like down and out at this time, and I’m sure you can relate to how that feels. But we would just stare at these words, and these words came alive in us. And here we are 10 years later dedicating a mural to the beautiful city of Stafford.”
The mural, located at the intersection of Highway 90 and Staffordshire at 2810 South Main Street, took De Leon about 40 hours of labor over a span of two weeks to complete because of rain delays.
“This is what I’ve been doing since I was 14 or 15 years old, “ De Leon said. “And I’m 37 now. There’s never been something else that I’ve done (for a living). I’ve done murals all over (Stafford) and in different cities. … We were baking out here, too. It was like 101 degrees.”
The wall of the Shiloh Travel & Tours building faces east, in order to have the sunset as a backdrop. It features Stafford’s triangular tower monuments along Highway 59 as bookends, and in bold, white letters, spells out the city’s name, with the word “Stronger” in gold letters underneath.
“The city is facing a lot of uncertainty, but I believe that through the concept of ‘Stafford Stronger,’ we can speak things into existence,” Narvios said. “There’s life and death in the power of the tongue, and art is a beautiful conduit to that.”
Scarcella was elected mayor of Stafford in 1969 and held the title for 51 years. He was instrumental in creating a municipal school district, the first of its kind in Texas, and famously abolished property taxes in 1995. He worked with Union Pacific Railroad and the Texas Department of Transportation to install three underpasses in Stafford and was a charter member of the Gulf Coast Rail District.
Several city council members, including Alice Chen and Mayor Pro Tempore Wen Guerra, praised Narvios’ efforts to unite the city. Chen recalled Scarcella’s open-door approach and said his vision and foresight helped Stafford evolve into an economically and culturally diverse city.
“I miss him so much,” Chen said. “He was my mentor. … I treasure all of these moments that I learned from him. We are so lucky, and I was lucky to know him. I look at this (mural) and it gives me motivation. It gives me hope. It gives me peace and harmony.”
Guerra said the mural “represents a generation” and that Stafford’s future is promising with the ascent of community leaders like Narvios.
“I’m a Yuppie,” Guerra said. “The Yuppies followed the Baby Boomers. (Narvios) is a millennial. That is the future of America. That is what is coming up the pipeline to be the next mayor, councilman, representatives, and senators. … This (mural) is an illustration of the heart of this new generation, and (Narvios) is a fabric of this generation.”