Remembering Tony Bliss, dedicated local volunteer

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 4, 2021

 Tony Bliss

Tony Bliss

MADISON HEIGHTS — As the Madison Heights community mourns the unexpected passing of long-time volunteer Tony Bliss, they are also celebrating his life of service to others.

According to his son, Madison Heights City Councilman Mark Bliss, Tony Bliss died of a sudden heart attack May 19.

“He had just gotten over COVID the month prior, so the belief is that the ‘after-COVID’ complications likely played a role, as he was only 60 years old, with no known history of heart issues,” Mark Bliss said in an email.

But while his passing was sudden, people won’t soon forget the legacy of Tony Bliss.

He was deeply involved in the community — so much so that in 2013, he was named the overall Volunteer of the Year by the Madison Heights Community Round Table, a coalition of charities and other community groups in the city.

During the awards luncheon that year, attendees were asked to stand and remain standing if they were actively involved in one group, two groups, three groups and so on. Tony Bliss was one of the few left standing at five groups.

He volunteered with the Madison Heights Jaycees, the Lamphere Schools and the city itself, including its Historical Commission, and he served as an usher and youth minister at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church. At Christmastime, he played the role of Santa for special needs children, even making home visits to children who were too sick to attend large gatherings.

He was a lifelong member of the Knights of Columbus, serving as Grand Knight and in other leadership positions where he led many community outreach projects. His service with the Knights led him to his career as an insurance field agent, something he relished since it allowed him to help even more people.

“His passion for service spans nearly five decades, and is at the core of who he was, and nearly every piece of the legacy my father leaves behind is tied to this community that he loved,” Mark Bliss said. “When I was little, I always thought he was some kind of superhero, as most sons do. It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized how true that was. And he always led by example.

“I have thousands of memories of my dad investing his time to make the world a bit better off than it was,” Mark Bliss said. “I am so thankful he (took) me along, even if at times it was begrudgingly. I always thought it was weird that I was the only 10-year-old at events like the City Council’s Meet the Candidates Night, but in retrospect those are some of the memories I cherish most, because watching him make a difference made me the man I am today.”

In addition to his son Mark Bliss, Tony Bliss is survived by his other sons Christopher Bliss and Luke Shepherd; his grandchildren Kaelyn, Arielle and Alaric Bliss; his wife Paula Bliss; his mother Shirley Bliss; and his siblings Mike Bliss, Anne Bliss, Cathy Meadows, Joe Bliss, Sue Ciemerych, Christine Tallman and John Bliss, among others.

“He loved his family with reckless abandon,” Mark Bliss said. “He was always so involved in all of our lives, and never failed to find a way to put a smile on our faces, even in the toughest of times. School concerts, talent shows, football games, you name it — if one of his kids or grandkids was involved, he was there cheering them on. He also lit up every time he saw his wife — who he referred to as his bride until the very end — or his grandkids. Every time. There’s no doubt in (my) mind that ‘husband,’ ‘father’ and ‘grandpa’ were the titles he cherished most in his life.”

Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett recalled Tony Bliss as a dependable person.

“Madison Heights was genuinely lucky to have a volunteer as enthusiastic and purpose-driven as Tony Bliss,” Corbett said in an email. “For over four decades, any time the city, its schools or charitable groups needed help and support, Tony’s hand was the first to go up. Having been raised in the community, and in turn brought up his children here, Tony felt compelled to always seek the best for Madison Heights.

“He fully devoted his energy to projects that would stand the test of time for many generations. His work with the Jaycees years ago helped upgrade and improve our Civic Center Park with multiple locations for groups and families to picnic and recreate, plus the jewel of the park, the Jaycee Shelter,” Corbett said. “Beyond all that, Tony was a tireless fundraiser for the library, the Recreation Department, and charitable organizations seeking to aid the poor and homeless in the area.

“Madison Heights benefitted from Tony’s legacy,” Corbett concluded, “and is much better for his devotion and support.”

Brian Hartwell, a former mayor of Madison Heights and the current judge of Hazel Park 43rd District Court, said the passing of Tony Bliss is a “sad loss” for the city.

“Tony is in the pantheon of influential Madison Heights residents because of his numerous leadership roles in service organizations,” Hartwell said in an email. “He embodied what we needed in a leader: creativity, honesty and action.

“Tony was also humble,” Hartwell continued. “I was deeply moved by Tony’s acceptance speech when he was honored as Volunteer of the Year. His message — to a room full of elected officials and leaders from our schools, businesses and charities — was about training the next generation of leaders. He articulated his expansive service philosophy as primarily to do good for its own sake, and secondarily to serve as a role model so that your successor is empowered to pick up where you left off and rise even higher. Tony has now passed the torch, and our lives are better for his thoughtful, intentional public service. May he rest in peace.”

Corey Haines, the city’s police chief and deputy city manager, described Tony Bliss as a “pillar” of the community.

“I have known Tony for many years, and have always looked up to his volunteerism and all he has done over the years for the city and in particular the residents,” Haines said in an email. “I always looked up to Tony for his dedication and service to Madison Heights, and I am very proud for being able to call him a friend, and being able to witness his tremendous work in our city. He will be greatly missed, and I wish only the best for his family during this difficult time. I am also proud to know his son Mark, and to see (in him) the same dedication to our city and its residents as his father.”

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights, said she first met Tony Bliss in 2009 when she and Mark Bliss originally ran for the City Council.

“After the Meet the Candidates (Night), he came up to talk to me … and I looked up to heaven because I knew my Dad was up there watching,” Grafstein said in an email. “My heart breaks for the entire Bliss family, especially Tony’s mom. A parent should never have to bury a child.”

Mark Bliss said his father’s legacy will be not only his good acts, but the people he inspires.

“Personally, I take solace in the fact that he was able to help so many people, and make such an impact in the time that he had,” Mark Bliss said. “It’s my hope that service to others is his legacy, and that those that are inspired by his life will keep the chain going by mentoring and inspiring others to make a difference whenever possible. No matter how small of a difference it seems, the impact will always have a ripple effect into something bigger. My dad knew that — he lived it — and the world is a better place because of him.”