Woman Who Helped Shaped Broward Dies


By Buddy Nevins



Back when West Broward was mushrooming, there was no one more politically powerful than Sunrise Mayor John Lomelo. 

Standing between Lomelo and anyone who wanted to see him was Anne Marie Labelle, his long-time personal assistant.

Labelle died January 22 of complications from a fall in Fredericksburg, VA. She was 77.

Her death closes a chapter in Broward’s history.

“Mayor John Lomelo and his administrative assistant, Anne Marie Labelle…between them pretty much run the city of Sunrise,” wrote Miami Herald columnist Doug Delp in 1983. 

No one got near Lomelo’s office without passing by her first. She was Lomelo’s closest advisers her entire time in city hall. He listened to her. And she stood by his side and helped while he built Sunrise.

Labelle’s relationship with Lomelo allowed her to have a behind-the-scene role in helping create today’s Sunrise. During the 18 years she worked for Lomelo, the blueprints were drawn that would turn the tiny village into acres of high-rises, cavernous malls and sprawling condominiums.

Labelle was there was the beginning. The very beginning. 


Labelle was there for much of Sunrise’s growth. This is a cover letter included with some of the original plans for Sunrise Lakes condominiums sent to her from the developer over 40 years ago. 


Sunrise was born in 1961 when developer Norman Johnson bought a tomato farm and wetlands for $10 millions and convinced the Legislature to make it a municipality called Sunrise Golf Village. Labelle moved into one of the first houses. 

“I knew I was out in the sticks when I found several snakes in my house,” Labelle was later quoted as saying.

Developer Norman Johnson used the gimmick of the Upside Down House to draw the initial buyers to Sunrise. 




When she was sweeping those snakes out of her house she could never predict the role she would have changing Sunrise.

She got a job as administrative assistant to Sunrise’s newly elected mayor Lomelo in the 1967.

“He was pretty rough around the edges back then,” recalled Labelle in a newspaper interview. 

The novice politician quickly began reshaping Sunrise. 

Labelle was there for it all.

There were fights with neighboring cities when Sunrise gobbled up vast expanses of  vacant land and opened them for development. Called the “Annexation Wars,” Lomelo won most of them. The then-empty land became Sawgrass Mills, the west Sunrise industrial and office complexes, the hockey arena and Bonaventure.

There were complaints when Sunrise bought every utility it  could. There was surprise when Lomelo became chair of the Broward Democratic Party, expanding his role in politics. There was shock when Lomelo would get in bar fights or unexpectedly show up at voters’ weddings to grab the microphone and sing songs like My Way 

But there was a dark side. Lomelo was investigated by the Broward State Attorney’s office 14 times, indicted three times, but never convicted. The feds finally got him in 1985 for extortion and mail fraud and he ended up in federal prison. Several of his political cronies were also jailed.

Lomelo died in 2000.

Labelle was never, ever accused of wrongdoing. 

Through the circus that was Sunrise under Lomelo, Labelle kept city hall on an even keel.

She could have disappeared from Sunrise with Lomelo’s departure to prison. She didn’t.

She remained a committeewoman with the Democratic Party for a decade after Lomelo’s conviction. She ran for office unsuccessfully. 

And after a stroke in 1995 that left her partially paralyzed, she fought her way back and became an activist for stroke patients. She was honored by HealthSouth Sunrise Rehabilitation Hospital in 1998 for her volunteer work. 

She moved to Fredericksburg a few years ago to live with her sister Maureen (Roarke) Dennison.  

A personal aside: 

I dealt with Anne Marie Labelle frequently when I covered Sunrise in the 1970s. I found her to be a consummate professional although I was a reporter who publicized the worst aspects of her boss Lomelo’s conduct.  She was pleasant. She was understanding. She unflappable amid the constant turmoil of Lomelo’s reign. 

Sunrise was lucky to have her.  

Below unedited is an obit her family wrote and sent to the Browardbeat.com:


Anne Marie Labelle Dies 



It is with heavy heart and with great sadness that I share with you the passing of our mother, Anne Marie Labelle.  Mom passed away last week in Fredericksburg Virginia where she resided with her sister, Maureen (Roarke) Dennison. She was 77.  She passed away after complications from a bad fall.  Many of you knew my mother from her career as the Administrative Assistant to the Sunrise Mayor from the 1960’s to the 1980’s.  Many of you stayed in contact with her through the years.

Mom suffered from COPD for many years, and after complications from a fall, she was fortunate to pass away with her entire family by her hospital bedside at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg Virginia. Her last words to me were “tell everyone I love them”.

Mom was born in Troy, New York and was a Broward resident since a teen.  She was the daughter of a retired Coast Guardsman, Troy city police officer and the late Richard C. Roarke (Sunrise City Council President), and the late Anna Mae Roarke of Sunrise.  She was known for her activism in Sunrise city politics and retired from Sunrise after suffering a severe stroke.  After intense rehabilitation and recovery, she worked for local real estate developers in Plantation and Boca Raton.  She also volunteered at the Sunrise Rehabilitation Center and was a popular one-on-one volunteer member of support groups for victims of stroke rehabilitation and brain injuries.  She served on the hospital’s community advisory board, plus volunteered  with Shake-a-Leg, a group for individuals with disabilities who sailed monthly in special boats on Biscayne Bay.

Mom loved Florida State Seminoles football and enjoyed spending time with her family.  She also loved to travel and go on cruises.  

She is survived by her sons Robert of St. Petersburg, Florida, Michael (Paula) of New Baltimore, Michigan and her sister Maureen (Roarke) Dennison of Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Anne Marie had five grandchildren (Amanda Labelle, Matthew Labelle, Courtney Labelle, Casey Labelle and Kelli Labelle), one great grandchild (Parker Labelle) and five nieces and nephews (Ryan, Lauren, Grant, Logan and Abby). 

She was cremated by the Virginia Cremation Service in Fredericksburg Virginia.  The family asks that donations in lieu of flowers be made to the Mary Washington Hospice in Fredericksburg.

For more information you can contact myself, Robert Labelle  954-562-1743  sprtrac@aol.com

Comments are closed.