Men in uniform and kilted bagpipers were in the streets of New York again Tuesday for the funeral services of former three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo, who died New Year’s Day. He was 82.
The bagpipers marched, piping a mournful dirge amid heavy snowflakes as the hearse arrived outside St. Ignatius Loyola Church on the Upper East Side, where services were once held for Lena Horne.
Sheltered by a panoply of umbrellas, Gov. Andrew Cuomo escorted his mother, Matilda, into the church, which was crowded with a galaxy of luminaries, including Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Choking back tears, Cuomo eulogized his father, noting that he wasn’t a politician at all, despite facts to the contrary, including running the state from 1983 to 1994.
“At his core,” the governor said, “at his best, he was a philosopher and he was a poet. And he was an advocate and he was a crusader.” He was, the governor continued, “the keynote speaker for our better angels,” paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln.
Cuomo drew rounds of laughter as he reflected on his father’s prowess in sports and how he aspired to be a professional baseball player before he was beaned by a pitch.
“He would hit you in places the human body did not have anatomical defenses,” he said of his father’s tenacity on the basketball court, which was the only place that “he would allow himself to be his most aggressive self. It was his liberation.”
At the conclusion of his 40-minute eulogy, the audience, some 850, rose in thunderous ovation for the governor. His father, no slouch when it came to oratory, rhetoric or a good story, would have been proud.
The late governor told the church’s pastor, the Rev. George Witt, that he wanted a simple, local funeral, and that request was met, though the high and mighty who had come to pay tribute pushed beyond the simple and the local.
“He was a role model, and his legacy lives on,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who agreed that the services were intimate and personal.
There was no way the governor was going to say farewell to his father without commenting on the current political chaos and the need for unity and peace. Rep. Charles Rangel, who knew the governor for more than 50 years, said Cuomo came into politics “in order to bring people together, so it makes perfect sense to me,” he said of the younger Cuomo’s remarks about his father as a peacemaker.
There were warm regards from Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, and Mayor Byron Brown of Buffalo, again indicating the reach and influence of his power—a power that argued against a presidential run or a seat on the Supreme Court.
“He didn’t want to,” the son said of the father’s reluctance to seek the presidency.
Mario Cuomo didn’t need the White House. Being a lieutenant governor and the governor of New York were enough political success for the native of Queens, a Roman Catholic who supported abortion rights. Many Harlemites were overjoyed when he appointed H. Carl McCall as commissioner of human rights in the early 1980s. McCall was among the dignitaries who filed by the bier during the wake.
The man they called “Hamlet on the Hudson” was laid to rest, and only death could still his eloquence.