Friends, community leaders react to news of O'Connor's death

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Gov. Ed Rendell last night ordered all state flags in Pittsburgh and throughout Allegheny County to be lowered to half-staff to commemorate the death of Mayor Bob O'Connor.

Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette
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Mr. Rendell was one of dozens of people -- officials and friends, statesmen and stateswomen -- who took the time last night to offer condolences to the O'Connor family and reminisce about Pittsburgh's popular mayor of just nine months.

"This is a great tragedy for Pittsburgh and for all of Pennsylvania," said Mr. Rendell. "Bob O'Connor was a wonderful public servant who served the city enormously well. ... Bob's death is especially tragic because becoming the mayor of Pittsburgh was his lifelong dream, and he was making incredible progress in revitalizing the city. His passing seems so unfair and is such a loss for all of us."

Here's what others were saying about the mayor's passing:

Dan Onorato, Allegheny County chief executive: "Our region lost a great man and a visionary leader, and I lost a dear friend and confidant. Bob O'Connor and I began our political careers on the same day, when we were sworn in as members of Pittsburgh City Council. From that day on, our friendship grew and strengthened, and we became partners in governing. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Judy, his children, Heidy, Father Terry and Corey, and the entire O'Connor family during this difficult time."

Sophie Masloff, former mayor: "He was a people person that everybody loved, no questions about it. From my personal experience, I have great sorrow for the people of Pittsburgh and his family. He served this city with dedication and devotion. He just had outstanding leadership, whether leading the fight to clean up the city or bringing in new business."

Dr. Stanley Marks, director of clinical services, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center: "As Bob's physician and friend, I am deeply saddened by his passing and express my deepest sympathy to his family."

Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University: "Of all of Bob O'Connor's good qualities, I was particularly affected by his unwavering optimism for our city's future. This is part of his legacy, and something we need to remember as we build on his good work."

Dan Cohen, former city councilman: "Bob's special quality was his common touch. I'm paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling, but he could walk with governors and board president but his special quality was that common touch.

"He was very good with people. He could relate to every segment of our community. I think that's something you innately have, and he just had it.''

Jim Roddey, former county chief executive: "He brought a level of energy and attitude that we haven't had in a long time. He made people feel good about Pittsburgh. We need to pick up his energy and move ahead with the things he started in his memory. He set a standard that whoever follows him should try to continue."

Guy Costa, director of the city Public Works Department: "When he walked into a room or a crowd, he lit it up. He cared about people. I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November, and I was shocked, so when the mayor was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, I had a feel for what he was thinking and going through. I'll remember his smile, his gray hair, his caring. No one can replace him, he was one in a million.''

M. Gayle Moss, Pittsburgh NAACP president: "He threw himself into his work, visiting countless sites with Department of Public Works officials as well as showing up at crime scenes to display his solidarity with all Pittsburgh's neighborhoods. He had the friendliness and visibility that a city needs.''

Dr. Mary Hines, Carlow University president: "We feel deeply the tragic loss of a man so intensely committed to what is right and good for the city he so loved and zealously served. His energy, enthusiasm, and decisiveness constantly remind us that hard work in pursuit of worthy ends are the keys to real and enduring progress.''

John Murray Jr., chancellor of Duquesne University: "The mayor had brought us a generous spirit. He brought joy to this city. We are going to miss him greatly."

Mark A. Nordenberg, University of Pittsburgh chancellor: "Bob O'Connor was committed, compassionate, courageous, and completely unpretentious. He was beloved for his seemingly effortless ability to connect with people, relate to their problems, and provide a helping hand. Among his many gifts to this region was the reminder, grounded in his own compelling example, that, in addition to a sharp mind, leaders also need a strong will and a good heart."

Kathleen McGinty, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection: "What a fireball. What a guy with energy and vision."

Harvey Kronzek, member of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition: "He was a friend to the community and was always happy to see people, shaking their hands, kissing the women. He was like part of us. He still is part of us."

Norene Beatty, member of the West End-Elliott Citizens Council: "To our community, he gave hope for a new tomorrow. ... This is really hard ... I think he will be very, very much missed. People thought of him as a friend.''

Twanda Carlisle, city councilwoman: "It's a sad, sad day for the city of Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania. Bob worked so hard to get to be mayor. He began some wonderful work."

Dan Deasy, city councilman: "He changed our whole perception of this city; it's really a heartbreaking story. He was such an icon to Pittsburgh. He was just an average Pittsburgh guy who worked hard to get to where he was."

Tonya Payne, city councilwoman: "He was the right person for the neighborhoods. He was a neighborhood guy. It's a major, major loss for the city. I'm hoping the next mayor keeps some of it going.''

William Peduto, city councilman: "I think that Bob helped to redefine city government after 12 years of an administration that focused on real estate development. He brought it back to the basics of making sure that our neighborhoods are places that people want to live."

District Judge Gene Ricciardi, a former City Council president: "It was a true blow. I will always remember his smile. His smile was infectious. He was constantly flowing with energy. He is just one of those people who can never be replaced.''

Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., former bishop of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese: His legacy from his service in public life remains his ability to bring people together to see the best in everyone and to try to make Pittsburgh a better place.''

The Rev. Paul J. Bradley, auxiliary bishop, Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese: "Bob O'Connor led a life of dedicated public service and he had inspired all of Pittsburgh in the brief time that we had him as our mayor. But we remember him as well as a devoted husband, father, and our brother in the faith.''

Bill Isler, city school board president: "He certainly was a friend to the Pittsburgh Public Schools. He was somebody I could talk to at any time about public education. He was always available."

David Caliguiri, son of former Mayor Richard Caliguiri, who also died in office: "I feel a deep sorrow and sadness for the city of Pittsburgh. It's hard for me to express because it's something I went through 18 years ago.''

Sala Udin, former city councilman: "It's a very difficult day for people who knew him and worked with him. There is nobody that loved this city and loved his job more than Bob O'Connor. His feet were firmly planted on the ground, and that's where his aspirations came from.''

Paul Hennigan, president of Point Park University: "I worked with Bob for six years when he was a member of City Council and I was chief financial officer for the city. I am happy he had an opportunity to serve as mayor and I'm grateful to have had an opportunity to work with him and to share in his vision and plans for Pittsburgh's Downtown area.''

Kevin McClatchy, Pirates managing general partner: "Bob was a great sports fan, but Bob was an even bigger fan of the city of Pittsburgh. We all saw this in his enthusiasm for the Steelers after they won the Super Bowl and in how hard he worked to make sure that Pittsburgh would look its best for the All-Star Game in July. Bob O'Connor cared about the city of Pittsburgh in a very special way."

State Sen. Jim Ferlo: "It is said that the most beautiful rose is always plucked out of the garden first. 'Everybody's Mayor' is now looking down on us from heaven above telling us to never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them. Bob lived and practiced that principle, it was what made Bob the people-person he was to so many."

Lifelong friend Robert "Jabo" Jablonowski, who was at the mayor's bedside when he died: "When we would walk the streets in Squirrel Hill, you couldn't walk 10 feet without someone coming up to him. He won this city over. You could disagree with him, but you didn't dislike him. And he had such compassion."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann: "Mayor O'Connor demonstrated an unyielding commitment and a selfless devotion to the city of Pittsburgh. His enthusiasm for Pittsburgh's future should be carried forward as a part of his legacy."

Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney: "Bob was a true Democrat who believed in providing a better future for working families, especially those that worked hard, played by the rules and contributed to the greater good.''

Jeff Vesci, president of city paramedics union, Local 1: "The thing about Bob I always liked, there was the happy, fun-loving guy that everyone saw and liked and that was Bob. When it came to serious matters or not. ... He was a good businessman. When he sat down at the table with you he wanted to get things done and get down to business. We had such hopes for him to do great things for the city. It's just a shame."

Common Pleas Judge Tom Flaherty, former city controller: "Bob O'Connor was, in my entire 30 years in politics, unique in the fact that I never saw him lose his cool publicly or privately. He was the eternal optimist. As far as local politics, I never saw anyone who had the same optimism and good nature. He was the kind of guy we will never see again -- certainly in my lifetime."

Correction/Clarification: (Published Sept. 3, 2006) John Murray Jr. is chancellor of Duquesne University, not president. He was misidentified in this story containing tributes to Mr. O'Connor as originally published Sept. 2, 2006.


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