O'Connor tribute to be reminiscent of Caliguiri's

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Former mayor and governor David L. Lawrence, widely regarded as the greatest political figure in Pittsburgh's history, received a public tribute from some 2,000 mourners -- including Robert F. Kennedy and other national figures -- at a Mass Downtown four days after his death in 1966.

Mr. Lawrence, who served four terms as mayor ending in 1959 and one term as governor, was 77 and retired from public office at the time of his death from a heart attack.

The arrangements surrounding his funeral were somewhat less elaborate than those for two successors who died in office, Richard Caliguiri and Bob O'Connor. No horse-drawn hearse carried Mr. Lawrence's casket, but there were several days of visitation at McCabe Bros. Inc. Funeral Home in Shadyside prior to his funeral Mass at St. Mary of Mercy Church and burial in Calvary Cemetery.

In 1988, the city mourned the death of Mr. Caliguiri, a popular mayor who died prematurely young while in office, and those ceremonies were much more similar to this week's public grieving for Mr. O'Connor.

Thousands of people passed through the City-County Building on a Monday, when city government shut down to pay tribute to Mr. Caliguiri. As many as 2,000 an hour filed by the closed casket of the mayor, who was 56 when he died of the rare disease amyloidosis after 11 years in office.

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, center, stands in the pews at St. Mary of Mercy Church, Downtown, during the funeral Mass for former Pittsburgh Mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. David L. Lawrence in 1966.
Click photo for larger image.Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette
Just recently sworn in as mayor, Sophie Masloff, foreground, weeps as the casket of late Mayor Richard Caliguiri is carried into the City-County Building in May 1988. With her are, from left: David Donahoe, city Urban Redevelopment Authority director and longtime aide; Anna Marie Lozer, Mr. Caliguiri's personal secretary; and Patrick Leheny, the late mayor's bodyguard.
Click photo for larger image.

After Mass the next morning at St. Paul Cathedral, crowds paying respect showed up along the route of a slow, 178-car procession through Squirrel Hill and Greenfield for his burial in Calvary.

Mr. O'Connor's tenure was far shorter, just eight months, the last two battling irreversible cancer, but he quickly became popular for his upbeat attitude about the city and infectious manner treating every citizen as a friend. His death at 61 was stunning for someone so visible and vigorous a few months earlier.

The public ceremonies accompanying his death have given the region a chance to join his family in mourning.

"I don't think we realize how political leaders can touch the lives of people," said David Donahoe, grandson of Mr. Lawrence and a former aide to Mr. Caliguiri who helped plan his public services. "When they get that connection, it can be very strong, just like when a family member dies, and people need some vehicle to grieve or mourn ... People who don't feel as though they should go to the funeral home, because they don't feel they know the family, should have an opportunity to [join in grieving] without feeling intrusive."

Public mourning was also a key feature of ceremonies in 2000 for former Allegheny County Commissioner Tom Foerster, a legendary, longtime political titan like Mr. Lawrence. For two days, his casket was placed at the foot of the grand staircase in the Allegheny County Courthouse for people to walk past. There was no visitation at a funeral home, only in the public setting.

In all of those cases, dignitaries filled churches for the final services. For U.S. Sen. John Heinz, who also died prematurely in office from a 1991 plane crash, hundreds of national figures were among those attending at Heinz Chapel. A public reception attended by some 1,000 people took place afterward at the nearby Carnegie Hall of Architecture.

Typically, there is an overflow crowd at such services because all of the common citizens who want to join the official invitees can't fit. For Mr. Lawrence, whose Mass took place at St. Mary of Mercy on Stanwix Street because that was his longtime parish, the excess crowd watched on television in the church basement and the auditorium of the Diocesan Building nearby on the Boulevard of the Allies.

But none of the other figures has had the same extent of public proceedings as Mr. Caliguiri and Mr. O'Connor. Both men were raised in Greenfield, adult residents of Squirrel Hill, unpretentious individuals who served as City Council presidents and were possibly underestimated in political circles before winning election as mayors.

Kay Snyder, a licensed social worker who treats grief as a therapist in Shadyside, said she is pleased by the opportunity to take part in final ceremonies for Mr. O'Connor. She expects to be standing on Murray Avenue today when his hearse drives by toward the cemetery.

Ms. Snyder did not know the mayor or his family personally, but she said she and many others are sad over the suddenness of his death, its impact on the hopes that had arisen from his early tenure and the compassion they feel for his family.

"I think this is a wondrous thing for Pittsburghers to be able to stand on the street and say goodbye," she said. "I'll probably cry. There will be a lot of crying taking place, and that's fine. I tell people who are very sad to fill up with it and let it go."

A military guard removes the body of Sen. John Heinz, who died in a 1991 plane crash, from Heinz Chapel.
Click photo for larger image.

Gary Rotstein can be reached at grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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