City mourns the death of Mayor Bob O'Connor at age 61
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Martha Rial, Post-GazetteMayor-elect Bob O'Connor gives a thumbs up during his acceptance speech at the Sheraton Station Square last November.
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Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor died last night at 8:55, ending his fight with a brain cancer diagnosed when he was just six months into the job he had sought for a decade.
One hundred minutes later, City Council President Luke Ravenstahl was sworn in as the 59th mayor of Pittsburgh.
Mr. O'Connor, 61, died at UPMC Shadyside less than two months after being diagnosed with primary central nervous system T-cell lymphoma, a rare variant of an unusual cancer of the brain and spinal cord.
Present with the mayor at the time of his death were his wife, Judy, his sons, the Rev. Terrence O'Connor and Corey O'Connor, daughter Heidy Garth, in-laws Jacob and Dee-Dee Pelled, longtime friends Robert Jablonowski and Jimmy Carr, chief of staff Dennis J. Regan, secretary Marlene Cassidy, spokesman Dick Skrinjar and Kevin Quigley, manager of the city's "Redd Up" campaign.
"I'm devastated. He was my best friend," Mr. Jablonowski said. "It's a tremendous loss. People loved him. When I would walk the streets in Squirrel Hill, you couldn't walk 10 feet without someone coming up to him."
"Our region lost a great man and a visionary leader, and I lost a dear friend and confidant," said Dan Onorato, Allegheny County chief executive. "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."
Funeral arrangements, released today, call for friends to be received in the lobby of the City-County Building, Grant Street, downtown Pittsburgh, from noon, tomorrow (Sunday, Sept. 3) continuously until 10 p.m. Monday, Sept. 4.
Visitation will continue at John A. Freyvogel Sons Funeral Home, 4900 Centre Ave. at Devonshire Street, in Shadyside from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 5 and Wednesday, Sept. 6.
Funeral will be Thursday, Sept. 7, when a Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. by Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl in St. Paul Cathedral, Oakland. The O'Connor family requests that everyone meet at the church.
In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be made to the Caring Foundation, SIDS Alliance or the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
At City Hall last night, the process of succession began when Deputy Mayor Yarone Zober somberly crossed the hall from the mayor's office to council's office. He carried a blue folder containing a letter from acting city solicitor George Specter, advising that the post of mayor was vacant and asking if the council president would accept it.
Mr. Ravenstahl, at that point still the president, opened council's door and, his face a portrait of trepidation, wordlessly accepted the folder. He then retreated to council's hallway for several minutes.
Meanwhile, city officials gathered in the mayor's conference room. Council members William Peduto, Jim Motznik, Twanda Carlisle and Len Bodack assembled to the left of the conference room desk. Mr. Ravenstahl's current and former staff members gathered on the right. Administration members, including Mr. Skrinjar, Chief of Police Dominic J. Costa and Public Works Director Guy Costa, joined the gathering.
Mr. Ravenstahl, with his wife, Erin Lynn, entered from a door that connects with the council chamber. Then he placed his hand on a Bible, and Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Robert C. Gallo administered the oath of office.
"I, Luke Ravenstahl, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and of this state, and the charter of the city, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of office to the best of my ability," he repeated after Judge Gallo.
Mr. Ravenstahl gave a short speech, calling the day one "of great sorrow and grief for the entire city of Pittsburgh." He ordered flags flown at half-staff and urged residents to pray for and support the O'Connor family.
He said nothing about his plans, other than to indicate that he will follow in Mr. O'Connor's footsteps.
"His words and actions and deeds will serve as a model to my tenure as mayor of the city of Pittsburgh," he said. "The time will come for Pittsburgh to continue on with its mission. Now is the time for us to look back and reflect on what Mayor Bob O'Connor has meant for the city of Pittsburgh. He will be dearly missed."
He took no questions but returned to the Council Chamber, an aide closing the door behind him.
"Tonight, we get a new mayor, and the city has to rally around Luke Ravenstahl like it rallied around Bob O'Connor," said Mr. Peduto.
Hours earlier, it had been a day of uncertainty and prayer following an announcement Thursday night by Mr. Skrinjar, who told reporters that Mr. O'Connor's condition had deteriorated. "The mayor has gone from day-to-day to hour-by-hour," Mr. Skrinjar said.
City Council opened its first session since its summer break yesterday with a moment of silence for the mayor, then many officials headed to a Mass and 12:30 p.m. interfaith prayer service for Mr. O'Connor at St. Mary of Mercy Church, Downtown.
Mr. Ravenstahl, Mr. Motznik, Mr. Zober, Allegheny County Sheriff Pete DeFazio, state Sen. Jay Costa Jr., acting city Controller Tony Pokora and other city and county officials were among the 150 who filled the church.
Pastor Donald Green, of Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania, called Mr. O'Connor "a witness who has cheered on family and friends and indeed a whole city" and saw his destiny as a place "where there is no more pain or sorrow."
And in reference to Mr. Ravenstahl, Mr. Green said, "For your sake we will cheer him on."
Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai said, "We know that sometimes we can leave this world whole and healed, even if we are not cured."
And Bishop Paul Bradley, administrator of the Catholic diocese, read the Beatitudes, which famously begin in the Matthew version, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
Bishop Bradley praised Mr. O'Connor as "a good man, an honest man, a man of faith, a man who has used the Beatitudes as the standard to guide his own life."
Uncertainty permeated City Council's session yesterday morning. The first meeting after the summer is usually little more than ceremonial, but yesterday's session was heavy with significance. Mr. Ravenstahl opened the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence for the mayor.
Throughout the afternoon, friends and admirers of the Mr. O'Connor visited his office to comfort his staff.
"Bob and his family have been in our constant prayers," said the Rev. John Dinello, pastor of Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph Parish. "He's been a great asset to us in Bloomfield. He's been moving on many of the projects we've wanted to have done for several years," Father Dinello said.
"He's part of our family," added Bloomfield advocate and developer Janet Cercone-Scullion. She said Mr. O'Connor had agreed in January to serve as grand marshal of the neighborhood's upcoming Halloween parade.
"We are heartbroken," she said, breaking into tears.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Sept. 3, 2006) The last name of Jacob and Dee-Dee Pelled, in-laws of the late Mayor Bob O'Connor, were misspelled in this news story of his death as originally published in Sept. 2, 2006 editions.
First Published September 2, 2006 12:00 am