Pittsburgh says goodbye to fallen mayor
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A horse-drawn hearse transports Mayor Bob O'Connor's casket to St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl prays over the casket of Mayor Bob O'Connor during the funeral Mass.
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Video: A farewell to the mayor
Slideshow: A final farewell to Bob O'Connor
Photojournal: More photos from the day's observances
Archbishop Donald Wuerl (4.2 mb)
Robert Jablonowski, friend (2.4 mb)
Marlene Cassidy, executive secretary (3.8 mb)
With the keen of bagpipes, the swell of pipe organ and a Steelers fight song, Pittsburgh buried its mayor yesterday.
Bob O'Connor, whose blunt charm and unpretentious manner lifted him from Greenfield to the mayor's office, was eulogized by his son, who acclaimed his father's "wonderful, terrific, beautiful life."
In a day of mourning for a mayor struck down by a rare brain cancer eight months after his inauguration, the city turned out by thousands, lining streets with signs of thanks and grief, and crowding into the Roman Catholic cathedral for a funeral that was by turns poignant and playful.
Brought to church in a horse-drawn hearse and prayed over by more than two dozen priests, Mr. O'Connor, who died last Friday, took a 60-minute tour of his city one last time. A mile-long cortege spun through Oakland, Downtown, Greenfield, Squirrel Hill, and on to Hazelwood before the mayor was laid in the earth of Calvary Cemetery, on a hillside above the city he once said resembled him.
"He always saw himself as just one of us, just a regular person," said Mr. O'Connor's son, the Rev. Terrence O'Connor, who, along with Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, and acting Bishop of Pittsburgh Paul Bradley, celebrated his father's funeral at St. Paul Cathedral. "I remember in his campaign speeches he used to say, 'When I look out there, it's like I'm looking in the mirror at myself.' "
Father O'Connor remembered his father as a deeply religious Catholic and an elected leader mindful that he began the humblest of lives in the city working-class Greenfield neighborhood.
"Who can forget him standing in traffic with the 'thank you Pittsburgh' signs?" Father O'Connor asked.
Mr. O'Connor's post-election trademark was to stand at a busy intersection, usually at Schenley Park, with a sign saying, "Thank You Pittsburgh." He did it whether he won, as he did last year, or lost, something that happened in the Democratic mayoral primaries of 1997 and 2001.
Another O'Connor son, Corey, a student at Duquesne University, remembered attending the Pennsylvania Society Dinner with his father. The society, a white-tie affair held in New York's swankiest hotels and dominated by wealthy expatriates, included a band that played "The Pennsylvania Polka."
Corey O'Connor said his father couldn't resist the urge to sing it with lyrics more familiar to his sports-mad hometown. So, with 1,800 people in the cathedral, the bishop of Pittsburgh and Archbishop of Washington behind him, he led the crowd in the song:
With the great football team
We cheer the Pittsburgh Steelers ...
It was a funeral punctuated by laughter and standing ovations. Father O'Connor pointed out his mother in the front row and told worshippers "She didn't visit him in the hospital for two months -- she lived with him in the hospital for two months."
Corey O'Connor pointed out Lou Pappan, the Greek-born restaurateur who started the late mayor in the food business nearly 50 years ago.
"I had something to do with Bob's success, and he had a lot to do with my success. I think he did a lot more for me than I did for him," Mr. Pappan said later. "Bob was my boy. I loved him and I'm still gonna love him forever."
Judy O'Connor, the late mayor's wife of 42 years, surprised mourners by taking the microphone toward the ceremony's end.
"I know Bob is just smiling down on everyone here and he just wants to say 'Thanks, Pittsburgh,' " Mrs. O'Connor said. She walked from the altar, gently put a hand on her husband's casket, and prepared for Mr. O'Connor's final tour of his city.
That tour through Downtown passed throngs that lined streets, stretched for more than one mile and included an estimated 160 vehicles ranging from the hearse and a half-dozen stretch limousines to flashing police motorcycles, family cars, two fire engines and a city dump truck. At one spot, a tearful woman prayed. At another, a jazz band revved up the mourners.
"Oh man -- Bob's loving this," said Greg Daley, a public works manager, as his car wound down Grant Street, where people lined up outside the City-County Building, many carrying signs that said, simply, "Thank You Bob."
Guards stood and saluted outside the Allegheny County Jail. Employees at the technology center along Second Avenue waved a farewell. Children at elementary schools in Squirrel Hill, Greenfield, Hazelwood -- wherever the cortege passed -- lined up, some waving signs, others flags. Along the East Busway, dozens stood atop the railroad tracks, hoisting signs and raising arms in salute.
The hearse stopped briefly in front of the City-County Building on Grant Street, where Steelers fans getting ready for last night's season opener and lawyers preparing to go into court, stepped outside to applaud.
"He really reached out and touched people's hearts in the very short time he was in office. It was very inspiring," said Janet McCall.
She came to Grant Street from the South Side on her day off yesterday for a final salute to the mayor.
The mayor's last ride took him through Greenfield, where students at both the city elementary and at nearby St. Rosalia's School -- Mr. O'Connor's home parish -- stood at curbside and bade a local boy goodbye.
Eileen Lyle drove in from her home in Lincoln Place. She hails from Greenfield and called Mr. O'Connor "the greatest man who ever lived in Pittsburgh. I campaigned for him twice, at the poll, in rain or snow. He was a real Pittsburgher."
In Schenley Park, golfers stood at the roadside -- one with a "Thank You Bob" sign affixed to the end of her driver. The cortege moved past the intersection where Mr. O'Connor held his post-election "thank you" signs. City workers had erected one of their own: "Thank You Bob."
In Squirrel Hill, outside Coffee Tree Roasters, where Mr. O'Connor routinely took an outside table, sipped a cappuccino with extra milk, and heard from citizens who would stop to plead their causes, customers stepped off the curb and raised coffee cups in a toast as the hearse passed.
"The city has lost an unbelievable friend," said Joel Sigal, who owns Little's Shoes, where Mr. O'Connor bought a succession of Rockport black wingtips over the past 20 years.
Mr. O'Connor's old table at Coffee Tree had lost its most storied occupant. Bill Swope, who owns the shop along with his father, remembered how that outside seat brought endless interruptions to Mr. O'Connor's breaks there.
"There would be a constant flow of people," he said. "I'm sure he heard all the things he wanted to hear and all the things he didn't want to hear. But he never turned anyone down."
The procession passed schoolchildren at virtually every turn. On one side of Squirrel Hill, students at both Hillel Academy and Yeshiva School said farewell to the mayor. At Colfax Academy, they held signs. At Taylor Allderdice, they waved.
Outside Calvary Cemetery, where the procession ended, a child stood on the sidewalk with a sign: "My Irish Eyes Are Crying."
The cars in the procession stretched from a newly opened section, where the mayor is now buried, almost to the entrance.
There, the police department's bagpipe band struck up "Danny Boy" -- originally an ancient, celtic ballad known as "Cuchullain's Lament." After prayers, an honor guard of seven rifles fired off three volleys. Judy O'Connor, her children and grandchildren, keeping with Mrs. O'Connor's Jewish faith, laid small stones atop the casket, turned and departed for home.
First Published September 8, 2006 12:00 am